Q: I think I’m engaging uddiyana bandha wrong — my stomach has started to pull out and, rather than pulling in and having a thinning effect, it is now out at the level of my ribs.
When I engage my bhanda, I contract the muscles below my navel. Should I be sucking them in instead?
A: Uddiyana Bandha is more an energetic seal than a physical lock or sucking in of the abdomen during regular practice. Unless you are practicing nauli or basti as a yogic cleansing technique, the drawing of the navel point inward to make the stomach “thinner” is secondary to this bandha’s much more powerful effect of raising your focal potential. In my experience uddiyana bandha works much better as an energetic awareness cultivator and technique to keep you present…
Having said this, uddiyana (which means “in flight” or “upward lifting”) definitely has a physical aspect; it is just subtler than people realize. This bandha also has the welcome effect of helping to align and protect the lumbar spine by toning the navel-point (a point two-three fingers below the actual navel) in many backbends both symmetrical and asymmetrical from “upward facing bow” to “warrior A”. Uddiyana bandha also helps prevent the ‘leaking’ or collapse of energy from the navel-point in such asanas as chattarunga dandasana.
The root of this bandha, however, is not in the stomach. It is in the quadriceps. The quads awaken the energy in the navel-point, which is the energetic center of presence or being present in this moment. By toning and bringing awareness to the quads which helps to ground or stabilize you and bring more sthirim or steadiness into your pose, the navel point is awakened and you become grounded or present in the “now.” Over time, the student develops the ability to “slide” the navel point in and up, but when this happens it is more of a spontaneous event that comes from maintaining a steady focus in your practice. Preventing energy from draining out of the navel-point during your practice keeps you from going into the past or future. If you lose this bandha, you lose your connection to the “now” which is the point of true power and all choice in your life.
Even though the engaging of this bandha is half technique, half applied imagination and half grace, there are some physical pointers (in addition to energizing your quads) that you can look for. In men this bandha can begin to be accessed by subtly drawing the inner walls of the anus upward or “vacuuming” the perineum (i.e., the floor of the pelvis) upward. For women, it has been said that this bandha is experienced as a subtle drawing upward of the cervix. In any event the engaging of uddiyana bandha on a physical level is subtle and happens over time with regular practice. With patience these physical actions applied with gentle focus can add to the energetic cultivation of present moment awareness which is the true fruit of this bandha’s engagement.
To try and force this bandha to happen physically without cultivating the necessary awareness can lead to the difficulties you are describing, so relax a bit more and work on accessing this bandha on the more energetic level. Though it can take considerable attention to cultivate a deeper presence in this moment, which is where your true Self resides, it is well worth it. Once the navel point is ‘engaged’ in uddiyana bandha, energy rises to the heart (the center of feeling) which opens in a spontaneous blooming. The shoulders relax and your ability to feel and adjust the body out of your physical/emotional habits is magnified a hundredfold as the energetic body frees itself from past bindings (samskara). It is here while feeling the true present moment that your grace-filled Self begins to thrive.
Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga. All suggestions are voluntary. Consult a qualified teacher or your physician before you embark on any practice in which you are unfamiliar.