Playing Your Intelligent Edge

What is playing your intelligent edge in asana practice? First, we must define “edge.” The intelligent edge in any given asana is a place of simultaneous challenge and ease. It embodies the yogic concept of sukha, or ease, and sthira, fufilling, steady, conscious engagement.

The edge is also where the things that don’t serve us can be cut away and released. The edge is a place where light severs the unnecessary from the essential.

I’ve seen students assume a yoga pose without energy, engagement or focus. They are assuming the shape of the pose without energy, concentration or application of their whole being. The next step for such a student is to begin applying the complimentary opposites of reaching, pushing, grounding and pulling within the context of the particular pose. Finally, the great potent elixir of the the diaphragmatic breath is injected as the catalyst of consciousness.

Sustaining the pose at the edge, in a sweet fire is where we will make progress, both physical, mental and emotional. This edge is a crucible for human development.

Michael Lee, the yogi who originated Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT), had a very deep experience of the edge many years ago that led him to the basis for PRYT. While being assisted in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) by a friend, Michael felt that he was ready to release the pose. His friend encouraged him to persist for awhile longer. As the pose became more challenging to his endurance edge, Michael deepened his breath and witnessed strange noises coming involuntarily from his mouth. When his persistence met the limit of his endurance his hip felt like a “volcanic eruption.” His body vibrated as tears poured down his cheeks. Michael had broken through fears that had haunted his subconscious since childhood.

I had a similar experience in Ustrasana/Camel Pose years ago when my marriage was unraveling. The deep heart opening of Camel Pose allowed me to release the anguish and fear that had built up over an intense period of turbulence in that relationship.

I’m not saying that all of our edge experiences will deliver us to such complete redemption, but these emotional releases are not uncommon. As we practice working with our minds and bodies on that edge, we will be transformed. This is where our issues will arise and resolve. By bravely persisting at the edge of our endurance, suspended between pleasure and pain, asana facilitates our rebirth, bit by bit.

Depending on our own issues and constitution, the poses that challenge us the most will lead us to our moments of transformation. As we listen and dialogue with our bodies in practice, we accept the challenges that yoga or union with the divine presents to us. Because we trust our practice and the assurance of our own loving kindness, we know beyond doubt that we can trust this process of transformation. It is a psycho-physical therapeutic method of achieving permanent human change.

One thing to notice about asana practice is poses we avoid. Our aversion to those poses is a message that those poses are just what we need to process our deep, perhaps unspoken issues. These intuitive promptings will lead us to experiences of liberation as we address the edge and play with the spirit of faith and expectation.

Though these kinds of experiences sometimes occur spontaneously during our daily practice, the help of a trusted teacher or yoga therapist can help us reach deeper states of liberation in a more concerted way.

Either way, whether these achievements come upon us during the solitary moments of our personal practice, during a class or a private session, know that you are being guided by the infinite loving consciousness that resides in us and binds us all together in pursuit of our full human potential which is our birthright.

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Adductors and Abductors

Once in while, but not often enough, I take notes when I do my morning asana practice. This morning I came up with a few things that I think would be helpful for all of us to keep in mind as we practice.

Mountain Pose is where I begin. But in addition to the standard pose, I’ve begun to work with the abductor and the adductor muscles to give the legs a stronger sense of both inward and outward grounding.

The abductor muscles of the legs are on the outside of the thighs, and as the word abduct implies, they pull the legs away from the center. This all begins on the floor at the grounded soles of the feet. Abductor engagement is achieved simply by pulling the knees apart in Mountain Pose. Immediately one feels the feet root into the floor and all the muscles on the outside of the legs contract.

Give this a try. As you do, I invite you to feel the muscles involved. The muscular ridge of the tibialis anterior on the outside of the tibia stands up and the rest of the calf muscles, thighs and even the gluteus muscles are strongly brought to bear in this pulling away action.

