Together with Pranayama and the breathing techniques, we can complement and improve our practice introducing some more “moves” that go along with the asanas: the Bandhas.
The word Bandha means “a lock” and according to the Yoga Sutra, a sort of Yoga Bible, it refers to the binding of consciousness to a particular object or place (Desha) which is the very essence of concentration.
On a more physical approach, the term is related to a specific muscular contraction to perform on some organs or body parts in order to increase physical strength, muscular control, spine support and to ultimately convey the subtle energy and raise it upward.
Like when we have electricity and require wires, transformers, cables and switches to transfer power to destination, in the same way, our bodies need tools to channel energy (or prana) and take it to the right places with no dispersion and without causing any harm.
Blocking the energy flow to a particular area and then releasing it, allows the energy to flood more vigorously through the body with an increased pressure.
This leads to expanded breathing capacity and enhanced sensation of feeling stronger and lighter during the practice and, therefore, the added ability for the practitioner to perform more yoga movements with better alignments.
While in Ashtanga yoga (or most dynamic forms) the Bandhas are performed throughout the session together with the postures, other practices include them only during breathing exercises or meditation.
Let’s explore them more closely now!
There are three main Bandhas:
Mula Bandha, or anal/root lock:
it can be done after both inhalation and exhalation contracting the perineal area in between the genitals and anus (in women is better located near the cervix above the pelvic floor), a movement that resembles the one we use to control the urge to urinate and it is similar to the Kegel exercise, well known in the western world.
The direct benefits are the strengthening of the pelvic floor (with more blood and health for the genitals), stimulation of both endocrine and excretory systems, the calming of the autonomic nervous system and the relaxation of mind.
Energetically, there is a purification and activation of the muladara Chakra ,the root energy center that holds the kundalini, a sacred dormant energy that slowly (preferably) awakens and rises up through the other chakras in the form of pure consciousness.
This may lead to a feeling of “lightness” on the limbs while practicing and to that sensation of “floating” at the end of the class due to the constant flowing up of energy.
Uddyana Bandha or the lifting of the diaphragm:
performed after the exhalation, lifting the low abdominal muscles and pulling them in and up into the abdominal cavity as far as possible. After holding the position as long as comfortable, the tension can be released returning to the starting point with a deep inhalation.
The very meaning of the Sanskrit word uddyana is “flying up” and once again the focus is all on lifting energy.
Considered a more advanced technique, it can support a number of movements such as twists, inversions and jumps while massaging the deeper internal muscles of the lower back and strengthening this area.
Recommended exclusively with an empty stomach and with the diaphragm and the lower part of the ribcage kept soft, this lock also improves the action of mula bandha reinforcing the immune system, stimulating the pancreas and supporting intestinal activity with a relief for constipation.
Jalandhara Bandha or Chin/Throat Lock:
It is practiced after the inhalation as well as the exhalation and consists of moving the chin down toward the chest and the chest toward the chin. The throat is contracted in order to control the escape of breath and energy of the body whilst regulating the flow in the nerves and blood vessels of the neck.
Usually accompanied by breathing exercises and rarely done on its own, this bandha is naturally engaged in the shoulder-stand position (Salamba Sarvangasana) where the curve of the neck spontaneously pushes the chin forward and increases the progress of energy in that area.
With the compression of sinuses on the main arteries of the neck, there is a better regulation of the circulatory and respiratory systems while improving the ability to retain the breath for longer periods with an increment of concentration.
This is why it is especially beneficial for any throat disease and any thyroid/metabolism-related complication.
When we apply the three locks together we have Maha Bandha ( Maha = great) or “master lock”.
Here, all the benefits from the previous Bandhas merge together putting the body in a perfect healing state: there is a better regulation of circulation, blood pressure, muscles, nerves, internal organs, endocrine and automatic nervous system while menstrual cramps and other ailments can be gradually alleviated.
Usually performed in sitting positions (crossing legs) holding the breath out, the three Bandhas are progressively engaged, one after the other, as long as possible. Then, all the locks are released after a full inhalation.
