Flying Upward to Infinity and Beyond – Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana-bandha-yogaUddiyana Bandha which means “Flying Upward” is the second of three energetic locks in the body. It is often engaged along with Mula Bandha (read my article here on the “root lock” Mula Bandha)

benefits:

1. Strengthens the core muscles as when breathing this way the transverse abdominals are strongly engaged.

2. Stimulates the organs of digestion and elimination

3. Creates a lightness in yoga practice especially when practicing balancing postures including inversions and arm balances.

Caution:

Not recommended if you are pregnant, are trying to get pregnant, have high blood pressure or experience dizziness. This is considered an advanced breathing technique so if you are new to yoga try it under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.

To practice Uddiyana Bandha

1.Stand with the legs a little wider than hip width apart and knees softly bent.

2. Inhale reach the arms overhead

3. Exhale all of the breath out through the nose, lean forward, press the palms into the knees, and engage the abdominal muscles to strongly pull the belly in and up under the ribcage.

4. Hold the breath as you hold the abdominal lock and take a mock inhale (perform the same action of an inhale without actually pulling any air into the body.) drawing the belly further up and in.

5. Hold for as long as comfortable.

6. Inhale soften the abdominals and let the belly drop.

7. Breath in and out through the nose and let the breath return to normal.

8. Beginners start with 3 rounds eventually working up to as many as 10 rounds for advanced practitioners.

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Tapas In Our Yoga Practice: Inviting in the Fire

Simon-ParkDetermination and a passion are descriptive of the Sanskrit word tapas. Tapas (austerities; discipline; literally “heat”) is one of the Niyamas (niyamas describe actions and attitudes that we should cultivate to overcome the illusion of separation and the suffering it causes) the fire that we create within our yoga practice that helps us burn through all of the heaps of emotional, mental and physical baggage that we have aquired along our lifes path.

I love this next quote, and do not know the author to which to give the credit…

“Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea we can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life and achieve our ultimate goal of creating union with the Divine. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal.”

Tapas is not easy by any means. Nope! It is meant to burn through the ego. Trust me when I say, the ego definitely does not appreciate toppling over in yoga class or for that matter looking ‘foolish’ in any way shape or form! In fact the ego when bruised will usually take the form of anger. Oh yes, it’s true, yogis can get angry! For some yogis not being able to do a pose not only opens a can of worms it can turn into a tub full of snakes! (Make that hissing snakes) I once watched a student curse out a teacher and then turn to the entire class and call us a couple of unmentionables as well.

I had the pleasure of taking a class from Rusty Wells a few weekends ago at Wanderlust and he talked about being open, curious, and childlike. (And not in a terrible twos temper tantrum kind of way) He spoke about what was it like for you when you first began practicing yoga? You were cool, you did what the teacher said, you tried new things, you were willing to invite new poses in, new sensations, new challenges. At some unfortunate point alot of people become yoga “experts” (yawn) and put the brakes on their tapas, that fire that brings about transformation, growth and keeps the yoga love flame burning. Yoga is a relationship, you have to put the work in. You have to be willing to give, to burn and ultimately transform or the flame will go out. It requires everything that you have and then more at times. It will test you to your breaking point, because therein lies the beauty, the alchemy, the truth of who you really are. Beneath the frustrion, the anger, and after you’ve gone through your own ring of fire you will arrive at something familiar something real, and a person you can proudly call your true self.

Why We Don’t Squeeze Our Butt In Backbending Yoga Postures

urdhva dhanurasana "wheel" yoga pose

“Stop Squeezing those pumpkins!”

If you ever make it to a class with my teacher and mentor Annie Carpenter she will probably remind you to stop squeezing your butt at least once during backbends. As you probably already guessed, she likes to refer to the buttocks as “pumpkins”. As lovely as a lil’ perky pumpkin shaped butt sounds it is really not all that great for you when you are attempting your backbending poses.

In the above photo you can clearly see the feet turned out indicating there is external rotation in the thighs. If you look closer you can see there is some “pumpkin” misuse and even classic puffing of the groins. As lovely as this photo and practitioner are in this photo this is unfortunately a perfect example of what not to do.

