Ahdomnopelmc Exercises

¡s probably more important. Finally, if you really want to learn agni sara, you have to both stay within your capacity and at the same time explore your limits. You'll not sense tbe power of this practice unless you do it ^0- 40 minutes a day for 10 days in a row.

^vfini sara with other hatha yoga practices

If you are an advanced student, you can use agni sara (or A and P breathing) to intensify the hatha yoga postures in which you are comfortable. You will have to breathe faster than usual, of course, because the postures will increase your needs for oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. You will also have to modify the patterns of exhalation according to the demands of the posture. For example, in a deep standing forward bend you can both see and feel what is happening, but a standing backbond or spinal twist permits little obvious movement in the abdomen. That's line. Either way, it's the attempt to press in from below that generates the surge of energy. And for all standing postures in which you are emphasizing an empowered thoracic inhalation (chapter 2), you can not only increase your inspiratory reserve volume by trying to inhale more deeply, you can use agni sara to exhale most or all of your expiratory reserve volume, thus inhaling and exhaling your vital capacity (the volume of which is specific to the particular posture) with every breath.

After you have worked successfully with agni sara, bellows breathing, and kapalabhati for some time, you can experiment with an agni sara type of movement during the exhalation phases of the bellows breath and kapalabhati. Exhalation will produce an upward-moving wave of contraction—a pushing in and up sensation, rather than a mass contraction of the abdominal muscles. You can feel this if you span your hand across your abdomen with the middle Gnger on the navel, the thumb and index fingers above, and the ring finger and little finger below. You will feel the little finger on the lower abdomen moving inward during exhalation, and little or no movement where the thumb is located on the upper abdomen. Using this technique for the bellows and kapalabhati orates a mild scooping-up sensation. It requires more control than the standard techniques for bellows and kapalabhati, so you will need to slow down -perhaps to as few as 60 breaths per minute. You will never be able to do it as fast as the 8tandard technique, but it is still a powerful abdominopelvic exercise and is excellent for training the abdominal muscles for more advanced practices.

UDDIYANA BANDHA, THE ABDOMINAL LIFT

Mula bandha seals the anatomical perineum, and agni sara teaches us special skills for using the abdominal muscles. When you have become proficient ,n both, you are ready to learn the second great lock in hatha yoga: "ddiyana bandha, or the abdominal lift. To do it you must exhale, hold

your breath out (as it's said in yoga), and create a vacuum in your cl st that sucks your diaphragm and abdominal organs to a higher than u al position in the torso. This can happen only if the body is sealed above id below—above at the glottis and below at the perineum. Without these s< Js air would be drawn into the larynx and lungs above, and into Lhe elimina ry and reproductive organs below. You hold the root lock reflexly and wit! ut having to think about it, but the glottis has to be held shut voluntarily uddiyana bandha

The best time to practice the abdominal lift is early in the morn ig, certainly before breakfast, and ideally after having evacuated the bov Is. The same contraindications apply as in agni sara (see the end of this chap r). To begin, stand with your knees slightly bent and your hands bi ed against the thighs. As with agni sara, this stance lowers the abdom lal organs downward and forward. Exhale to your maximum. Notice that ou do this by pressing in first with the abdomen and then with the chest. 'I en do a mock inhalation with the chest, closing the glottis to restrain air I im entering the lungs, and at the same time relax the abdomen. You sb ild feel the chest lift. Holding the glottis closed for a few seconds, try hard to inhale, keeping the abdomen relaxed. The upper abdomen will form a ep concavity that extends up and underneath the rib cage. This is uddi na handha (fig. 3.35). If you get confused about how to prevent air from enti ng the lungs, forget about the abdominal lift for a week or so and simply pr ice trying to inhale after full exhalations while you are blocking your m ith and nose with your hands.

Figure 3.35. Uddiyana bandha: A maximum exhalation is followed by a mock inhalation with locked glottis and chin lock in combination with relaxed abdominal muscles.

1. AMXJMINOPELIK EXKKaSFS 197

To make holding the glottis shut feel more natural and comfortable, a third lock, jalandhara bandha (the chin lock), can be established by flexing the head forward so the chin is tucked into the suprasternal notch, the little concavity above the sternum at the pit of the throat. It is possible to do the abdominal lift without the chin lock, but its addition will make the closure of the glottis feel more secure, and many teachers consider it absolutely necessary. Fixing the eyes in a downward position also complements both uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bandha. Try looking up as you try them and you'll quickly sense the efficacy of looking down.

Come out of uddiyana bandha in two stages. First, while still holding the glottis shut, ease the vacuum in the chest by relaxing the external intercostal muscles, which will lower the dome of the diaphragm and the abdominal organs to a lower position in the trunk. Then, as soon as the abdominal wall is eased forward, press inward strongly with the chest and abdomen until the pressure above and below the glottis is equalized. You have to compress inward just as forcefully as when you first exhaled for uddiyana bandha; if you don't, air will rush in with a gasp when you open the glottis. As soon as the pressure is equalized, open the glottis and breathe in gently.

