The bandhas are a series of internal locks (i.e., canals) in the body which help to channel the flow or Prana, or our body’s lifeforce. There are three bandhas: mula bandha (root lock), uddiyana bandha (stomach lock), and jalandara bandha (chin lock). By engaging the bandhas, we help to channel prana to our nadis (i.e., the wires through which prana flows). The bandhas can also be engaged in unison, which is called Maha bandha. Today I will be demonstrating how to strengthen Uddiyana bandha, which helped me immensely in my handstand practice.
Uddiyana bandha is very powerful. Have you ever wondered how some yogis gain enough core strength to press into a handstand? It definitely isn’t from doing crunches. The word uddiyana literally means to float up or to rise up, perhaps because strengthening uddiyana bandha helps a yogi feel lighter throughout asana practice.
I remember when I first learned about this in a yoga class, I was really confused and kind of thought the teacher was making things up because I had taken anatomy classes and had never heard of this. I never really understood it until I began experimenting with these types of exercises on my own. Now, uddiyana, to me, is a very concrete part of my subtle body.
I find it highly beneficial to practice the following exercises each morning before asana practice on an empty stomach:
This exercise will help you find your uddiyana bandha. Stand up and take a deep breath in. As you exhale, set your hands up on your knees so that your holding your weight up with your arms instead of your core. Make sure that your core is not engaged. At the bottom of your exhale, you’ll take a “false inhale.” This means you’ll perform the action of the inhale, but close the valve in your throat so that no air is actually coming in. Try to suction the stomach up and into your ribcage. This creates a vacuum-like effect.
You should feel an energy within you begin to rise up from your belly toward your chest; if it gets too intense, you can release at any time. I like to hold it for about 10-15 seconds. During this exercise, you are not breathing, so when you release, you should take an inhale. Take a few breaths before performing the exercise again.
In this video, I play with engaging individual core muscles while performing the first exercise. You can do this one side at a time, like I did, or alternate between both sides and then the center muscles.
In this video, I practice Nauli Breathing as I attempt to integrate the core muscles as I “roll” the engagement across my stomach.
I like to do these exercises three times each in the morning on an empty stomach. These exercises have given me much greater control of my core and the ability to float into handstands by pressing. By integrating the core from the inside out, the muscles begin to understand how they should work together.
Not only will your core get stronger, these exercises will prepare your stomach for the digestive work it does each day, you’ll take deeper breaths, and you’ll feel calmer and more focused.