Uddiyana can be translated as “upward flying” and bandha as “lock”. This lock is located in the lower abdomen about three fingers below your navel; it is a band of muscle between your two hipbones. This space can be engaged in a full range of ways, from slightly firm, or intensely engaged, drawing the belly into such an extreme that it is visibly pulled up and under the rib-cage. For asana, we work towards something in the middle, as a start. For pranayama, we reach towards the more extremely engaged end of the spectrum.
How to practice Uddiyana Bandha:
1. Pull the low belly in and up towards your spine. For most yogis, this may take some time to recognize that it’s there.
2. Lay on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Take your hands to your belly at your hip bones and begin to press the arch of your lower back towards the floor. While you will not actually lose that space between the back and the floor, you likely will feel your belly begin to engage.
3. If the previous option doesn’t work, stay on your back and stretch your legs out on the floor in front of you. Try to lift your heels an inch off the ground. This is an optimal way to notice your lower abdominal lock.
A strong and engaged core is what you want in most of your yoga postures. This lock stabilizes the body by aligning the hips and spine, drawing strength from the center rather than the extremities. This will create a stronger core for the body to draw from, while also decreasing the potential for injury in the hip and shoulder girdles, as well as in the outer limbs. Once the core becomes strong and a part of practice, it makes other poses easier and more accessible.
There are other internal benefits to this lock, such as keeping the digestive organs clear and moving, helping the flow of energy sealed inside the body, building prana (life force) and heat while assisting in the removal of impurities. According to ancient yogis, the solar plexus (Manipura Chakra), is the seat of fire within our physical and psychic systems. The lower chakras are the energy centers of many vital functions and health issues within the physical body. Keeping this part of the body active and working prevents lower back problems and promotes healthy adrenal glands while improving kidney, bladder, and liver function.
By engaging Uddiyana lock the breath above the belly fills the lungs and rib-cage, thus, initiating ujjayi breathing. In addition to building focus and concentration on the breath’s sound, ujjayi is a powerful pranayama that heats the body and stimulates the flow of blood, increasing your circulation as well as your metabolism. Taking in more air also oxygenates the blood, which keeps the blood healthy and more resistant to disease.
While nurturing and providing an outlet for stress, relaxation and stretching, yoga is not easy. If we ignore our core muscles, we will likely have a higher risk of injury. When feel the intensity of our body getting stronger, the heat we’re creating and the sweat forming across the brow; acknowledge that your effort will not go unnoticed or be in vain, but will rather build towards a safer and stronger practice. Keep your energy centered, protect yourself from injury and celebrate your strength, awareness, and diligence.
“So we would say in yoga that the subtle precedes the gross, or spirit precedes matter. But yoga says we must deal with the outer or most manifest first, i.e. legs, arms, spine, eyes, tongue, touch, in order to develop the sensitivity to move inward. This is why asana opens the whole spectrum of yoga’s possibilities. There can be no realization of existential, divine bliss without the support of the soul’s incarnate vehicle, the food-and-water-fed body, from bone to brain. If we can become aware of its limitations and compulsions, we can transcend them. We all possess some awareness of ethical behavior, but in order to pursue yama and niyama at deeper levels, we must cultivate the mind. We need contentment, tranquility, dispassion, and unselfishness, qualities that have to be earned. It is asana that teaches us the physiology of these virtues.”
~B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom
Parsvottanasana comes from the Sanskrit words Parsva meaning side, Ut meaning intense and tan meaning to extend, stretch or lengthen. Hence the name Intense Side Stretch Pose. This pose is also called Pyramid Pose, which emphasizes the powerful foundation and strength created in this pose.
Getting into the pose:
Caution: Do not practice this pose if you have a hamstring injury. If you have a shoulder or wrist injury, do not practice the full version of the pose. Women who are pregnant and those with back injuries or high blood pressure should practice the pose against a wall. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. As with any exercise regimen, including yoga, talk with your doctor before practicing.
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