Understanding Uddiyana Bandha
In the last piece about mula bandha and its relationship to the pelvic floor muscles, I alluded to the muscle that might be most associated with uddiyana bandha. Well, here we are continuing down the path to try and bridge the subtle and gross of our bodies as best we can.
Again, I should mention that the bandhas in particular are an area that I shy away from making too anatomical, as they are energetic components, not physical. After all, I consider myself a yogi first and an anatomist second. However, there are physical parts that can help us understand and relate to these more subtle aspects of our anatomy. For mula bandha it was the pelvic floor, for uddiyana… well, let’s talk about this for a minute.
I often ask the question, how would you know if someone was engaging or using their bandhas? The answer in some form or fashion is that you see the results. You see the qualities created by mula and uddiyana bandha in the individual as they move and practice. What are the qualities? Mula is the root lock, which means one would observe a grounded quality to the asana being performed. Uddiyana bandha on the other hand means upward flying and is often observed as an overall ease and particularly a lightness in the yoga practice. The very famous floating aspect in advanced practitioners is a sign of bandha use and control.
This is not to say that there is no muscular effort. There most definitely is. One must also have strength to make these movements happen, but to look effortless seems to require the use of the subtle aspects of our being.
I know I’ve been keeping some of you in suspense about what physical part of the body is related to uddiyana, but some of you have probably guessed already. If you haven’t, it’s the psoas muscle. I’ve already written a short article on the psoas posted on the website. For our purposes today I want to tie the workings of mula and uddiyana together.
There are three muscles that one could associate with the word psoas. First is the very small psoas minor muscle. Second, is the psoas major. Third is the iliacus muscle, which, when combined with the psoas major, is known as the Iliopsoas. The psoas minor is somewhat disregarded as it a small muscle with a long tendon, meaning it’s not very powerful.
It is the function of the iliopsoas (the combination of iliacus and psoas major) as the strongest hip flexor of the body that brings everyone’s attention to it. This movement of hip flexion is essential to us as humans, as it is what takes us forward in our daily life. It is the primary muscle for walking. Although you could simplify walking as flexing the femur so that one foot goes in front of the other, it’s certainly much more complex than that, and many other muscles are required to carry out this complicated and coordinated action.
What we’re essentially doing is both controlling and moving our center of gravity forward in space. We’re balancing it on those two long sticks we call legs. Our physical center of gravity is near the top of our sacrum. It’s only slightly different for men and women, but not so much. As we transition into other types of movements, especially if you think of graceful dancers, or powerful changes in direction like football players, what we essentially do is control the center of gravity in our body.
The psoas is perfectly positioned to make this happen. It is a two-sided muscle. Each side is a more or less tapered, tube-shaped piece of myofascia falling on either side of our center of gravity. What this means, is that it is going to be intrinsically linked with the control of this area of the body.
When one jumps back, forward, or lifts up into a handstand they are essentially controlling their center of gravity in relation to their foundation, which in this case is the hands. I hate to over-simplify it, but uddiyana bandha is having a connection to one’s center physically and energetically. Awareness of the psoas, and attempted use of it, seems to trigger the resultant effect of uddiyana bandha – flying upward with control and lightness. At the very least, with attention to the psoas you should feel the beginnings of uddiyana bandha and can then refine it over time.
There is of course one more element that should be discussed if you’re talking about bandha and that is breath. Without it there is no prana to control. Perhaps next time we’ll discuss that.
And, if you’d like more from me… you can download just the psoas section of my YogAnatomy Volume 2 at the shop here.
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This month David answers the question: Should you contract or relax the glutes in urdhva dhanurasana? He explains why the answer should always be specific to the student.