Understanding Karma Yoga and Dharma – and practicing these can help you, others, and the world live in a more peaceful and easeful manner.
With so many things happening around the world including natural disasters, global warming, terrorism, racism, and sexism, etc. it is only natural to wonder what you can do to help others who may be in a less fortunate situation than you or to help the earth itself. It can also be natural to doubt your ability, as one person, to make a difference. These questions and doubts are perfectly valid, and the reality is that there are a lot of different things that you can do and that each one of them will probably have little direct impact on these huge issues. However, mindful action – Karma Yoga – moves us toward right action – Dharma – and when we practice our Karma Yoga and follow our Dharma, then each small act begins to contribute to the universal good.
I vividly remember the first time I was sitting in a yoga class and I heard the term “Moola (sometimes spelled Mula) Bandah”. I was feeling confused but I followed along as I did whenever I heard other unfamiliar Sanskrit names that I was learning about. However, I found the bandah terms rather elusive. At first I longed for something more tangible to hold onto; like the asana poses so that I could see it on the outside to make sure I was doing it right. I kept wondering if what I was feeling was correct or honestly if I was even feeling the bandahs when I was instructed to engage them. I wondered if I looked different on the outside, or if the teacher could tell if I was using them. Then after practicing and going through these motions something began to change and my practice began to shift.
As I practiced more, and learned more about the bandahs, I realized what I can now say to be true. First, the bandahs are elusive and hard to pin down and there are a lot of different views on what they can do for your yoga practice, your body, and your mind. There are also many different views about when and if they should be taught, to whom, and in what way. Second, after confirming my hunch around their subtle actions, I have also come to understand that although they are vague and somewhat mysterious, they are very real and worth exploring within your own body.
As I went through the motions of following the bandah activation instruction given by my teachers, what I began to notice were the times when I was not using them. It was in these moments of silence, or absence of the bandahs, that I began to understand the connection to this energy and the lightness that it brings to my own practice. So, the journey with the bandahs is like any yoga posture or class you find yourself in; it will be unique to you. Since each pose looks slightly different on the outside for all of us, I believe that our connection to the root lock of our energy may be somewhat similar in action but yet uniquely our own experience. I will do my best to explain the subtle concepts behind these terms. I hope that you will begin to explore your own experience of their meaning and connection to yourself, and your practice of yoga.
The term “Bandah” is a Sanskrit word that is often defined as a closing off, locking, or holding back of something. There are three most discussed bandahs; moolah (mula), uddiyana, and jalandara bandahs. Sometimes you may also hear about maha bandah, hasta bandah, and pada bandah.
For the purpose of this explanation I will focus on the bandahs that I am most familiar with and include in my own practice and teaching. Imagine that you have this pranic energy within your body that flows through you in a vertical channel. When you activate mula bandah you are, in essence, closing off or sealing the end of this channel to allow the flow of energy to move upward to support you and your practice. In doing this it begins to create a lightness of energy while simultaneously toning the deep muscles. Instead of letting our energy flow down and out of us we build up this energy force within us to help sustain us. This is what helps us float in and out of poses, hold poses longer, and increase our energy during a class.
Mula Bandah: To locate Mula Bandah we let our attention and breath come into the pelvic floor. We are trying to isolate the perineum area known as the “root lock.” To begin to find and isolate this location can be difficult at first, so we connect with Ashwini mudra (which is the contraction of the anal sphincter muscles), and Vajroli mudra (the contraction of the urogenital muscles). In contracting these muscles we begin to isolate the perineum. Another way to think about this is that you really have to go to the bathroom and there is not a restroom around. This action of engaging these muscles to avoid having an accident begins to help us find Mula Bandah. Remember to breathe in this situation to connect to increasing our pranic flow.
Uddiyana bandah: To locate Uddiyana bandah we let our attention draw to the navel. In Sanskrit, “uddiyana” is defined as to fly up or to rise up. So we take the energy from mula bandah and allow it to rise up further by drawing the navel back toward the back spine, lifting up underneath the lower rib band. Connecting Uddiyana from Mula Bandah can give us extra oomph in our Vinyasa flow which makes it more effortless.
Hasta Bandah: To locate Hasta bandah we get in touch with a suction feeling through the palms of our hands. Because most poses can place weight onto our hands and wrists we want to create a sense of grounding down, but lifting and lightness through our arms. We want to place weight into the hands through the fingers, and then imagine suction under the palm with little weight being born on the heel of the hand. Imagine the energy drawing up the arms.
