The Elusive Powerful Uddiyana Bandha:
By Kerry Weavind
Instead of wings, we have been given uddiyana bandha, our tool of flight that requires a simple awareness to activate.
It is possibly difficult to separate pure core strength from uddiyana bandha, especially since the process of yoga asanas toward an awareness of uddiyana bandha will build strength both physically and mentally, yet uddiyana bandha is a sensation just outside of strength.
Uddiyana bandha applies to all movement, even the simple act of walking, jogging, reaching!
Explore the following simple techniques to find the sensation of uddiyana bandha:
Cat and Cow Pose:
Kneel with your hands on the floor, wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Through understanding cat and cow pose, we can feel the pelvis and its sensitivity to movement and the energy seals that are created through a pelvic tuck - without tucking the pelvis! It is a simple postural realignment that honors the natural curve of the spine and integrates the spine into a united whole.Inhale. Drop the waist to the floor. Be aware of not allowing the ribs to collide with the waist, or the hips to drop unattended in awareness towards the waist. Both hips and ribs are engaged in lengthening away from the waist, while the waistline drops. The heart center gently softens toward the floor so shoulders engage with the upper arm bones in the sockets. The back of the neck is a natural extension of the spine, so neither looking up or down, simply allow extension into the crown of the head.
Through thought intention, lengthen the spine, via the dropped waist. Feel the diamond between the two hip bones, the pubic bone and the navel.
Exhale. Lift from the waist, reaching the waistline toward the ceiling. The movement begins and ends at the waist, the rest of the spine follows without any ‘doing’. The hips move in response to the waist reaching for the ceiling. Imagine making the waistline the highest point of your spine This is impossible physically, but facilitates the sensing of uddiyana bandha.
If you struggle with this sensation, to activate the pelvis, engage moola bandha. Moola bandha is an energizing of the pelvic floor away from gravity. I have heard it profoundly described by Angela Farmer as the subtle turning upward of the downward facing petals of a lotus flower at your perineum muscle. Using imagination, feel the turning inward and upward of the perineum muscle, lotus flower opening to the sunlight of your heart. Notice the tailbone becoming heavier in its downward pull to the floor, and a lightness radiate from the diamond of your core.
Inhale the waistline down to the floor, belly full of air drops the waistline. Widen the front of the torso to receive the full length of your spine. From the waist to the back of your neck is a long straight line. Lengthen through the lower abdomen into the tailbone, reaching the tailbone away from the waist. Don’t collapse these two significant points of reference as you release into the potential depth of your backbend.
Exhale the waistline up to the ceiling. Allow your head to drop, no tension in the neck. The movement is through the waistline, your middle and upper back can therefore soften, overused muscles can disengage. The hips naturally release to the floor, the tailbone drops toward the space between your knees. Imagine your tailbone connecting with the floor, it grounds you, connects you to gravity.
Understanding gravity and its effect on our body creates a deeper freedom in the body and explains uddiyana bandha’s role in harnessing gravity’s gift and lightness in your body. Uddiyana bandha is a reservoir of energy.
As gravity pulls down on you, your body responds by pushing upward, (away from the downward pull) in order to keep you upright, to maintain your posture. By engaging more deeply with this downward pull, you harness this upward energy which creates a spontaneous lightness in the body. Grounding through any part of you that is connected with the floor, and through the line of the tip of the tailbone toward the floor, you anchor yourself to the center of the earth, and instigate an instinctive response in your skeleton to lift upward away from the center of the earth. This creates a lightness of being from the hips up to the tips of your fingers and crown of your head. From this point of view, you are completely stable and completely free.
The central locks (bandhas) in the palm of the hand (hasta bandha) or arch of the foot (pada bandha) or any part connected to the floor acts like a plunger drawing gravity’s energy through your legs and arms, culminating at the pubic bone, uddiyana bandha, and rests in the bowl of the pelvis. Moola bandha prevents it from being allowed to sink back to earth, it dilutes earth’s magnetic energetic pull.
