I was very ....suspicious of the bandhas for a long time, Ashtangi's seemed to refer to them as if they were pixie dust. You want to lift up in utpluthi, "engage the bandhas". You want to jump back, "engage the bandhas", you want to get to the end of the sequence without turning into quivering mush, "ENGAGE THOSE BANDHAS MARINE". I was also 'slightly' resistant to anything that seemed to hint of 'new age'. I think I tended to lump the bandhas in with the chakras, all this talk of energy locks...., no thanks.
I still don't know if I buy into the energy lock idea, jury is still out on that one but I am convinced there's something going on with the bandhas, if only on a muscular level. Yesterday in Day 3's uttanasana subroutine I mentioned how Ramaswami uses the analogy of a fishing rod. Engaging the bandhas feels like it's holding firmly the base of the spine just as you would hold the handle of a fishing rod. It helps to make your backbends more secure and I would say your forward bends also.
In Yoga for the Three Stages of Life, Ramaswami writes about the bandhas in the context of Utkatasana, today and tomorrows subroutines.
'There are three important bandhas. the first is jalandhara bandha, or locking the chin against the breastbone. This may be done during kumbhkas ( breath retention) and whenever the the posture requires the chin to be locked, which is normally the case during forward bends and when keeping the back erect. In backbends and twisting postures it is not possible to do jalandhara bandha'. p127
Mula and Uddiyana bandha
'The other two bandhas, however, should be practiced in most of the asanas, especially after exhalation. The first is mula bandha, which means "constricting of the anus" It is done after a complete exhalation. After the exhalation is over, the abhyasi (yoga student) should anchor the body in the asana he or she is in and then slowly and deliberately close the anus and draw in the rectum by contracting the perineal and surrounding muscles of the pelvic floor. Then as if in a continuous movement, the abdomen, including the navel, is drawn in, pushing up the diaphragm into the now almost empty chest cavity, which is then called uddiyana bandha ( drawing in of the diaphragm)... This technique is one of the specialities of yogic breathing' p127
Utkatasana is one of the best postures for first getting to grips with with the bandhas, others are downward dog and tatkamudra ( pond gesture ) from the Supine sequence.
Ardha Utkatasana comes up in Ashtanga and I practiced it for a couple of years without really thinking about it. It's one of the, how should I say, least ....complicated postures. There are no binds, no twists, you just squat a little. It's hard work but then in Ashtanga your only holding it for five breaths and to be honest it was a bit of a relief after the postures that had gone before. Later, when I began practicing 2nd series and had to do pasasana, the full squat and bind, I began to take the half squat more seriously, started to think about my alignment more, about using the badnas to help with balance,make it more stable.
I had a big shock recently when I came across Ramaswami using Utkatasana as an example of how to work towards developing the parameters of yoga asana as introduced by Patanjali in the yoga sutras, steadiness and comfort ( sthhira and sukha).
'When one is able to stay in the posture (utkatasana) for three to six breaths, then one should slowly increase the time to complete a stipulated number of breaths. Thereafter, one should remain in the posture for a predetermined number of breaths chosen by the practitioner or teacher, or for a fixed persiod, say three to five minutes. Then one's practice should be aimed at reducing the number of breaths while remaining in the posture for the same duration. for instance one may take a total of twenty breaths while in the posture. Later on, it may be possible to remain in the posture steadily and comfortably (sthira and sukha) for five minutes with perhaps only ten breaths. This is one method for attaining asana siddhi (perfection in posture) that one can test of oneself. Having achieved this level of comfort in the posture, one can then introduce the band has, which will increase the time taken for each breath. P 127
I posted on this five minute Utkatasana HERE, hard work, what you don't see in the video is the pool of sweat that poured from my forehead after three minutes.
Today I practiced the half squat, Ardha Utkatasana. In ashtanga we practice it arms above our head, palms together. In Vinyasa Krama Ramaswami gives us four arm variations but you could probably use the other hand variations from Day 1, as well. This morning, with the focus on the subroutines this project is giving me, I included all the variations below. I entered and exited each of the variations on the breath, down on the inhale back up on the exhale, twice then on the third time held the posture for five long slow breaths. Just for luck I then did the first posture again and tried to hold it for five minutes, I managed three and that seemed plenty.
In this series of posts I'm focusing on each of the subroutines, doing them as in the book with all the variations and using Ramaswami's guidelines for developing sthhira and sukha, as outlined above. I'm staying longer, engaging the badhas more fully, looking to slow the breath and employ breath retention, really milking the subroutines for all they've got.
That would be one way to practice, pick one or two subroutines and practice them in this way, include Ramaswami's key postures, Paschimottanasana, shoulder stand and headstand and you probably have an hour practice.
My own approach is to include some but not all of the available vinyasas (variations) of a subroutine in my morning practice. I tend to do a shortened version of the On your feet sequence just as on Ramaswami's TT course. We learned the whole sequence over the first couple of days but then for the next four weeks just did a shortened version.
This morning I did a few of the hasta variations from Day One and a couple of the twists from Day two and about half of Day three. This saved me time for the full ardha Utkatasana subroutine above. I didn't practice the full squat (saving that for tomorrow) but moved on to some of the other Triangle and On one leg vinyasas, again not all the options available in the full subroutines. After standing I did most of Bow sequence then some seated before moving on to the inversions followed by some baddha konasana and lotus work.
One thing that is new in my practice and that I plan on keeping up is to aim to practice at least one subroutine fully and with all the variations available, a different one every day perhaps, as in this series of posts.
NB: These are practice notes that will be tidied up and put into the new edition of my Vinyasa Yoga Practice Book along with the current sequences and subroutines. The book can be freely downloadedHERE. There is a page on Facebook HERE with all the latest sheets and updates. This book is in no way a substitute for Ramaswami's Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga.