How to Introduce Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha to New Students
A common question students ask is, “How do you introduce the bandhas to new students?” It’s a good question . . . and not so easy to answer.
Bandhas are a complicated concept even for students who have been practicing for a while, and often when new students hear “mula bandha” or “uddiyana bandha” in an Ashtanga class they have no idea what you are talking about. Or perhaps they have a concept and that leads them to over-engage the muscles involved, which can create problems, including constipation and menstrual irregularity. So I tend to avoid those terms in asana class, especially among beginners.
Then how can you get students to start to connect with the bandhas?
In Ashtanga classes, the term uddiyana bandha usually refers to the root of uddiyana, below the navel. It is not a full application of the bandha, nor is it a hollowing of that area (i.e., uddiyana bandha kriya).
If you ask students to engage transverse abdominis, they will likely over squeeze the area. And new students are not likely to be able to separate lower abdomen from upper, so they will tense everything and create more stress and dysfunction in their breathing.
However, just by asking them to stand and sit upright, keeping length from lower rib to iliac crest/hip bone, and from public bone to navel, you will automatically get them to manage that area. The main thing is that they don’t allow the lower abdomen to be loose. Simply by sitting or standing upright they are maintaining integrity in this area.
This is basically the levator ani muscles at the pelvic floor, specifically the pubococcygeus, which connects the pubic bone and coccyx. If you ask students to engage that area they will likely squeeze too much. However, if you tell them to engage their feet, especially the ball of the big toe, and engage their legs, they are automatically starting to engage these muscles. Richard Freeman calls the feet the “ambassadors to the pelvic floor,” and activating the feet is an easy way for new students to begin to access this area.
Watch Students’ Breathing
Also, by controlled breathing that is full and correct, students automatically start to tone lower abdomen and pelvic floor. So watch their breathing and encourage proper breathing. Especially watch the exhalation, which is often incomplete.
Physically and Energetically
On a physical level, the pelvic floor and lower abdomen are the muscles that support the base of the spine. They are like a student’s weight lifting belt, and when used properly will keep a student safe in practice. So structurally they are very important.
Energetically the bandhas are more complicated. Although it is good for students to know there is another level of understanding, it is definitely not appropriate to talk a lot about energy and prana with newcomers.
Honestly, when starting a practice, it is hard enough just to remember to breath!See more posts