As you can tell, with a little practice abduction is a great way to strengthen not only the muscles directly involved, but to enlist the related joints, tendons and ligaments as well. Take a moment to check out the ankles, knees and hips and the connective tissues that hold them to the bones and muscles. Use your hands and feel what’s happening. (Of course, its’ best to do this alone when no one is watching. Perhaps even practice this nude in front of a mirror so you can see and feel what’s happening.)

Look at the tendons in the feet. Feel the ligament and tendon action in the ankles.

Needless to say there’s a lot going on with the simple act of abduction.

Conversely, there is an equal amount of action on the flip side of the anatomical coin in adduction. By grounding the feet and pulling the knees together we involve the muscles on the inside of the thighs.  Again, draw the knees together toward the body’s median line, note the muscles you feel; touch them and notice their tension. Explore their length and thickness. On the top and inside of the thighs there’s a big ligament that connects the femur to the pelvis—the inguinal ligament.

Remember the golden rules in yoga practice—sukha and sthira, or easy, pleasant and steady. Use these rules to explore the amount of exertion used in these two forces.

Consistent practice of adduction and abduction will strengthen your legs as the stable platform they should be for all your standing poses. You can experiment with these two forces as you practice the standing poses as well.

At the same time that I’m abducting and adducting the legs, I’m doing the same kind of isometric techniques with my hands and arms. Hook your fingers together and pull to engage the arms. Change your grip and repeat. Then place the hands in prayer position at the chest and push. Feel the pectoral muscles under the breasts spring into action. This tension supplies massage to the lymph nodes in the chest. You will get full arm engagement from fingers to shoulders and upper back with arm isometrics.

Also use eagle arms, reach over your back to clasp the opposite hand or do any kind of arm stretching or strengthening move you can think of. Or you can rest the arms if you wish.

Standing abduction and adduction is the best way to get total involvement of the legs. Seated weight machines that work these muscles don’t offer the all-engaging grounding that standing does. This leaves the feet, ankles and knees out of the equation. Running doesn’t really help to build these balance muscles either. A friend of mine who is an avid runner has very poor balance, which at his age puts him at risk for falling.

Embracing both aspects of Mountain Pose will serve you well in building strength and awareness as you practice. Adduction and abduction are also foundational practices for building bone density as you pursue mastery of the standing poses.

Remember to use your long, slow, full three-part diaphragmatic breath as you practice. This will help you turn each posture into a meditation on a stable body and a peaceful mind.

I wish you health and peace,

Tim

P.S. As always, I’d love to hear your adventures in yoga. Please drop me a line and let me know what the practice is doing for you.

 

 

 

 

Once in while, but not often enough, I take notes when I do my morning asana practice. This morning I came up with a few things that I think would be helpful for all of us to keep in mind as we practice.

Mountain Pose is where I begin. But in addition to the standard pose, I’ve begun to work with the abductor and the adductor muscles to give the legs a stronger sense of both inward and outward grounding.

The abductor muscles of the legs are on the outside of the thighs, and as the word abduct implies, they pull the legs away from the center. This all begins on the floor at the grounded soles of the feet. Abductor engagement is achieved simply by pulling the knees apart in Mountain Pose. Immediately one feels the feet root into the floor and all the muscles on the outside of the legs contract.

Give this a try. As you do, I invite you to feel the muscles involved. The muscular ridge of the tibialis anterior on the outside of the tibia stands up and the rest of the calf muscles, thighs and even the gluteus muscles are strongly brought to bear in this pulling away action.

As you can tell, with a little practice abduction is a great way to strengthen not only the muscles directly involved, but to enlist the related joints, tendons and ligaments as well. Take a moment to check out the ankles, knees and hips and the connective tissues that hold them to the bones and muscles. Use your hands and feel what’s happening. (Of course, its’ best to do this alone when no one is watching. Perhaps even practice this nude in front of a mirror so you can see and feel what’s happening.)

Look at the tendons in the feet. Feel the ligament and tendon action in the ankles.

