Uddiyana Bandha, the Internal Massage

In my last post I gave a brief overview of the root lock. This time we move up the chakra line for Uddiyana Bandha (UB). Uddiyana means to “fly up.” Uddiyana Bandha involves the entire abdomen from the top of the pubic bone to the solar plexus at the base of the sternum or breast bone. This is the territory of the second and third chakras. The effects of UB permeate all the abdominal organs and reach up into the heart, throat and head. It is a very powerful technique and must be accorded great respect. The basic technique is quite simple. One may either stand or sit to practice UB. Either way is effective. Let’s take standing first. Stand with hands above the knees leaning forward. Take some gentle, full, three part breaths and then exhale completely using your abdominal muscles and diaphragm to empty the lungs. Brace your hands above your knees for leverage. Hold the breath out. Pull the abdomen back and up as if you were drawing your navel toward your spine. The abdomen will have a deep concave shape. If you have a bit of belly fat you may not get the dramatic concave look, but you are still receiving the internal benefits. (Children often play with UB quite instinctively as they explore their bodies.) Hold the bandha as long as it is comfortable. Release and inhale slowly. This may leave you a bit short of breath for a few seconds but it’s nothing to worry about.

As you can feel this is a powerful contraction that provides a deep stretch and massage for the internal organs. As with root lock UB pulls the affected musculature up and down simultaneously. This internal massage increases circulation, cleanses and tones.  UB has a strong, direct effect on the intestines and encourages efficient digestion. It is also my firm personal belief that UB also helps prevent disease for the reasons I’ve listed above. Disease begins and takes hold in a stagnant atmosphere where circulation, and thus oxygenation are limited.

As your UB practice develops you will learn to pull and release the abdominal action several times without inhaling. This should be done slowly and gently. I practice three rounds of 15-20 abdominal pulls. Beginners may only manage just a few abdominal pulls per exhaled breath at the start. Be patient and build your capacity gradually. Because of UB’s potency I emphasize slow, deliberate action. A fast pumping can cause pranic derangement that could lead to injury or imbalance, so take care.

In addition to the physical benefits of cleansing, massage, and healing, UB also has strong psychological effects. I’m sure you’ve heard the terms “guts” or “intestinal fortitude” that indicate courage, bravery or total commitment. These common sayings show what people have long understood: that the second and third chakra sites govern attributes like resolution and determination. Consistent practice of UB helps clear away obstacles to making the commitments important to flourishing to our full potential. As we include UB into our Hatha Yoga practice we willfully engage the visceral, instinctive human motivation for action at the deepest, cellular gut level. We become the gutsy, fearless beings we’ve always hoped we could be.

Although I learned this technique from the Sivananda Yoga Companion book, I advise the supervision of a teacher well-versed in the bandhas to learn UB. Practice mindfully.

As with root lock, if you have any active disease conditions of the abdomen, high blood pressure or hernia do not practice UB until these conditions are resolved. If you have any doubts about the suitability of this technique for yourself consult your doctor.

Generally, UB can be practiced to great effect by most relatively healthy people.

Next time we will consider Jalandhara Bandha or the throat lock.






Cleansing and Healing with the Root Lock

In the past I’ve written about complimentary opposites like grounding and reaching, pushing and pulling, expanding and contracting, but never in relationship to the bandhas or the yogic locks.

As with all yoga poses and techniques the bandhas are all about managing and directing our prana or life force. As you may have already encountered, definitions and practice of yogic techniques often vary amongst different traditions. Each tradition has valuable insight into the effects and practice of the bandhas. Let’s begin with root lock or mulabandha.

Mula means root, source, cause or firmly fixed.[1] Some traditions teach that mulabandha is a subtle contraction of the muscles of the pelvic floor as opposed to the entire region including the anal sphincter muscles. Others, like the Kundalini tradition teach that root lock includes the whole region from the pelvic floor to the naval. Because we’re concerned more with physical cleansing in this post, I will emphasize the Kundalini technique.

This region of the body contains the anal muscles, rectum, reproductive organs, and also influences the lower digestive tract. For women this includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. For men, the vas deferens, prostate and vessels connected to the penis. Whether we are in our prime reproductive years, middle or old age it is imperative that we keep full blood circulation in these organs to prevent disease and ensure optimum operation.

Too many people globally suffer from prostate, uterine, ovarian or other related cancers among other diseases that afflict these organs. It is my strong belief that the bandhas can help prevent these diseases. I would love to see medical researchers put these techniques to the test. I think the results would be very positive indeed.

Often, these organs become congested with waste, or what is called in Ayurveda, “ama.” This congestion may well be undetectable by modern medicine until gross symptoms of disorder prevent themselves. A good friend of mine, Crispin, in the prime of her life, was stricken by ovarian cancer and died at 41. I witnessed her valiant fight to live and the suffering that she so bravely endured. I watched helplessly as she died. Crispin’s suffering and death have inspired me to practice and teach the bandhas.

It is best to practice root lock on an empty stomach. Sit in any comfortable position. Siddhasana is ideal. Position the sole of the right foot against the inner left thigh with the right heel under the perineum. Otherwise, easy pose or any other comfortable sitting posture will suffice. Inhale a deep, three part breath, exhale, hold the breath out and draw the pelvic floor up, contract the lower abdominal muscles above the pubic bone and draw the naval inward toward the spine. As you release inhale deeply. Contract and release the root lock slowly several times to develop an easy acquaintance with this technique. Pay careful attention to what’s happening in your body.

