Back to the Basics

Thanks to Snowpocolypse a few weekends ago in Seattle, I wasn’t able to make it to Salt Lake for the second weekend of training. Although I was assured that I wasn’t missing out on too much and would be able to make up the weekend at a later time, I couldn’t help but feel last night that I was behind. As we started discussing the bandhas (Mula, Uddiyana and Jalandhara) I felt like I had walked into Sanskrit 201 as a freshman. It felt heady–wait, slow down and let me process the last ten things you said. Needless to say, it didn’t take long before I felt something–most likely NOT a bandha–clenching with frustration.

Let’s back up and look at what exactly the bandhas are. In Sankskrit, bandha literally means lock, bind or hold. There are three main bandhas in the body–root lock (Mula Bandha), abdomen lock (Uddiyana Bandha) and the throat lock (Jalandhara Bandha). We make use of these locks in yoga practice in order to allow for the flow of energy through the body. I like to think of it as a battery, with opposite poles moving currents of energy through the body. By engaging these locks, we allow our energy, activated by the breath, to flow freely through the body and be held there–energetically locked in the spinal column.

Ok, let me close the 8 other tabs I had to open to figure out exactly how to say that.

Now, while I do feel like I am beginning to understand the purpose of these postures, it makes me revel in the complexity of yoga practice. Think for a moment about something that you are good at, be it a game, sport, talent, language–anything really that you feel proficient at. Let’s use speaking Spanish as an example. I am by no means fluent, but I would say that I am proficient at the Spanish language. For me this took years of study, starting with the very basics: conjugation of verbs, noun agreement, tenses, irregularities and so on. Without this foundation, I would never have been able to travel to a Spanish speaking country and teach 5 year olds.

Let’s explore another example. I played Division 1 soccer, which also took years of practice and dedication. But I never would have been able to play at that level, let alone avoid injury, had I not learned how to pass the ball, head the ball, shoot, and even more fundamentally, run.

Yoga, my friends, is not this way. While there is a certain level of physicality required to walk into any class, we don’t really need to know many of the basics to stand in Tadasana. See, yoga really is for everyone! I can say with moderate certainty that the pink-clad model in this photo was not engaging her bandhas. Many of us–I’d venture a guess that most of us, in fact- have practiced yoga without hearing about or experiencing these subtle energy locks. And we’ve probably all gotten by just fine. But I have to admit, that I have been practicing yoga for ten years now and until last night I had never experienced Vrksasana with such a feeling of being rooted and stable. It was amazing. It opened my eyes to something that I have known my whole life, had access to since the first time I stepped on a mat, but never knew was there. It is something fundamentally inside all of us. We don’t have to attend a class or be enlightened to find it. It is there as you read this. It is the while you sleep.

And that is in part why I come back again and again to this practice. Everything we need to benefit from yoga is already within us. We are born perfectly equipped to participate. Sure, your muscles will get stronger the more you do it and you will learn how to engage the bandhas without having to think “tuck this and spiral that”. But you don’t need to pass Yoga 101 in order to start.

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