Needless to say there’s a lot going on with the simple act of abduction.

Conversely, there is an equal amount of action on the flip side of the anatomical coin in adduction. By grounding the feet and pulling the knees together we involve the muscles on the inside of the thighs.  Again, draw the knees together toward the body’s median line, note the muscles you feel; touch them and notice their tension. Explore their length and thickness. On the top and inside of the thighs there’s a big ligament that connects the femur to the pelvis—the inguinal ligament.

Remember the golden rules in yoga practice—sukha and sthira, or easy, pleasant and steady. Use these rules to explore the amount of exertion used in these two forces.

Consistent practice of adduction and abduction will strengthen your legs as the stable platform they should be for all your standing poses. You can experiment with these two forces as you practice the standing poses as well.

At the same time that I’m abducting and adducting the legs, I’m doing the same kind of isometric techniques with my hands and arms. Hook your fingers together and pull to engage the arms. Change your grip and repeat. Then place the hands in prayer position at the chest and push. Feel the pectoral muscles under the breasts also spring into action. This tension also supplies massage to the lymph nodes in the chest. You will get full arm engagement from fingers to shoulders and upper back with arm isometrics.

Also use eagle arms, reach over your back to clasp the opposite hand or do any kind of arm stretching or strengthening move you can think of. Or you can rest the arms if you wish.

Standing abduction and adduction is the best way to get total involvement of the legs. Seated weight machines that work these muscles don’t offer the all-engaging grounding that standing does. This leaves the feet, ankles and knees out of the equation. Running doesn’t really help to build these balance muscles either. A friend of mine who is an avid runner has very poor balance, which at his age puts him at risk for falling.

Practicing both aspects of Mountain Pose will serve you well in building strength and awareness as you practice. Adduction and abduction are also foundational practices for building bone density as you pursue mastery of the standing poses.

Remember to use your long, slow, full three-part diaphragmatic breath as you practice. This will help you turn each posture into a meditation on a stable body and a peaceful mind.

I wish you health and peace,

Tim

P.S. As always, I’d love to hear your adventures in yoga. Please drop me a line and let me know what the practice is doing for you.

 

 

 

Healing a Groin Injury

From time to time physically active people, despite their best efforts, get injured. The occasional loss of concentration or an out break of ego that says, “I’ll bet I can do that”, or “Let me push past my body’s warning signals,” may very well lead to injuries of varying intensity and damage. Sometimes injuries can take us by surprise. On rare occasion a teacher performs an aggressive adjustment and causes injury. I’ve been there, too. Boy talk about learning to deal with anger and resentment.

Often, many injuries defy conventional medical methods like pain medications and physical therapy. They take time, experimentation and persistence. Without consistent work some injuries can become chronic and debilitating.

Let me tell you a dirty little secret about yoga teachers: Many of them are among the walking wounded. Chronic, nagging injury can become a feature of teaching yoga if we are not conscious and tuned-in when we demand so much of our bodies. Yoga means union. An injury is a message from your body that you are not balanced harmoniously in union. Pain is the body‘s way of asking for extraordinary care and loving attention.

Las Spring I attended a fellow-teacher’s class. He had us doing repetitions of deep squats. During the set I could really feel fatigue weakening my groin muscles (psoas, quadriceps and iliopsoas) but I decided to push myself a bit. That was ego, not the pursuit of union that prompted me to act so unskillfully. The next day I felt searing pain in my left groin, (most of my injuries seem occur on my left side.) The pain woke me at night, forced me to sleep in a very particular position, rendered me unable to sit in my regular meditation pose and drove me to get creative about just how to get into my car lest lowering myself into the seat shoot pain through my groin. Though this was mostly muscle pain, my inguinal ligament also suffered enough strain to start hurting frequently. I was angry at the teacher, but the truth of it is that the injury was my own damn fault. I behaved unconsciously. Pain pointed that out for me very quickly.

