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Working the Bandhas

If you’ve taken an Ashtanga beginner class class with me you’ve heard me say that there are two bandhas - or energy locks - in Ashtanga. Actually there are three: Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha (or Maha Bandha when they're all activated), but the latter one is used very little in the Primary Series. Bandhas are energy locks that we engage in order to contain the energy (or prana) in the body and allow it to flow during Ashtanga practice. It also helps your ujjayi breathing.
The Bandhas are some of the most difficult aspects of the Ashtanga practice so if you’re not getting them right away don’t worry. In my own practice I keep learning more and more about the them and my experience of them changes as I go deeper into the practice. Here’s a little write up to help you get them down.

Mula Bandha
Mula bandha is the root lock located at the root of the spine. Imagine that you urgently need the toilet but you’re nowhere near one, and you’re probably already using Mula Bandha. Guruji would say “Take it up - your anus”, and explain that Mula Bandha is controlling the anus. One of my teachers used to tell us to cut off the gas and water... See what works for you.
Focus on drawing in and lifting up the pelvic floor activating the contraction on an exhale. The contraction should be very subtle and you should be able to hold it throughout the practice. Don’t worry if you lose it. Just guide it back whenever you realise that it’s gone.

Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana Bandha means flying up, and what you want to fly upwards is the energy. You achieve this bandha by gently drawing the stomach inwards while keeping the torso long. I always teach it by asking the students to first put the hands on the outside of the ribs and feel them expand on the inhalation and contract on the exhalation. Try to make lots of room for the oxygen and feel it all the way over on your back. Now place the hands on your low abdominal and try to keep this area as still as possible while guiding the oxygen up, out to the sides and to the back. You can try practicing Uddiyana Bandha lying down to let gravity help you keep the belly drawn in. The Uddiyana Bandha is closely linked to the Mula Bandha and as with the root lock you are to try and hold the it throughout the practice. This is almost impossible in the beginning and you will keep noticing that you’ve forgotten all about it when the asana start to get intense.

The Energetic Side of the Bandhas
It the word energy makes your toes curl, just stick with the prior description of the bandhas and start practising. But the bandhas aren’t just physical. As the body is also energetic (and spiritual and emotional) so are the Bandhas. Mula Bandha draws energy towards the lower end of the spine, into the Muladhara Chakra and connects you with firmness and stability. Uddiyana Bandha draws energy or prana up from Muladhara Chakra through the spinal column. It connects you with the element air, the energy of the Anahata Chakra (the heart chakra) and gives lightness.

Again; don't worry if the Bandhas come and go. Just guide them back in place when you've lost them and try not to be too rigid. See it as a success when you've realised that they're gone and start over. 

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