The practice of yoga dates back as early as 3000 BCE when stone seals were found depicting people sitting in meditative postures. If we follow the history of yoga as a physical practice (Asana) the poses were developed to help the body prepare to sit for long periods in meditation comfortably. Poses that would develop core strength as well as keep the hips open and limber. Over time, the poses continued to develop as callisthenic practices for young men in the military – where Astanga or Power Yoga was formed. Later on, yoga continued to evolve becoming a more therapeutic practice as taught by BKS Iyengar and TKV Desikachar.
Throughout the evolvement of the physical practice of yoga, the interesting thing to note for us in the west is the Yogi’s consideration of form and alignment through the Bandhas. Bandhas or locks (translated from Sanskrit) refer to points in the body that need to be contracted in order to preserve energy (prana) in the body.
There are 3 primary Bandhas:
- Mula Bandha or Root Lock: The root as in the base of our spine refers to the exact location and sensation of drawing up our pelvic floor muscles. In fitness, we understand the importance of these muscles to fully integrate our core and provide stability for our low back.
- Uddiyana Bandha or Belly Lock: Is how both the belly draws in towards the spine while the spine pulls towards the belly. Creating a sandwich effect to fully support the spine through all movements. Once again in fitness, an alignment cue we use for core strength and support.
- Jalandhara Bandha or Throat Lock: This is the light contraction of the muscles of the neck and throat as a means to align our cervical spine. As we find ourselves often holding positions that defy gravity, ensuring that our head and neck are supported is important to ensure safety for the delicate muscles of our neck.
When we practice Asana, focusing on building strength by boosting our bandhas will actually allow the poses to feel more stable and lighter for our body. We begin to work with the sensation of creating internal strength while maintaining external softness. This allows us to discover the real flow that is yoga, even while holding a pose in stillness. If we say that we are only as strong as we are flexible, boosting our bandhas while at the same time softening into our poses creates a physical balance to the body and mind that is difficult to find anywhere else.
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