After several weeks of pain and anger I started to ask myself, “Okay when are going to quit the pity party, and what are you going to do to get better?” This is what I’ve come up with so far.

I began listening to my body more attentively. I’ve tried to watch each breath from ebb to flow as I practice. Experimenting, I worked with various poses to see what felt good. When I found a pose that felt safe and sound, I sustained the posture, attuned my attention even more acutely while I breathed deeply into the injury to use the massaging quality of the breath. I performed micro-movements within each pose to find the “sweet spot” of union where energy flows unimpeded and pain fades away. I never cease to marvel at the results of yoga asana performed with love and attention.

I began in Warrior I with the left leg in back: The left foot is placed between 45 and 90 degrees in relationship to the foreleg. To ground the foot effectively I pushed the outside rim of the foot into the floor by recruiting the long muscle on the on the outside of the calf, the fibularis longus. (A look at a good anatomy book will be most enlightening.) The right leg is bent according to your ability with the knee directly above the ankle. I centered my torso over the pelvis leaning neither toward the front nor back. The arms reach up actively. The simultaneous grounding and reaching (complimentary opposites) pulls and lengthens the quads and iliopsoas muscles. With deep breaths into my belly I could feel how the fingers of the breath massage and pull on the muscles with its rhythm. I slowly explored any micro-movements that made the pose feel centered in the sweet spot of prana flow. I kept grounding and reaching with determination until I felt fatigued. I slowly and mindfully came out of the pose and practice on the other side.

Warrior I can also be modified with a twist which will further lengthen the iliopsoas muscles.

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You can also practice Warrior I with the heel off the ground balancing on the ball of the rear foot. Remember, gentle persistent practice is the path to strength and recovery.

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Also, explore Reverse Warrior with all the same instructions as above.

Next, I got down on the ground in Child’s Pose. I found that the compression of the groin in Child’s Pose caused intolerable pain. I couldn’t maintain the pose. So, I grounded my hands into the floor to take just a wee bit of weight off the groin and was able to modulate the sensation to a tolerable level. This is where the breath works magic. Breathing deeply into my belly I could feel the penetrating massage directed perfectly into the pain. No massage therapist can do this.

Remember, your breath is your own personal massage therapist. As such, your breath helps you realize the most intimate knowledge of your condition and the unrivaled technical expertise in how to help you heal.

From there I thought a counter pose would be in order. I used a modified Camel Pose. (Note: Take this very slow. Opening the iliopsoas region after a deep compression can feel tender).Instead of standing on my knees in full camel, I simply leaned back from Rock Pose with knees bent, grounded my hands and pushed my booty off my legs, extended my pelvis forward a bit and arched my back to lengthen the iliopsoas region. Then, I sent the inhalation deeply into the sacrum and navel. This feels absolutely delicious. Again, the expanding breath opens the iliopsoas in a uniquely healing way.IMG_0534

I repeated Child’s Pose and Modified Camel Pose twice. I found that this alternating repetition massaged most of the pain out of my groin. My intuition was right on!

Next, I alternated between Swan Pose and the first stage of Pigeon. As with Child’s Pose and Modified Camel Pose, the alternate compression and lengthening reduces pain and massages in healing via the breath. Repeat this sequence as well if it feels good. As you progress you may also use full Camel Pose for further extension of the affected muscles.IMG_0531

When my forehead lay on the floor in both swan and Child’s Pose I focused the on Ajna Chakra brow point between the eyes. I envisioned drawing healing power from the earth and sending it to the injury site. This may sound a little “woo woo” or flaky, but any intention toward healing will be rewarded if practiced with persistence.

As I have been exploring this sequence my pain is greatly reduced, I can sleep in whatever position like, my regular sitting meditation pose is comfortable again and I can get into the car without having to hold on the door like an invalid. I look forward to complete recovery as I continue this sequence, and I’ve accomplished this without drugs or other risky procedures.

