Weekend Yoga Events I am Attending

This weekend my schedule is jam packed with yoga events! I am blessed to be part of several yoga communities with amazing special occassions.

Last night I went to a special harmonium and mantra workshop at Mandala Yoga. Signa, the owner, led us through the basics of how to play the harmonium, which is a wind instrument that sounds somewhat like an organ. It creates a drone to accompany mantra singing. We learned drone chord progressions for many mantras, and I am excited to incorporate more call-and-response signing to open my classes at Mandala. (I wish I owned a harmonium so I could also do this at school and at Yoga on Yamhill!)
This afternoon I am attending another event at Mandala, a Yoga Nidra class! Nidra is a yoga sleeping meditation. It is very unique and deeply relaxing. It has been a few years since I did yoga nidra, so I can’t wait!
I had also considered going to an Ashtanga workshop at Yoga on Yamhill this morning, but my body needed extra sleep. 

As I continue in the 40 day yoga challenge, I am grateful for yoga events. They help keep my practice fresh and interesting!

New Challenge: 40 Days of Asana!

Good intentions are my specialty. I am exceptional at setting lofty goals for myself. Following through on them is a whole ‘nother story. For years I have mentally beat myself up for not practicing as much nor as often as I think I should. Now, after ten years of practice, I practice most days, but I still lack consistency. At this point, after having recently completed my second 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat, I am meditating for at least one hour per day (sometimes split into two smaller segments.) And so I figure this is the perfect time to recommit to my personal yoga practice as well.

My inspiration? Mandala Yoga, one of my absolute favorite places to practice in Portland. I think it’s the most beautiful studio in town, and it specializes in the yoga of sound, with plenty of kirtan and gong opportunities. I also love their focus on Kundalini yoga, a style of yoga that you don’t see too often. Anyhoo, Mandala’s brilliant owner Signa has issued a challenge for us: To practice 40 days in a row! You can sign up for this challenge at the Facebook event page. My personal guidelines for this challenge will be as follows:

–I must practice every day!
–A practice should be at least 15 minutes long. (This is my personal requirement, don’t let even this time limit discourage you from doing the challenge!)
–Physical postures (asana), mantra, and breathing exercises (pranayama) count.

Also, I will be adding this to my current meditation goal of practicing 1 hour of Vipassana meditation per day. (Again, you don’t need to follow this guideline to participate!)

Tomorrow, in my 7am Hatha Flow class at Mandala, I will be presenting students with a simple 20-minute flow they can practice at home in order to participate in the challenge. Here is a picture of that simple practice:

img_20170117_154750.jpg

Written out, that is:

Cow/cat 3x
seated side stretch on each side
seated twist on each side
mountain, fold, 1/2 lift, fold, mountain (I would do this three times as well)
low lunge, crescent lunge, 1/2 splits, warrior 1, warrior 2, reverse warrior, extended side angle, warrior 2, low lunge, 1/2 lift, low lunge into crescent lunge, 1/2 splits, warrior sequence on other side
tree on each side
supine twist
savasana.

Mandala will be hosting a kirtan and potluck 30 days into the challenge, and a celebration at the very end. Whether or not you can attend those events, I invite you to join me in this challenge! I am excited to share the impact this daily sadhana (personal practice) has on my thinking, my body, and my emotions.

 

Listening to the Heart During Practice – Vinyasa at Yoga on Yamhill in Downtown Portland

Heart Chakra, from WikimediaOne thing I love about teaching at Yoga on Yamhill is that I tend to have students who are visiting from out of state. I suppose they’re staying or visiting downtown, and the studio’s location at SW 2nd and Yamhill is  walkable. Plus the studio is donation-based. This Saturday I had 26 students in my class, including two visitors from So Cal. I have also had students from New York City and Salt Lake City, that I recall off the top of my head. Saturday is a good day for visitors–I always see walking tours as I stroll around between classes. Today in my noon vinyasa class we worked on heart-opening–stretching, relaxing, and healing the front, back, and sides of this very intelligent organ.

I say intelligent because the heart is actually a major location of neurons in the body. Rather than one singular location for intelligence in the body (the brain) it turns out we have many centers of intelligence, including the heart and the gut. When we say our “heart skipped a beat” or “my heart dropped,” we are speaking to the wisdom of the heart.