We will get to why in a moment but the feeling you want is more like a baby after a couple of laps in the kiddie pool, oh yes, the “wet diaper” feeling, now we’re talking! Drop your hips two inches at least and then extend your tailbone towards the back of the knees while rolling your inner thighs down and pressing your shins towards your shoulders. No “pyramiding” the groins towards the sky, your crotch should not be the highest point on your body. Let’s face it, leading with the groins is probably never a great idea. (Write that one down, it’s brilliant advice!)

So what does your butt have to do with your back? Glad you asked! When you squeeze your glutes it creates a strong external rotation of your thighs which in turn forces your sacrum (the flat bone that attaches your butt to your back) into compression. Kinda like the 405 freeway at 5pm, major traffic jam, no fun and your backbend is stuck! The way to get things moving again so to speak, is to internally rotate the thighs. This can be done by squeezing a foam block between your upper inner thighs. This will engage your hamstrings and quads (enjoy the burning sensations, that’s your thighs getting stronger, yay!) and save your lower back and sacrum heaps of problems while taking your backbends to the next level! Can you say superstar backbends? Oh, yeah!

The problem with overbending in the lumbar spine (lower back L4-L5 to be more to the point) is that it is much like a credit card that has been bent back and forth about a thousand times, eventually it breaks at the seam. Not too cool if that “seam” happens to be your lower back. As we age we have very little to no cartilage left in that area and with overuse it becomes bone on bone, Ouch! (At that point you may as well lay out a welcome mat for your new friend Mr. Arthritis)

Okay, enough with the bad news, the good news is when you stabilize and neutralize the lower back safely then the body will begin to blossom the backbend into the upper spine! Trust me when I say understanding this is like winning the backbending lottery, the payoff is huge!

Below is yoga teacher and friend Diana Cohanzad in a very full, healthy and beautiful backbend.
Diana Cohanzad backbending urdhva dhanurasana

Yoga for the Athlete: Excellent Tips for the Yogi Runner

running
Here is an excellent article on yoga and running I found over at Daily Cup of Yoga blog.

This article has a complete sequence of yoga poses specifically for runners along with pictures (always helpful) With running yoga is especially helpful as it helps to prevent injury, increase stride length, and loosen the pesky IT band that tends to be particularly troublesome for athletes!

Yoga is the perfect compliment to running as it loosens the hips, hamstrings and lower back muscles which will improve your posture while you run. Improved posture also means improved breathing, which of course means better athletic performance! Yoga is to Running as Yin is to Yang

Unleashing the Magic: What Handstand Will Teach You

brian la river handstanding aloneYoga is not achieved by mere reading of the scriptures.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika I.65

Fresh back from Wanderlust Festival I am feeling inspired by the many yogis I met over my three days I spent “yoga-ing” it up on top of the mountain. As Brock and Krista Cahill’s assistant during my time there I had the pleasure of helping a lot of these fine yogis levitate 9,000 ft in the air in what for some of them, may have been their very first handstand! What an amazing experience!

What struck me in particular was the focus, effort, patience, and persistence these yogis showed. Nobody comes out of the womb handstanding, so if you want to learn how you must be willing to fall.

I would be willing to argue that the willingness to fall is one of the surest signs that someone will be successful at finding their handstand. I know from my personal experience when I became comfortable with falling was when I began to finally “get it”.

Handstand really brings up those spooky fear of the unknown. Learning it becomes an excercise in believing, and trusting not only in your own abilities but that if you fall (and you will sometimes) that everything is going to be okay.

Unlike poses like Warrior two you can’t see what is coming at you so easily, and you aren’t firmly rooted to the earth in preparation, you must learn to let go and believe that the universe (or the person spotting you) will catch you.

Believing that everything will be okay releases the magic. There is little room for doubt when you are balancing on your hands. If you want to receive what the universe has to offer you must let go and believe.

Levitation at 9,000 Feet

Here is a short video I took of Brock and Krista Cahill’s yoga class at Wanderlust this year! As I hav mentioned previously I had the pleasure of being their yoga assistant this year which was such an honor and so much fun! The view is breathtaking to say the least and the class was fun, challenging and inspirational as usual. Nothing quite beats handstanding at 9,000 feet in the air overlooking Squaw Valley let me tell you!

Watch the video it will make you laugh, as in true Brock and Krista form they begin the class, after a few Om’s and opening words in one of their all-time favorite poses ( second only to handstand that is..) Navasana (boat pose)!