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Protect Your Low Back with Everyday Yoga Techniques

Want to move a muscle you never knew existed? By learning these maneuvers, you can uncover the secret strength and health benefits enjoyed by yoga practitioners for thousands of years. In this article, we will explore the use of two practices called Mula Bandha and Uddiyanda Bandha. Whether you are looking to improve your yoga practice, lift your two-year-old, or lug out that heavy trash can, using these techniques can provide much more than just a tongue twister to pronounce! They can enhance your general health and make your lifting jobs easier.

In Sanskrit bandha translates into “lock’ or “binding” In practice, a “lock” is accomplished by contracting different muscle regions, some never before navigated by your conscious mind. The benefits are the movement and containment of “prana” or life force that aids, with the muscular contractions, in organ function and the health, stability and strength brought to the spine and pelvis to use during physical exertion. Bandha use allows for the easy performance of physically difficult tasks on the yoga mat and in everyday life.

Mula means “root” and is particularly useful to contain the energy at the base of the spine and to stabilize the pelvic floor. It creates the solid foundation for movement. Exhale through the nose during the contraction, and relax while you inhale.

To engage Mula Bandha:

Sit in a comfortable position on the floor, cross-legged, if you can. You can also do this sitting in a chair. Maintain an erect spine.

  1. Bring your attention to the perineum (the region between the anus and genitalia).
  2. Contract the anus (Ashvini Mudra). Relax.
  3. Contract the muscles of the genitalia. Relax.
  4. Alternate between step 3 and 4 a few times. Relax.
  5. Isolate the muscles of the pelvic floor by focusing on the perineum. Concentrate on gaining conscious control over the isolated pelvic floor muscles. (It may be helpful to perform this exercise while sitting on a tennis ball.)
  6. Practice several repetitions a few times each day.

This process takes a bit of practice. At first, some of the muscles in the area may not contract. Once the technique is mastered, steps 3 and 4 will no longer be necessary. Eventually your contractions will expand deeper into the pelvis, while the muscles of the anus and genitals relax. This is the actual practice of Mula Bandha.

Uddiyana or “upwards” involves a full contraction of the abdominal muscles. This technique moves energy upward, stabilizes the spine and pelvis, and squeezes, tones and cleanses the abdominal organs. It is important to note that Uddiyana Bandha is only practiced on an empty stomach (at least two hours after eating) and during the exhalation.

To perform Uddiyana Bandha:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hip joints.
  2. With your spine and arms straight, pull your arms out in front of you while you bend your knees as if you were sitting. Crab-claw both knees with your hands, allowing the weight of the upper body to be supported by the arms through the legs.
  3. Inhale through your nose, and then exhale while contracting the abdominal area completely, as if your navel will kiss the spine. Relax the contraction while you inhale.
  4. Repeat a few times.
  5. During the next complete contraction and exhalation, draw back and tuck your chin, keeping your mouth closed with the tongue gently touching the roof of the mouth (Jhalandara Bandha). Hold and lift your abdominal area up and underneath your rib cage.
  6. Relax and release the abdomen during inhalation.
  7. Repeat three to 10 times based on comfort.

For a more complete practice, perform both of the bandhas together. This combined practice is called Agni Sara and is a cleansing exercise known to normalize the fire of digestion. Contract Mula Bandha at the start of the exhalation. Release halfway through the inhalation. Perform Uddiyana Bandha with Jhalandara Bandha (chin tuck) only during the exhalation phase. As you progress, you may add another step at the end of the exhalation. Gently pump your abdomen upward while holding the full exhalation for a few seconds. Pump 3 to 10 times prior to releasing and beginning the inhalation.

What does all of this contracting in the pelvis and belly have to do with lifting a two-year old? Using Mula and Uddiyana Bandha in everyday activities, like emptying the dishwasher or getting out of a car, is an effective way to increase strength while lifting and bending. Best of all, this practice helps protect the lower back during the demands of life.

During an everyday task, use the bandhas in the following ways:

  1. Gently lift the floor of the pelvis.
  2. Contract the abdominal muscles toward the spine with the force you feel in your belly during the act of clearing your throat or blowing up a balloon.
  3. Begin with the bandhas just before the activity and finish once the body is at rest.

Nature already has this wisdom. Try the common physical activity of coughing and feel what happens in the abdomen and pelvic basin.

Using the bandhas brings good health to the organs, muscles and connective tissues. Energy is contained and better distributed. After just weeks of practice, these helpful contractions become a part of your everyday movements. Power and stability protect the lower spine and the nerves that pass through the openings between the bony segments. Best of all, like a yogi, you won’t have to throw out your back instead of the trash.

Note: If you have a health concern, such as a hiatal hernia, or you are pregnant, please consult with your health care professional and/or yoga teacher prior to performing any techniques mentioned in this article.