However, if the grounding is a doing action, one inspired by ego and achievement, you will create a static pose and stagnant energy, an externalization of the pose that separates you from the experience within. Grounding is simply allowing yourself to actually stand on the floor (with hands or feet, and tailbone). Grounding is awareness of the sensation of the floor underneath you, and gently pressing into the floor, to allow for gravity’s gift to empower its rebound lightness in you.
A tug of peace (for yoga’s sake) is impotent if there is only one person on one end of the rope! With two people on each side of the rope, the rope can elongate and stretch and there is dynamic energy flow between the two points. This is what grounding gives you, a partner in elongation between the closest and furthest points from the floor.
Uddiyana bandha harnesses and stores gravity’s gift of antiforce. Uddiyana bandha does this by releasing the “doing” on the surface of the abdomen. We search for the sensation underneath the superficial strength that is a six-pack of muscular tightness. Uddiyana bandha is a softening, widening across the core, yet activated experience that can therefore move energy more freely. Having the muscles engaged but without tension is like turning on the switch and closing the circuit of energy for the light bulb to shine. “Soft” in yoga is not limp muscles – soft indicates a lack of tension, and yet still a strong involvement of all your muscles.
A second exploration of the sensation of Uddiyana bandha:
Lie on the floor with arms alongside your head. Stretch the full length of your spine against the floor. This will require a tilt in the pelvis, engage moola bandha for help here. Lift the legs on an inhalation to 30 degrees keeping the lower back elongated along the floor and a powerful extension toward the fingertips. Breathe here freely. If you find you can’t breathe freely, you are over-doing it! The outer musculature is over-engaged preventing a free flow of energy from your legs to your fingertips. Ensure your lower back is pressed firmly to the floor, and find the sensation just above the pubic bone. Inhale and lift the legs to 60 degrees. Breathe freely here. Finding the essence of the movement that all you remains soft (i.e. not tense), the core including your organs evenly engaged to keep the legs up, that there is room for all of you to breathe openly. Yoga is balance, which is finding an equilibrium between effort that is doing (muscular) and effort that is being (organic).
Yoga is balance, which is ensuring that the whole body is equally engaged, avoiding the overuse of one set of muscles and complete ignorance of another set of muscles/organs/bones or skin (our largest organ).
Bringing this awareness to any asana:
Cat and cow pose moves the spine to its maximum in each direction, allowing the wagging of the tailbone (and moola bandha) to explore Uddiyana Bandha. Return to cat and cow pose, allow the spine to be neutral, a combination of both cat and cow pose. Combine the upper body in cat poses: the beautiful straight spine from waist to back of your neck into crown, and the lower body from cow pose: the tailbone releasing down to the floor (feels like a rounded lower back, check in the mirror, it’s not the case!).
Abdominal wall muscles gently draw in and widen to hug your inner lower back, to find a neutral spine without hinging or arching into any of the vertebrae. Feel the energy flowing through your spinal column. Curl your toes under, straighten
Intelligent use of the skeleton, organs and muscles will bring about softness in your asanas. A continuous mindfulness will keep asanas dynamic rather than learning an asana so well that you only replace a “bad” habit with a new habit thus creating a static asana practice. With fresh awareness in each breath, connect with the floor to enable a release of tension, and thought intention to let go. Engage the muscles of the body evenly that you are strong in the pose, active and dynamic. Uddiyana bandha will have a clear open vibrant energy, and not a learnt response which is stagnant. Through this process you will find freedom in asanas.
Like the breeze in the branches of a tree, be sure to allow your body to respond to the breeze that is your breath. Don’t let the doing cause a holding pattern in the asana: allow the sensation of gravity to move into your torso and move with it, allow the breath to breathe into the periphery of the asana and move: grounded and free. Like a parachute just opened, sweeps up with air and then with grace makes its decent back to earth, so moola bandha catches and uddiyana bandha guides with grace from a secure foundation.
Asana is a dance of nature’s memory: your consciousness.
(Published Complete Yoga 2006)