Monday, December 06, 2010

empty cup

In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika it says, Uddiyana bandha is called the rising or flying bandha because through its practice, the great bird (shakti) flies upward with ease (III.56), and Pulling the abdomen back in and making the navel rise is uddiyana bandha. It is the lion which conquers the elephant, death (III.57). Of the three major bandhas (the others being jalandhara bandha and moola bandha), it's the one that often feels the most accessible. The inward lift of the belly seems to focus the fiery strength of the agni, and unleashes a usually untapped storehouse of power. Because it can only be practiced on the exhale it also seems to create space – space to be still, space to feel uncertain, space to embrace emptiness.

This controlled emptiness is called bahya kumbhaka. As BKS Iyengar writes in Light on Pranayama, Bahya kumbhaka is the state in which the yogi surrenders his very self, in the form of his breath, to the Lord and merges with the Universal Breath. It is the noblest form of surrender, as the yogi's identity is totally merged with the Lord.

Both of these divine puzzle pieces are familiar to me but I tend to practice them exclusively while sitting in meditation or during pranayama. But this past week I began to practice them together, while experimenting with jumping forward, jumping back, jumping through, and pressing up to handstand. What I discovered was that effort seemed to disappear and was replaced by lightness, and the inhale at the end was packed with a powerful jolt of energy. It's still new in my practice but I'm loving the experimenting.

If you have a well-established practice of your own, you might see what it's like to jump forward while you're empty. After a few rounds of surya namaskar (stepping only), settle into downward dog for a couple breaths to observe your natural breath cycle. Start by practicing bahya kumbhaka in downward dog, exhaling and pausing for two or three beats before inhaling back into your natural breath rhythm. When that first piece feels okay, add uddiyana bandha to bahya kumbhaka (by lifting the belly back into the body). When (and if) you're ready to add in a hop, exhale completely, retain the breath out, engage uddiyana bandha, see your hands, bend your knees, and hop forward. After your feet land, stretch open your chest to a flat back as you inhale. Fold into uttanasana before coming up to stand. If breath retention and bandhas are new to you, approach them mindfully and cautiously. If you do, they will become welcome additions to your practice. Happy experimenting.

Uddiyana bandha + bahya kumbhaka = levitation. It's ture!

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