Remember, these are just guidelines. Your injury may be very different from mine. When you get past the acute period of pain, begin exploring your pain with some of these poses and see what happens. You may very well discover other poses that work well with your individual condition.

If and when youinjure yourself, listen to your intuition as it relates to your yoga practice. The answers are there. You have the capability to develop and direct your Prana (Universal Life Force) to heal yourself from injury and pain. Who knows what we can accomplish as we continue to reach into the rarely explored world of our own fathomless energy.

I would dearly love to hear your experiences in overcoming injury or disease with the help of your yoga practice.

Namaste

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Body Mind Centering: Creating Prana Flow From Asana

Whether we are yoga practitioners or not, whether we meditate or not, or whether we even have spiritual inclinations or not; we’re all seeking balance on the human journey. We may not even be conscious that we are seeking balance. We are always trying to balance the different aspects of our lives like our diets, our professional ambitions, our love relationships, our family obligations et cetera. Nick Wallenda, the tight rope walker, isn’t the only human being trying to pull off the ultimate balancing act; we’re all engaged in this process every minute of our lives, even as we sleep.

Practicing yoga asana is not simply about fitness or achieving the perfect yoga butt. Creating balance and alignment with the universal life force, or prana, is what yoga asana is all about. Through asana practice we become aware of our internal biological gyroscope that is constantly orienting us to the flow of prana, our connection to unlimited energy. As we practice with awareness we develop extraordinary or even super normal sensitivity to the prana flowing through our bodies and how to refine our connection to the boundless source that powers the entire cosmos.

This may all sound rather esoteric or theoretical, but we can begin to understand this immediately when we practice poses like Warrior I and Warrior II. After we establish the basic architecture of the pose, we energize these asana by grounding through our feet and legs, lengthening through the torso and energizing the arms in various ways. These movements bring us awareness of our muscles, bones, joints, connective tissues, organs and glands. As we push down and out with our feet we feel the simultaneous engagement of our feet, ankles, and the muscles of the legs and pelvis. As we sustain the pose with focused breath we feel how the torso is centered over the pelvis, and how minute degrees of movement change the amount of energy required to continue the pose. Fatigue helps us define the balanced pose by encouraging us to recruit a concert of muscular support that balances the burden of gravity and teaches us how to access a more efficient flow of energy.

This is why B.K.S. Iyengar always insisted on proper architectural alignment in asana. Energy flows through the body most efficiently when the musculoskeletal system is posed in the proper geometric relationship to its connected members in its association with gravity. For example, in the warrior poses the most efficient alignment of the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (largest bone in the foreleg) is 90 degrees. If the knee is ahead of or behind the ankle, more energy will be need to sustain the pose. Try this out yourself and you’ll soon see how balancing the torso over the pelvis and aligning the knee over the ankle allow you to center your body and mind as you breathe with an easier flow of energy.

Architects and builders are quite aware of these principles of stability when they consider building design. Stress within a structure, or how energy flow is managed in a building or a human body, can be managed by efficiency in design or posture.

Our awareness and practice of these principles of alignment allow us to access what author Katherine Howe calls our “secret reservoir of power.” This is the power to have mastery over our minds and bodies, thoughts and emotions. As we practice we learn how to access prana from the air, water and food we ingest. We learn the alchemical magical art of transmuting what nourishes us into a state of balance that resides in the calm, blissful center of our souls.

In asana we are not just lumps of meat hanging unconsciously from our bones. We are attuning our individual frequency to the unlimited universal power source so we can be pipelines for prana flow. In so doing we increase our capacity for compassion and acceptance of ourselves and others. We build determination and perseverance. We become the kind of human beings who can be useful in this world so fraught with trial and difficulty.

This is why asana is so important. We are physical beings. As we attune our physical receiver to the eternal frequency we refine our ability to align ourselves with excellence, goodness and unlimited accomplishment.

