Bandha Breath®: excerpt from upcoming book.
This new technique will merge my 3 favorite things. The Breath, The Bandhas and Asana. For the past 40 years I have been sharing these aspects of Hatha Yoga separately, and I think it gets overly complicated. And with so much attention placed on asanas, the breath and bandhas seem to then have a lesser importance. Without an expansion of the breath within the container of the bandhas, yoga asanas are just exercise. I think I have discovered a simple breathing technique that combines all three in one easy breath, to be taught in the first yoga class to beginners, and I am calling it the Bandha Breath®.
It will enhance your asana practice by increasing your strength and concentration, which means you will harness the mind and maybe even go beyond the mind. And isn't that what Yoga is all about? Going beyond the Mind. The Mind like the 5 senses, is a vital part of ourselves, but when we overly identify with this dimension of ourselves, we limit who we are. We have a more accurate GPS if we only knew how to access it. With just a little intuition and self-awareness we know this to be true. For lack of space, I am going to call this mind the Ego/Mind. Let's just leave it at that for now.
Let me share with you an example of going beyond the Ego/Mind, an example you have all heard of, not in this context maybe, but it serves well here.
Do you think you could lift a car? We have all heard about the mother who lifted a car that had rolled over her child. Have you ever contemplated this?
Some of us can barely lift our own body weight doing one push up. What is the difference in these two acts?
Let's say at one moment, this mother goes to a yoga class, and can't do one push up. Then she walks outside with her little girl. The girl runs out in the street and gets hit by a car. The mother picks up the car and pulls her daughter out to safety. What just happened?
This is how powerful we really are, but most of the time we pretend otherwise.
What just happened was the mother went beyond the mind. In the every day state of consciousness, mind is in charge of prana, our life force. Unobstructed by an unfocused mind, or a mind filled with limitations, this mother's mind was shocked for a brief moment, out of the driver's seat. Prana took over. This mother came fully into the present moment. The mind does not live in the present. Mostly it lives in the past or future, or in a completely made up world of its own. The Body and Consciousness live in the glorious present. With that much energy "present" the mother was able to lift the car.
How can we begin to make baby steps towards this Prana, and release the mental identification that has such a strong hold on our energy? And what does this have to do with Hatha Yoga and the Bandha Breath? Everything.
I see students struggling all the time in asanas. Forcing their bodies to do things that, if they could only "get out of their own way" their body would perform a whole lot better. The mother mentioned above, got out of her own way, and picked up the car.
The first thing we need to do when we practice asanas is to "still the Mind" or focus the mind.
The way I have found for me, that consistently works is to watch and feel my breath.
As we all know breath bridges the mental body with the physical body, IF we can entice the Mind to observe it, and for the body to feel it. When this happens the mind stops hijacking Prana, our life force.
If we can make the breath interesting enough or felt enough, or "conscious" enough, our mental body will have something to focus on, which will allow it to stay present. As the mind focuses on the sensations of the breath, the mental chatter of self judgments and limitations shuts up, and Prana, which can lift a car if necessary, is finally free to do what it does best: go beyond the limitations of mind. Is this making sense?
Then if we could create a breath that engages the body at its core, i.e. the abdominal area, then we would be ahead of the game and join mental focus with the muscles that most efficiently move the body. This is where the Bandha Breath comes in. So let's get started.
Sit up tall, find your sitz bones, ……..remember your butt is not for sitting on.
Exhale smoothly through the nose, allowing the navel to be drawn inward towards the back of your spine, emptying your lungs completely.
Now, Imagine that you have a Whale Blow-Hole on your back, directly opposite your heart. Breathe in from this "Blow- Hole", 4 to 6 short sipping inhalations, or as many as it takes to completely fill up your lungs. No exhalations yet. (You are of course breathing from your nose.) You will probably notice in order to draw your breath from the backside, your diaphragm automatically moves up into your chest cavity as your abdominals suck in.
After you have inhaled fully, hold the breath a few seconds and complete one cycle of breathing by exhaling slowly through the nose, relaxing your chest and drawing your navel back in towards the spine. Then repeat.
Breathe in again from this "Blow- Hole", 4 to 6 short, sipping inhalations, or as many as it takes to completely fill up your lungs. No exhalations yet. After you have inhaled fully, hold the breath a few seconds and complete the cycle by once again, exhaling slowly through the nose, relaxing your chest and drawing your navel back in towards the spine.
That's It. That is the Bandha Breath®. The abdominal muscles and diaphragm moving upward on the inhale is Uddiyana Bandha. The strength and concentration, lengthening of the spine and deepening of the breath happens automatically. In the beginning you may find your shoulders feel like they need to get involved and move upward as well. With practice and awareness the shoulders can remain relaxed. And as always allow the head to remain an extension of the spine by dropping the chin slightly and lengthening the back of the neck. (Jalandhara Bandha)
As you become familiar with this whale-hole Breathing, Bandha Breath®, you can add Mulabandha, the root lock, by sending your pubic bone away from your navel and drawing the soft tissues of the pelvic floor upward. Now you have all Bandhas present! The most important connection is simply the whale-hole breathing, get the abdominal lift, and the other bandhas will join in at the appropriate time.
This breath is the energy body expressed and activated as the posture is the physical body placed into various shapes. Combine the two and Yoga begins.
Try this in any asana and see the amazing results of:
- Increased concentration and increased strength
- More awareness, and movement of the backside of your body and spinal cord area
- With this stimulation of the back-side of your body; the spine and spinal chord become activated. This area as we know houses nerve endings that connect the brain with every organ and system of your body. As life force gets directed there, through the Bandha Breath, this area begins to operate more efficiently.
- With this increased awareness of the back side of your body, the body is freed to return to its natural alignment in relationship to gravity. Your posture improves whether in an asana or at your computer.
- You can do this breathing anytime, in your car, at your desk, walking, running or sitting. It will increase your energy and sense of well being on or off the mat. But be sure to first FIND YOUR SITZ BONES, if you are sitting!! Like right now J
In Yogic Terms what is happening is:
Apana energy which is the downward flow of gravity is literally being drawn into the body from the pelvic floor muscles, mixed with Prana, upward flowing, dynamic energy from the kidney area into the heart chakra. This dynamic mixture gives you strength directly from source energy, not mental energy.
You can will yourself into postures, especially if you are younger than 35, however, if you continue using your Mind instead of source energy, as you get older, you will create an energy deficit, and not get the great benefits a yoga practice promises.So it is better to learn to use Source Energy not mind/ego energy in your yoga practice. This Bandha Breath®brings your energy body, physical body and mental body into correct relationship. With the Bandha Breath®the mind simply observes what is going on. With this technique the mind/ego can let go of control because you are now using direct body energy to move you.
Use your mind when you are doing mental activity. Use your body and breath when you are doing physical activity, when you are embodying all of who you are.
Learn to plug into direct source energy, and you will have experiences that go way beyond what the mind thought possible. Like lifting a car, or flowing through your asana practice with strength, grace and ease, preparing your whole self for the stillness of deep meditation. You will find yourself sitting in a strong aligned container as this Prana, instead of lifting a car, settles into the stillness of your third eye. As the chatter of your mind becomes quiet and the movements of asanas stop, and your breath becomes subtle, you enter your body fully, where truth exists.The more time you spend in this place, the easier it is to get there and the greater the possibility of staying there on or off the mat.
See you there.
Try it and let me know your thoughts. If my instructions here don't make sense, come see me at 1440 for our Self-Awakening Yoga Retreat and I will demonstrate it and assist you personally to find the Bandha Breath.