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November 17, 2016

“Core” is a popular buzzword in fitness classes these days, but it is not a new idea; yogis have been strengthening their deep core muscles for ages through the practice of bandha . Bandha s are strong holds, or locks, traditionally thought to direct energy in the body . Physically, they activate some of the most important muscles for postural stability.

 

The core includes the set of muscles that stabilize the low back with respect to the rib cage and pelvis . Although someone with a ripped six pack may the poster child for a strong core, the rectus abdominis (six pack muscle) does not contribute much to the core’s function. These are the main muscles of the core:

  • Pelvic Floor : The pelvis is the spine’s anchor, so its stability is vital to the integrity of the low back. The pelvic floor muscles form a hammock within the pelvis to stabilize it front-to-back and side-to-side. These muscles are the foundation of the core.
  • Transversus Abdominis : this muscle is like a natural corset that wraps around the abdomen. When engaged it hugs the abdominal organs and front ribs toward the spine to create a column of stability.
  • Multifidus : these muscles run up either side of the spine to stabilize the low back with respect to the pelvis. They are active during all the backbending, side-bending, and twisting poses we do in yoga. The bandha practices described below do not directly activate the multifidus muscles, but learning to engage the bandhas enables us to use the multifidus muscles more safely and effectively.

 

To yogis, the core is about more than only physical alignment. It is also about energetic alignment. Here are the age-old practices yogis have been using to find their centers for centuries:

 

Mula Bandha

Sanskrit:   Mula  means “root” and bandha  means “lock.”

Instructions:  Sitting in a comfortable position with a neutral pelvis, take a deep inhale through the nose. As you exhale, engage the pelvic floor muscles to draw the pubic bone (front center of the pelvis) toward the tailbone and the sit bones (bony areas under each butt cheek) toward one another. Feel the area between the genitals and anus, the perineum, lift. The pelvis itself does not move at all; it stays neutral. Hold for four to eight seconds, then release.

Physiology:   Mula bandha in an engagement of the internal sling of muscles that line the pelvis. The levator ani muscles connect the pubic bone to the tailbone and sit bones, and also connect to the perineum. These muscles form the foundation of the core, and are play a vital role in bowel and bladder control, sexual function, and childbirth.

Energy:  In a seated position, your torso is a chamber of prana, and the pelvic floor is its base. Engaging mula bandha prevents energy from leaking out of your foundation and redirects it into the central channel. Mula Bandha  also activates the root chakra ( muladhara ).

 

Uddiyana bandha

Sanskrit:   Uddiyana  means “upward,” referring to the direction of energy elicited by pulling the abdomen in and up. It is often referred to as the abdominal lock.

Instructions:  Stand with the feet wider than hips width with the torso leaning slightly forward, knees bent, and hands on the thighs. Take a deep inhale to prepare then exhale all your air. Hold the breath out and draw your navel in and up under the rib cage so the belly hollows out. Hold for a four to eight seconds, then release the belly and inhale as you straighten up.

Physiology:   Uddiyana bandha  is a deep engagement of the transversus abdominis. Not only does this strengthen the core, it massages the abdominal organs to refresh blood flow and relieve constipation. Uddiyana bandha  is unique in that it s tretches diaphragm muscle. It is important to keep the diaphragm healthy and supple because it is the primary muscle for breathing; integrates directly with the esophagus and major blood vessels to and from the heart; and has long reaching fascial connections neck and core muscles.

Energy:   Uddiyana bandha  activates and stimulates the s olar plexus chakra ( manipura )

 

Jalandhara Bandha

Sanskrit : Jal  means throat, jalan  means net, and dharan  means stream or flow. Jalandhara bandha  is a net that directs the flow up energy up the neck. It is often referred to as the throat lock.

Instructions:  In a comfortable seated position with your ears aligned above your shoulders, inhale to prepare, then exhale all your air. Retaining the breath out draw your chin toward your throat (giving yourself a “double chin”) then continue curling the neck to bring the chin toward the sternum. Curling the neck from top to bottom without jutting the chin forward is important to maintain length. Dropping the chin forward and down to the chest may compress the neck and create energetic blocks. After holding for four to eight seconds, lift the chin and inhale.

Physiology:  In the rehabilitation world, the deep neck flexor muscles that work to curl the neck in jalandhara bandha  are known as the core of the neck. Jutting the head forward of the shoulders is a common postural misalignment in which these muscles become weak and dysfunctional. When the neck is out of alignment it throws the rest of the spine out of alignment and causes dysfunction in all the core muscles mentioned above. Jalandhara bandha  strengthens the deep muscles of the neck to set us up for healthy spine alignment and core stability. Compressing and releasing the front of the throat also stimulates the thyroid gland, which is responsible for metabolism.

Energy:   Jalandhara bandha  vibrates and purifies the throat chakra ( vishuddhi ), and directs energy upward toward the higher chakras.

 

Maha Bandha ,

Sanskrit:   Maha  means “great,” so maha bandha  is the great lock.

Instructions:  Maha bandha is a combination of all three bandhas. Sitting on the shins (or another comfortable position), first engage jalandhara bandha  (the throat lock) , then uddiyana bandha  (the abdominal lock), and finally mula bandha  (the root lock). After holding all three bandhas for four to eight second, release the bandhas  in the same order you engaged them.

Physiology and Energy:  Maha bandha has all the physical and energetic benefits mentioned above



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