Besides different traditions and styles, Bandhas are so powerful that were once considered, by the ancient yogi philosophers,fundamental tools to master the practice and even start a rejuvenation process taking the whole YOGA experience, both “external” (form, alignments etc.) and ” internal”(concentration, focus etc.), to the next level.
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HOW TO MASTER YOUR WARRIOR II IN 6 EASY STEPS
Warrior II or Virabhadrasana II is a very important asana included in almost every yoga practice and it is often performed more than once in the same session.
Legend has it that a powerful hero, Virabhadra, was created and instructed to lead his army against the God-Sage Daksa, guilty about celebrating a sacrifice without inviting his daughter Sati and her husband Shiva, the Chief of the Gods. Accomplishing to interrupt and destroy the infamous rite, the warrior was at last able to bring justice again.
The implication with this tale reminds us how important it is to perform this asana with the right attitude and a hint of pride and solemnity about it.
The movements create lengthening in the muscles of chest, arms, front and back leg while there is a widening in the chest area and pelvis with the development of confidence and stability for the body and ultimately for the mind.
Let’s see that in greater detail:
1-Starting from mountain pose (standing with feet hip-distance apart) , take a big inhalation and spread your legs apart sideways about 4 to 4 1/2 feet . At the same time, lift the arms bringing them aligned with the shoulders, keeping the blades wide and palms down.
2- Turn the foot ( the one going to the front ) sideways 90 degrees, while turning the other one (about 45 degrees) in the same direction. The heels of the feet are aligned and the thighs are both firm, but the one on the leg extending behind, is slightly turned outward so to have the center of the kneecap in line with the center of the ankle below.
Always remember the back leg is the one providing most support alleviating the strain from the front one (especially in the knee area). For this purpose, make sure the back foot is completely flat on the mat/floor.
3- Exhale and bend your front knee over (but not beyond) the ankle so to have the shin perpendicular to the floor. Ideally, the front thigh should be parallel to the floor and form a right angle with the calf. Such position helps minimizing again any possible harm in the front knee.
A common mistake for this knee is also to have a tendency to drift inward. This is best avoided being aware of it and counteracting it with an additional engagement of the buttock muscles of the leg involved, in order to abduct the inside of the knee toward the little-toe side of the foot. It is important to maintain front hip, thigh and lower leg in alignment at all times to keep the knee in the right place.
4-Stretch the arms sideways and parallel to the floor imagining you are being pulled from opposite ends . Don’t lean the torso but keep it perpendicular (strengthen the arms and open the chest more) so that the sides are equally long and the shoulders are directly over the pelvis. Press the tailbone slightly toward the pubis. Turn the head in the direction of the front leg gazing at the front hand and its fingers.
5- Stay as long as required, usually starting with 20 seconds and building it up to 4 long breaths or more. If the muscles of the thigh become fatigued, partially release the front knee for a few seconds moving up a bit before returning to full pose.
6- Inhale and come up. Reverse the feet and repeat on the other side to keep the work symmetrical and balanced.
Warrior II shouldn’t be practiced with stomach disorders and high blood pressure and, in case of any neck problem, instead of turning the head to look over the front hand, it’s more advisable to look straight ahead with both sides of the neck lengthened evenly.
Several are the benefits coming with this posture besides strengthening all the muscles involved especially in the legs and arms.
There is a stimulation of the abdominal organs and an increase on stamina. It can be therapeutic for carpal tunnel syndrome, flat feet, infertility, osteoporosis, and sciatica while relieving backaches and cramps.
Learning to master the standing asanas and this particular one, provides a great tool to prepare the practitioner for the advanced poses in forward bending also creating, at the same time, an attitude for a body able to convey concentration, stability and readiness. Enjoy it!
Sometimes life seems to ground you and keep you from flying….yoga teaches to stay focused and control the thoughts….controlling the thoughts one can control his/ her feelings and still be capable to reach for the sky….
A volte la vita sembra riportarti con i piedi a terra ed impedirti di volare…lo yoga insegna a rimanere focalizzati e controllare i pensieri….controllando i pensieri si possono controllare le proprie emozioni ed essere ancora capaci di raggiungere il cielo….
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