Where does the vacuum come from? In uddiyana bandha we are trying to inhale without inhaling, and this makes the thoracic cage larger, expanding it from side to side and from front to back. And since no air is allowed in, the air pressure inside the chest has to decrease, which in turn creates enough of a vacuum to pud the diaphragm up (provided it is relaxed) in proportion to the expansion of the rib cage. Coming down from uddiyana bandha, the side-to-side and front-to-back expansions of the chest are first relaxed and then compressed back into their starting positions of full exhalation, and the dome of the diaphragm and abdominal organs move inferiorly.

Uddiyana bandha is the only practice in hatha yoga that frankly stretches 'he respiratory diaphragm. It's true that you get a mild stretch of the diaphragm when you exhale as much as possible in agni sara and for the exhalation stage of uddiyana bandha, both of which push the dome of the diaphragm (from below) to the highest possible position the abdominal muscles can accomplish. But uddiyana bandha goes beyond this because the vacuum in the chest that is superimposed on full exhalation pulls the diaphragm (from above) to an even higher position. We can surmise that regular practice of uddiyana bandha will stretch, and in time lengthen the diaphragm's muscle and connective tissue fibers, as well as keep the zone apposition (fig. 2.9) between the diaphragm and the chest wall healthy slippery. You will be able to exhale more completely as you gradually kngthen the muscle fibers, and you will be able to breathe more comfortably ^d efficiently as you increase the diaphragm's mobility.

lyK ANATOMY OF HATHA YOGA

problems

Many people, including yoga teachers, surprisingly, seem to have a gr it deal of difficulty learning uddiyana bandha. It is partly a matter of p< )r body awareness in the torso, but the most constant factor is simply y lr history. Many youngsters grow up doing the abdominal lift in play, of n combining it with other manipulations such as rolling the rectus abdom is muscles from side to side or up and down. In a typical group of childi n, almost half of them will be able to do uddiyana bandha after only a few seco is of instruction and demonstration, and in a beginning hatha class or adults, those who did uddiyana bandha in play as children will usual 1 ie able to learn the yoga version immediately.

If you're having trouble, you are doing one of three things wrong. F it, you may not be exhaling enough at the start. The less you exhale, the ss convincing will be the lift. You have to exhale the entire expiratory rest ve volume—only the residual volume of air should remain in the lungs, he second possibility is a corollary to the first. You may be letting in a littl« lir on your mock inhalation. You have to try to inhale without doing so. 1 at is the whole point of locking the airway at the glottis. The third, nd usually the most intractable, problem is that you are not relaxing he abdomen during the mock inhalation. You must learn to disting sh between pressing in with the abdominal muscles, which we want onh ;'or the preliminary exhalation, and allowing the abdominal wall to be pi ed in passively by the vacuum in the chest. Many students hold their abc m-inal muscles rigidly or even try to keep pushing in with them durmj he lifting phase of the practice, and this prevents the abdominal organs nd abdominal wall from being sucked in and up. It is also common for stud its to relax their abdominal muscles momentarily but then get mixed up nd try to assist the inward movement with an active contraction. It v nt work. You have to relax the abdominal muscles totally and keep t m relaxed to do this exercise.

Figure 3.36. A modified cat stretch encourages keeping the abdominal muscles relaxed during the mock inhalation phase of uddiyana bandha.

Figure 3.36. A modified cat stretch encourages keeping the abdominal muscles relaxed during the mock inhalation phase of uddiyana bandha.

AHTX)MIM)I'FJ. 17C FXFJtClSES 199

a mother mod ified cat stretch jf you consistently have trouble relaxing the abdominal muscles for uddiyana bandha in a standing position, try it in a cat stretch, similar to the one we used for exploring mula bandha (fig. 3.30), except more relaxed. Best on the knees and forearms and lower the forehead down against the crossed hands. Press the shoulders toward the floor and increase the lumbar arch as much as possible. This position pitches the abdominal and pelvic organs forward and toward the chest. Now all you have to do is exhale as much as possible (which rounds your back posteriorly) and hold your breath at the glottis. Now relax, allowing the lower back to arch forward again, and notice that in this position it is unnatural to hold the abdominal muscles firmly. Uddiyana bandha comes effortlessly as your chest cooperates with gravity in pulling the abdominal organs to a higher position in your torso (fig. 3.36). Finally, continuing to hold your breath and keeping the abdomen relaxed, slowly lift your head and shoulders. Come up on your hands, walk them toward your knees and onto your thighs ever so delicately, and carefully come into an upright kneeling position without tightening the abdomen. If you are successful you will be doing uddiyana bandha.

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