Uniting Our Energies with the Bandhas

This post is the fourth of perhaps five brief expositions of the bandhas or yogic locks.
Before I continue I’d like to say a few words about why I’m such an ardent advocate of these great yogic techniques. When I lived in Las Vegas, Nv. a dear friend of mine, Crispin Morrison, died at the age of 41 of ovarian cancer. My friends Emily, Jeanne, Helen and I watched helplessly as Crispin fought to avoid the “slow motion car wreck” of cancer (her words) from taking her life. Coupled with my own struggle with Crohn’s Disease I intuitively felt then, as I do now that Ashwini Mudra and the three bandhas have tremendous potential to cleanse and heal us from the inside out.
My practice and research of the bandhas began from my concern about the physical body as did my initial interest in yoga asana. As I soon learned the specific purpose of these techniques is to purify the astral body, unify our energies and direct them through the chakras toward the experience of samadhi or enlightenment. We can scarcely imagine what kind of world we might create if even a small percentage of humanity could attain this state. Our chances at peace, creativity and wise living would be greatly increased to say the least.
As an imperfect novice (I’m still a beginner) my practice of the bandhas began with the desire to heal myself from Crohn’s Disease. From the first time I exhaled and pulled Uddiyana Bandha (UB) I felt the power of this simple muscular contraction. I could feel the compression of my abdominal organs and immediately began to wonder at just what marvelous intestinal alchemy I’d initiated by this first intentional application of UB.
The word that comes to mind when I think of combining Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Mula Bandhas is vacuum. The combined muscular and mechanical contractions of Maha Bandha do indeed produce a strong vacuum action as the breath is suspended upon exhalation. The root lock is pulling up and down simultaneously as the anchoring sphincter muscles resist the upward pull of the lower abdominals. The upward pull continues with Uddiyana Bandha. Jalandhara Bandha causes a deep hollow at the base of the throat and is compressively dams up the energy as the chin is pressed firmly against the top of the sternum. The stretch and massage produced by applying maha bandha reaches into the deep cells of these tissues. This cleanses and purifies all the organs, glands, muscles, and nerves of the abdominal cavity. Not only are the abdominal organs fully massaged, the heart and lungs also receive a noticeable contractive vacuum. The application and release of Maha Bandha produce a physical, therapeutic wave of complimentary oppositional forces.
Additionally, as our awareness of our bodies’ increases with practice of the bandhas, we will be able to release unconscious stress that can take up residence in our organs. (Stress and tension hold toxins.) Indeed, this was one of the first things I noticed when I began my practice of the root lock. I was one of those proverbial “tight assed” guys who walked around with his sphincter in knot. This constant tension was a result of the worry, stress and anger I unconsciously carried around with me. I can remember feeling that tightness and releasing it consciously even before I knew about yoga, but I didn’t make the connection between that tension and my diseased mind and body.
I’m convinced that these techniques, when combined with asana, pranayama and a clean diet could decrease the incidence of many of our most deadly abdominal diseases like cancers of the colon, pancreas, liver, thyroid and stomach. The pulling, stretching, contraction and compression combined in Maha Bandha must surely deliver super oxygenating blood flow when contrasted to the comparatively stagnant state of our vital organs that we take to be normal.
Likewise, the subtle or astral body is being cleansed so our pranic energies can unite to flow through the chakra system. The union or yoga of these energies eventually creates a person who is balanced and able to access the entirety of human potential. These practices are the collective doorway to super humanity. They can help lift us out of the narrow, egocentric wallows that plague our species.
Study after study in recent decades has confirmed some of the many benefits of yoga. Alas, the bandhas have received little clinical examination. I hope this lack of research will be remedied in the near future.
I am sending out a call to yogis, medical practitioners and researchers alike to begin a thorough examination of these splendid techniques that have been handed down to us from antiquity. I would love to participate in such promising research.
Also, I would love to hear from yogis around the world about their personal experiences with the bandhas. Like me, I’m sure many of you can testify to the powerful effects of these ancient methods. I certainly owe much to the bandhas in helping me recover from and banish Crohn’s Disease from my life. Let me hear from you so that we may add our energy to what the yogis started so many thousands of years ago.