Pada Bandah: To locate Pada Bandah we draw our attention down to our feet. Similarly with our hands, we want to create grounding-down and lifting-up action. Begin standing in Tadasana and feel rooted down into the earth. Lift and spread the toes and ground down the big toe, then the other toes slowly until you can feel all 4 corners of the feet. Feel behind the big toe mound where the arch begins; lift up, move your fingers or attention back to the middle of the arch to lift and then back to where the arch meets the sole of the foot and heel. Once activated, it is then lifted or sucked up the legs to eventually meet up with Mula Bandah.
When we activate these bandahs we are increasing blood flow to deep muscles and organs. In return, we are connecting to the corresponding chakras in the body. There are muscular, endocrine, nervous system, pranic, and mental health benefits. As we are redirecting our energy upward we can begin to see the body as a beautiful and complex matrix of energy. As we learn and practice the bandahs they are a vehicle for our own growth and development both on and off the mat. We begin to use them throughout our entire yoga class and create a sense of lightness, ease, and focus for our practice. We all may be drawn to the bandahs for different reasons; it may be to build fire within your belly, and to burn impurities, and get a great looking abdomen; or maybe it is to help calm your nervous system and create some lightness in your practice particularly during these hot summer months. Whatever the reason, I hope that you will begin to explore some of the many benefits that can come with adding some bandah action to your life.
(*As with all new practice one should consult their healthcare provider before beginning.)
“There is deep wisdom within our very flesh, if we can only come to our senses and feel it.” ~Elizabeth A. Behnke
Julie discovered a love of dance and movement early in her life. This led to exploration of yoga asana and self inquiry. Julie followed a desire to understand the connection between the mind and body, and our universal interdependence. She has worked over 20 years in the mental health field, obtaining her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Miami University in Oxford, OH and a Masters of Social Work at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY. Julie completed her 200 hour teacher training in June 2009 through Elemental Yoga in Boston, Mass., with Bo Forbes. Yoga has been a vehicle for Julie’s own healing journey and she loves being able to assist people in finding the deep healing that yoga can bring to one’s mind, body and spirit.
Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.
In yogic theory, the mind is considered to be a field of consciousness, and thoughts are like waves that roll through that field. Meditation is a way to bring us back to ourselves, where we can really experience and taste our full being, beyond all habitual ways of being and thinking. In normal waking states, our minds focus on passing thoughts and outer circumstances, and we mistakenly identify with these thoughts and experiences. In the stillness and silence of meditation, we glimpse and return to our deep inner nature remembering that we are the field that the waves pass through.
Often, when one thinks of meditation, an idea persists that the goal is to control the mind so that the thoughts stop coming, and a peaceful feeling is achieved. But, as Sherrie Wade, founder of Transformational Meditation, sees it, “the purpose of the mind is to think.” Rather than working against the true nature of mind, practicing meditation helps us develop the ability to sit quietly and observe the thoughts, feelings and moods that pass in and out of our mind. As we observe the mind, transformation occurs.
If the transformation of mind for its own sake is not enough to tempt you, maybe the health benefits – physical and emotional – will appeal. Meditation has been widely studied and is known to reduce pain, stress and anxiety while promoting a healthy, happy and productive lifestyle*. People who meditate have been found to sleep better, age slower, be more present and focused, and be less annoyed by the details of life. In a nutshell, meditation helps you enjoy life!
Kathryn Gardner is a Vinyasa yoga teacher and is currently studying Transformational Meditation, a technique based on ancient yogic texts as well as the works of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dean Ornish, Joan Borysenko and others. This method helps one transform ordinary waking consciousness into its original state of pure space or consciousness.
Posabilities will host a free introduction to meditation on Sunday, March 17 at 5:00 pm. Kathryn will lead a 60 minute class, “Creating a Meditation Practice” every Sunday at Posabilities starting April 7, 2013 at 5:00pm. Click here to read more.
*Many studies have been done in the last 20 years supporting these ideas, including the following:
Grossman (2004), Feiburg, Germany
Amishi Jha & Michael Baime (2007), Penn’s Stress Management Program
Miller, et al. (1995), University of Massachusetts Medical Center
Physical Therapy | Yoga | Wellness in Norway, Maine