Just like squeezing a sponge this powerful contraction massages the organs and tissues forcing them to push blood and fluids out of the cells. As the contraction is released the tissues expand and fresh blood and fluids flush the area for a cleansing effect. The muscles, organs, glands and cells also gain a firmer tone and better conditioning from repetitive rounds of root lock.

It is quite easy to incorporate the root lock into your asana practice as well. Forward bending postures, especially seated forward bends lend themselves very well to using root lock. The forward bending postures contract the front of the body and facilitate the root lock to maximum efficiency. Try it and you’ll immediately see what I mean.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, (Ashwini Mudra) the root lock can be quite effective in treating incontinence and sexual dysfunction as well.

This is by no means an exhaustive treatise on root lock, but it should be enough to get you started. Root lock can also be used in conjunction with pranayama, breath holding and mudras. The book footnoted above is one of the best to help guide you.

The bandhas are powerful practices. If you don’t feel confident practicing by yourself, find a qualified teacher and submit to their instruction. Also, if you have high blood pressure, hernia or other active conditions in the abdominal region these techniques are contraindicated. If you have pain or discomfort, discontinue the practice. If you have any doubts consult a trusted medical professional.

As always, begin your exploration of the root lock gently and mindfully. Be persistent and you will get results.

In future posts we will consider uddiyana and jalandhara bandhas. In addition to the physical benefits we will also look at how these methods raise the Kundalini energy and speed our union with the universal life force.





[1] Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati

The Dynamic Dozen on TV in the Triangle



Today is the first hopefully many appearances to tell people about my new book The Dynamic Dozen. Yoga can help heal osteoporosis. Please check out the link.

Also, I’ll be giving several talks and demonstrations at bookstores in the coming weeks. What do you like to hear when you attend a book talk or lecture? What do you want to hear from an author? I’d love to hear what you think.




Disease, Resistance, Surrender, Healing

As I prepare to serve Y.O.G.A. for Youth (Your Own Greatness Affirmed) by teaching yoga to middle school boys this semester I try to put myself in their shoes. I know most of these boys will enter class knowing little to nothing about yoga and many of them may even think it’s a little weird. Some may not even want to participate at all. That prompts a memory of my initial resistance to yoga way back in 1981.

After surviving my first debilitating attack of Crohn’s Disease and subsequent hospitalization, someone recommended yoga to me. There was class nearby so I thought, “What the heck. I’ll give it a try.” So, skinny from Crohn’s weight loss and jacked up on doctor-prescribed steroids I trotted of to my first yoga class.

During my first bout of the disease my left big toe was completely paralyzed. I would often stub it when I walked barefoot. During my first yoga class, the teacher, an elderly be-turbaned Indian man named Baram, mentioned that paralysis of the big toe related to digestive disease. Being kind enough not to single me out, his point made a strong impression on me. At the end of class, his pretty young assistant, Lakshmi, commented,  “Oh, you’ll have to do yoga for the rest of your life to stay well.”

Being the reactive rebel I so stubbornly played in my late 20s, I thought to myself, “Like hell I will.” I never returned to that class and completely ruled out any role for yoga in my recovery from Crohn’s Disease. Of course, I got sick again and again. My next disease episode forced me to withdraw from the University of California at San Diego just as the fall semester began. Not only did I lose any confidence that I’d be able to pursue an education, I settled into a depressive funk of hopelessness that I’d ever be able to pursue developing my full human potential.

Fourteen years later, complaining of chronic back pain, a friend lent me a yoga book he thought might help. I began using the book by myself daily. After two weeks the back pains had vanished. I knew I’d found something important so I kept practicing.

I took teacher training ten years later and began to teach. Even though I’d made progress in my practice, I still hadn’t realized the profound power of yoga to transform my life. After two more bouts of Crohn’s in the early 2000s and several episodes of depression later on in the decade that required medication, I knew that I had to put up or shut up about my yoga practice. Either this practice could help me cope with my dis-eases or not.

I quit the antidepressant medication cold turkey (not something I advise) and devoted myself to daily asana, pranayama and meditation. The combination of these three limbs of yoga relieved the chronic stress and subsequent depression. Consistent practice bathed my brain with a balanced flow of neurotransmitters that I learned to summon at will. It’s been nearly ten years since my last Crohn’s episode. I can say with confidence that I have developed the proper yogic self-care skills not just adequate to keeping myself well, but also to fully enable me to continue my quest towards a life of complete fulfillment and service.

Though I stubbornly spent years wandering in the wilderness of poor health, I have fulfilled Lakshmi’s prophecy that I would have to practice yoga for the rest of my life. Rather than a sentence, yoga has served to liberate me from physical as well as mental illness.

A yoga teacher of mine, Krishna Kaur Khalsa, relayed a quote to our Yoga for Youth training class recently.  It went something like this: “One who seeks the greatest freedom must develop the greatest discipline.” This statement is also a constant thread in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. We get out of something what we put into it. It’s the universal law of cause and effect. We reap what we sow.

With gratitude I bow to all the saints and yogis who have come before us to show us the way of yoga (union). This practice will not only heal, but will catapult its practitioners into the lives they long to live.

Blessing to all of you as you blaze your own trail to freedom with the boundless practice of yoga.

Namaste and Sat Nam!