Jalandhara Bandha: Health for the Thyroid Gland

The past two posts have addressed Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha respectively. To finish off this trio of discussions on the main yogic locks, we’ll take a look at Jalandhara Bandha or the throat lock.
Two of the most common interpretations of jalandhara focus on the Sanskrit meaning of “jal” or “jalan”. Jal means water and thus the throat lock retains the water or nectar from bindu flowing to vishuddhi chakra and prevents it from descending into the digestive fire. Jalan means net and dhara is interpreted as stream or flow. This lock is said to control the nadis or subtle energy channels in the neck whose physical manifestation are the blood vessels and nerves in the neck.
Jalandhara Bandha (JB) can be performed either seated or standing with the breath retained or exhaled. It is often combined with the root and abdominal locks to create the powerful maha (great) bandha that retains and distributes prana throughout the major chakras (nerve centers), organs, and glands. JB can also be practiced by itself, and indeed should be practiced alone so the student can master this lock before combining it with the other two bandhas.
Begin seated. Brace the palms of the hands against the lower inside thighs above the knees and push the arms straight. Take a deep but easy three part breath, hold the breath momentarily and exhale completely by using the abdominal muscles to help empty the lungs. Lower the chin and press it firmly onto the top of the sternum (breast bone). Maintain the pressure as long as you comfortably can. Focus your attention on the throat with the intention that JB will provide perfect balance of the glands and structures of the throat and opening of vishuddhi chakra. Do not strain. Release throat lock and inhale deeply.
There is also a subtler form of JB practice in some traditions where the chin descends about an inch as the back of neck extends. This method of JB can be combined with various pranayama techniques.
As the student applies the full JB the cervical spine is lengthened and pressure on the disks is momentarily released. With the chin pushed firmly onto the top of the sternum the right and left carotid arteries, the thyroid, parathyroid and other vessels and their respective sinuses or channels are strongly compressed. According to Swami Saraswati this decreases the heart rate and allows for longer breath retention.
Compressing the thyroid and parathyroid glands provides an effective way to massage these glands to optimize their function. The thyroid gland produces thyroxin which helps the body absorb and use oxygen more efficiently. The parathyroid gland assists in regulating calcium and phosphate levels in a very narrow range to help the nervous system operate properly. This has tremendous implications for our over all well being.
Practice of JB may provide a powerful technique to combat hypo or hyper thyroidism.
Along with the separate practice of JB a yoga practitioner may also perform halasana (plow pose), sarvangasana (shoulder stand), setu bandhasasna (bridge pose) and sasangasaga (rabbit pose) to achieve throat lock. Each of these variations will alter JB in their own unique ways. When JB is achieved in these poses the power of the full yogic three-part breath is harnessed to further enhance the massaging effect and benefit of the combined pose, breath, gravity and bandha. The power of these combinations to balance the thyroid and parathyroid should not be discounted. Each variation of JB supplies another aspect of its beneficial effect.
While practicing JB along with the poses listed above one may also use sound to penetrate the cells of this region with active vibration. The practitioner simply produces a long, slow hum during the exhalation. This vibration will be powerfully felt throughout the throat and brain. As I mentioned in my post about Sonic Massage, vibration helps to optimize the operation and organization of all matter. Hum with healing intention as you focus on the throat region.
As with the other bandhas there are some conditions of the neck and spine where JB is contraindicated. Practitioners with cervical spondylosis, high intracranial pressure, vertigo, high blood pressure or heart disease should avoid Jalandhara Bandha until these conditions have been successfully alleviated. As always, if you have any doubts consult a medical professional.
In my next post we will put the three bandhas together for the practice of maha bandha and perhaps consider the crown jewel of Hatha Yoga, nauli kriya.

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.