Bhandha: a gesture in which a segment of the body is sealed, isolated or constricted in some manner. Sanskrit for lock, bind, hold captive. And why would a body want to do that? Sounds like the undesirable opposite of release and freedom, doesn’t it? Well, yes…but I find myself spiraling back around to this wisdom, another layer in subtle core toning.
Embodied personal investigation and research into the dual wisdom of physical therapy and hatha yoga—this is my preferred way to incorporate new stuff. And though this spiraling journey has only recently begun, I’m taking Essential students along for the ride. Our focus is the middle lock, uddiyana bhandha, translated as “to rise up, to fly.” And when you feel it, you know why it is named this. In physical therapy it is called hypopressive technique. Whatever you want to call it, this unique physical contraction offers deep structural support to organs in the pelvis, abdomen and spine. Check this schedule for Essential current offerings.
Friday March 19
Thursday March 25
Saturday March 27
(916) 267-5478 for appointment
Sunday Sweat Your Prayers
Zoom or LIVE
9:00am &/or 6:30pm
Saturday April 17
This practice is all the rage in Europe right now—kinda like Pilates was—but the practice is ancient, timeless. The Hatha Yoga Pradipikasays “of all the bhandhas, uddiyana is the best. Once it is mastered, liberation occurs spontaneously…even an old person can become young when uddiyana bhandha is done regularly.” My own road to mastery happened in kundalini yoga teacher training 2006, the full story is a different essay. Suffice it to say that 18 months of 4:00-6:30 morning practice deeply embedded bhandhas in my being. All this history tumbled back over me as I incorporated uddiyana into my current practice. The deep structural support I feel kicking in is a pleasant surprise since I’ve been so subtle core tone focused since 2015. I consider myself already pretty strong and this practice, without being all boot-campy, takes it to the next level.
The benefits of regular uddiyana bhandha practice are wide-ranging and super-attractive: improved breath efficiency and capacity, increased core strength, enhanced digestion, improved circulation to the brain and organ body, calming of the nervous system. Physical therapy utilizes it to treat pelvic floor issues for both men’s and women’s health. The energetic benefits are a whole other story. But, since it is practiced with breath retention, in that potent pause of prana flow, there is cessation of thought. It is a meditation booster for sure.
A sensation is worth a thousand words. Wanna feel a light uddiyana bhandha? Seated right there, take a full inhale, especially invite lower rib cage to expand. As you exhale, gently place palm over mouth and nostrils. Completely relax through torso until every last bit of breath exits. Now attempt the physical motion of inhale even though you’ve tightly covered the entrance for breath. No breath comes in. Feel the flare of lower rib cage, the vacuum you’ve created in chest cavity. The way organs are being compressed and diaphragm is being stretched horizontally. When it’s time to inhale breath (don’t push the length of breath holding!), first release the lock, then release your hand, then gently breathe in through pursed lips like sucking on a straw. Allow a few normal breaths. Notice the agni/fire you have created in the belly. After the block there is unblock and the prana flows more freely. Enjoy the sensation.
We’re slowly building this hypopressive/uddiyana bhandha practice in Essentials. You can join us any Thursday or Friday morning. Essential Recharge, Saturday March 27 will include a solid introduction to this practice. Of course we loosen up the whole body first, including a delicious belly massage before this particular part of the practice. And it is awesome to feel this fired up core contributing to simple asana practice before we stretch out and rest in shivasana.
Can you feel the parallel out in our altered world? It’s like the world prana has been sealed, isolated, constricted for a year. Can you feel the sense of easing, the return of communal life force? There is block…and there is unblock. What a beautiful time for Spring to arrive. Surprisingly, I continue to love teaching all this on-line. Students love the ease of Zoom at home and want me to stay there. I can imagine that. And I also imagine a local in person practice session being born as well. I miss being with you, being together, seeing you in practice, offering touch and instruction based on what is happening in current time. I’m fully vaccinated so starting March 22 I open my studio for one-on-one physical therapy sessions. Ready for hands on help with that physical challenge? I can’t wait to feel you on my treatment table—albeit with masks.
Nothing like Rumi to sum it all up:
“There is one way of breathing that is shameful and constricted.
Then there’s another way:
a breath of love that takes you all the way to infinity.”
Locked. Bound. Held captive. I feel like we have learned so much from a year of bhandha. Feeling this quality—and its release—in the breath, in the body…it can take us all the way to infinity. Let’s go there together.