Monday, November 2, 2009

November Monthly Theme: Bandhas

Bandhas are interior body locks used in yoga. There are three bandhas–Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and Jhalandara Bandha. Each bandha is a lock, meaning a closing off of part of the interior body. These locks are used in various pranayama and asana practices to tone, cleanse and energize the interior body and organs. When all three bandhas are activated at the same time, it is called Maha Bandha, the great lock.

Root Lock or Mula Bandha:
The first of three interior body “locks” used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy. To activate mula bandha, exhale and engage the pelvic floor, drawing it upwards towards your navel. If you don’t know how to access the pelvic floor, think of it as the space between the pubic bone and the tailbone. Initially you may need to contract and hold the muscles around the anus and genitals, but really what you want is to isolate and draw up the perineum, which is between the anus and genitals. Do not hold your breath. Engaging mula bandha while doing yoga poses can give the postures an extra lift. This is especially useful when jumping.

Abdominal Lock or Uddiyana Bandha:
The second of the three interior body “locks” used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy. Uddiyana bandha can be practiced alone or in conjunction with mula bandha. To engage this bandha, sit in a comfortable cross legged position. Exhale your breath, then take a false inhale (draw the abdomen in and up without taking in any breath.) Draw the belly up underneath the rib cage. To release, soften the abdomen and inhale.

Uddiyana bandha tones, massages and cleans the abdominal organs. If you are familiar with mula bandha, you will see that the drawing up of the pelvic floor naturally leads into the drawing up of the abdomen. This is how the bandhas work together.

Throat Lock or Jhalandara Bandha:
The third and last of the three interior body “locks” used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy. Jhalandara bandha can be practiced alone or in conjunction with mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. To engage this bandha, sit in a comfortable cross legged position. Inhale so the lungs are about two-thirds full, and then hold the breath in. Drop the chin down, and then draw the chin back closer to the chest so the back of the neck does not round. Hold as long as is comfortable and then bring the chin up and release the breath. To practice in conjunction with the other two bandhas, first draw the pelvic floor upwards, engaging mula bandha. This leads to the abdomen drawing in and up under the ribcage (uddiyana bandha). Finally, the chin drops to the chest and draws back into jhalandara bandha. When practiced together, the three locks are known as Maha Bandha, the great lock.

Who is the doer in Yoga Asana practice?

When we do asana we have a concept as to what we are to achieve from the practice--health, flexibility, pride in accomplishment, the yoga butt! Action, though is not the ultimate reality. But we superimpose the energy to perform action (Kriya Sakti) on ourselves through the ego. Consider a flower. When the sun shines the flower blooms. Who is responsible? Blooming is occuring in the presence of sunlight so neither the sun or the flower are the doers of this happening. It is the nature of things that the flower blooms in sunlight. The mind tries to conceptualize natural events in it's language and says either the sun is the doer or the flower is the doer. If we closely look at this logic it will be found that there is no doer at all, things happen as naturally as they should. There is a futility in doing actions and thinking that they yield results according to our expectation and wish. To be in a state of bliss is inherent in every human being. When we forget the blissful nature of our "true self" and try to gain happiness through actions which satisfy the psychological needs of the mind we simply add to the depth of our conditioned state and spiritual ignorance. Actions which give pleasure are always transient and always associated with the shadow of misery. Pleasure and pain are always together in the result of action. Being focussed on the action of Asana practice leads to the formation of tendencies which obstruct our natural state of the self-conscious being. When Asana is done (or any work) is done without doership and the fruit of work is devoted to God the mind is purified to the state of suddha manas which helps us become liberated from the imprisonment in the ego--creation of thought. Cultivating the awareness born out of our connection to the cosmic consciousness will allow our asana practice to provide the natural path to appropriate physical and spiritual progression. Asana doership is just an idea born when work is done with desire or an eye to the fruit of the action. When we devote the fruit of our asana practice (or any work) to God the idea of the doer or doership is not there so there is no ego. In this way non-attached activity purifies the mind by getting rid of the idea of doership which prepares the mind to reflect pure consciousness paving the way for liberation. Lord Krishna stressed in the Bhagavad Gita this attitude toward work and the fruit of work. Work done with desire and doership binds and limits our consciousness, where as impersonal work liberates us from the shackles of ego. So the next time you practice asana, try to make the practice impersonal and egoless and see if you can discover a new way to explore this excellent tool for spiritual development.