My Experience with Uḍḍīyāna Bandha
uḍḍīyānam tu sahajam gurunā kathitam yathā |
abhyaset satatam yastu vrddhi’pi tarunāyate ||
"Even if an old person practices uḍḍīyāna as a matter of habit in the manner
prescribed by the guru, he (or she) becomes young." (Haṭhapradīpikā 3.57)
Uḍḍīyāna bandha is not part of my everyday yoga regime, yet I generally practice the “abdominal lock” once a week, or at least several times a month. For me, uḍḍīyāna bandha is essential for the health of the viscera, but I also love the sensation of an exhilarating stretch along the muscles of the spine and those muscles that line the pelvic bowel, as well as the vigorous lift of the organs in my belly. After the performance of uḍḍīyāna bandha, I feel physically invigorated and mentally refreshed.
The bandha’s physiological effects reside deep within the torso itself. Performed on the heels of an exhalation, uḍḍīyāna not only draws the diaphragm forcefully upward into the thoracic cavity, but pulls the organs of the belly inward and upward, as well. The strong suction of uḍḍīyāna creates sub-atmospheric pressure in both the thorax and the abdomen.
This suction action was first noted scientifically by Swami Kuvalayananda in the early 1920s. Kuvalayananda concluded that uḍḍīyāna bandha—and the subsequent practice of nauli—generates a partial vacuum that, among other things, allows an advanced practitioner of yoga to introduce water into the large intestine in a process called bastī, for the purposes of cleansing the colon. (Kuvalayananda 1924)
At the time, this discovery of the partial vacuum was a completely new concept, running counter to the prevalent attitude of the day that viewed these yogic practices as dangerous. Kuvalayananda’s experimentation showed that these practices were not only NOT dangerous, but more importantly, it demonstrated that these yogic practices were beneficial to the overall health of human body, especially digestion.
Out of reverence for his beloved teacher, Paramahansa Madhavadasji of Malsar, Kuvalayananda dubbed this partial vacuum the “Madhavadasa Vacuum.” (Kuvalayananda 1924)
During his experiments on uḍḍīyāna bandha, Kuvalayananda observed that the “abdominal lock” gives a beneficial massage to the viscera of the belly. This strong visceral massage not only increases the blood flow to the organs and aids in proper digestion, but deeply stretches the large umbrella-shaped diaphragm, the heart muscle, and the vertebral column, as well. Additionally, this bandha also draws up the muscles of the pelvis, including the psoas major, psoas minor, and iliacus. (Kuvalayananda 1925) This stretching promotes blood circulation in the lower torso and decongests this area.
Over the last several months, I have also noticed that when I perform uḍḍīyāna after a several week hiatus, I not only feel the exquisite extension of the viscera in the thoracic and abdominal cavities, but I also feel a gentle tug upwards into my lower jaw and face—even into my ears.
Could my practice of uḍḍīyāna bandha also be stretching and toning the fascia of the head and torso? The fascia is the connective tissue that supports and protects the many structures of the human body. For a variety of reasons—including daily stresses, trauma, and inactivity—this connective tissue can become restricted in different areas of the body, resulting in limited mobility, muscle tension, bodily pain, and diminished circulation. (DiGiovanna et al, 1991)
The performance of yogic postures, or āsana, is the most well-known yogic way to correct restrictions of the fascia, but my hypothesis is that these internal locks, such as uḍḍīyāna bandha, work deeply within the structures of the body to release the restrictions in the fascia from a deep interior space, and thus release internal tension in the corresponding muscles and organs.
How profound might this fascial release through uḍḍīyāna bandha be? If the fifteenth century haṭha yoga text, the Haṭhapradīpikā, is any indication, the practice of uḍḍīyāna makes even the old person young again. (Haṭhapradīpikā 3.57) The yogic sage, Svātmārāma, declares that uḍḍīyāna “is the best of all the bandhas,” and that “by practicing this [bandha] for six months, one verily conquers death.” (Haṭthapradīpikā 3.58-59)
Svātmārāma may be given to hyperbole, but I like the idea that uḍḍīyāna may, in fact, allow me to dance toward the inevitability of death’s door with panache, rather than shuffle in with a walker.
Of course, more scientific research on the effects of uḍḍīyāna bandha is necessary to support Svātmārāma’s lofty claims.
But, in the mean time, I’ll keep practicing.
Photo: Theos Bernard performing Uḍḍīyāna Bandha circa 1940