In yoga the heart is the location of the 4th chakra, a balancing point between lower and upper  chakras. This is where the self-protection and self interest of the lower three chakras meets the upper three chakras, which have more to do with truth, intuition, and wisdom. In other words, this is where selfishness transforms into altruism.

Over the last couple of years I have been focused on the third chakra, the energy center in the body having to do with ego. I have sought avenues for building strength, confidence, and a stable career path. I have participated in triathlons, half marathons, bootcamps, and sweaty, sweaty power vinyasa yoga classes. And now it appears I may be moving more into fourth chakra territory–how my own personal strengths and talents can serve others.

As is often the case, my own spiritual musings informed my class, where I spoke about paying attention to the heart. I know, I know, platitudes about listening to your heart abound. But my own experience in yoga and Vipassana meditation suggests that when we take time to tune into this area of the body, right around the heart, we often find what we need. We may discover that we feel hurt or jealous. We might discover disappointment or vindictiveness. Whatever we find there, we just sit and observe it.

That’s it. We notice. We pay attention.

Natarajasana Florence

Dancer’s Pose, Natarajasana, on the Oregon coast!

The trick is noticing without passing judgement on ourselves for what arises. This objective space allows a breath, a beat, to realize what our first impulse says, and then to hopefully see an opportunity to choose whether we really want to make that knee-jerk reaction. Oftentimes just acknowledging how we feel is enough to calm the spirit and bring the rational brain back online. This is the sort of meditative approach I try to foster in my classes.

Throughout today’s class, we used our arm and hand positions to open the heart. This was the crux of my “lesson” for the flow. (Students always tell me that one way my classes are different is that I actually teach, I don’t just lead movements.) I hoped that we could establish that it’s possible to open the area around the heart by moving the hands and the arms. We used hand binds to open the chest. We kicked into dancer’s pose to continue opening the front of the heart. Side body stretches–including one in an archer’s arm variation–brought us to later opening for the sides of the  heart. And finally, embryo pose and a thread the needle variation helped us open the back of our hearts.

After class, I felt so grateful for the students, and for the beautiful teaching space and community. That’s a final add-on for the 4th chakra/heart area: We can take care of it through gratitude. Physical movements, cardio, emotional support, and self-awareness are all wonderful tools for heart health, as is gratitude. Investing in gratitude always pays off–in more gratitude reflected back at you.

Here’s wishing you a heart-happy weekend!

XO,
C

Anjali Mudra

<image 1: By Mirzolot2 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons>

© Colleen Cash 2016.

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Non-Violence Starts with Each of Us


Before working on a problem, one must first admit that it exists. America’s most recent slew of police gun violence against people of color brought this conclusion from The Daily Show’s Noah Trevor, and I couldn’t agree more. But what I think this and most other analyses of violence in America fail to see is that violence is not only external. It begins inside each of us. Whatever appears in our words and actions first appears in thought. And our own reactions to life are really responses to internal experiences. In order to bring about the revolution toward love and compassion for all beings on our tiny planet, humans must first know their own internal landscapes. Certainly, we should all be working to change the world through exercising our rights as citizens. But in order to make wide-spread change that will stop the impulse toward violence, we must also set aside time to identifying and observe our own reactions.

Let me back up a step and explain how I got to this point. For the past ten years, I have practiced yoga. In my first savasana I felt comfortable in my own skin–a strange sensation since at that time I was immersed in clinical depression. I began craving yoga classes and gobbling up different types of yoga, from Kundalini to Vinyasa. After seeing how my yoga practice was moving me quite naturally toward self-acceptance and self-awareness, I decided the best way to guarantee that I would do yoga every day (which I recognized as necessary for my own health, sanity, and personal growth), was to become a yoga teacher.

What began from a very selfish place soon transformed. While I was indeed a happier, more centered person from practicing yoga regularly, I also noticed a special energetic echo from teaching yoga. I cherished observing students in what I consider their best moments–moments of struggle, challenge, doubt–moments when it’s so easy to run away or numb out. I was inspired to see people striving to stay present to all of it, the pretty and the ugly parts of themselves. I soon felt as “addicted” to the bliss of helping others practice as I was to my own   practice.

My awareness of the importance of regular, personal yoga and meditation practice grew through a retreat experience. Over the winter holidays, I spent ten days in silent meditation, learning and practicing Vipassana meditation. That style of meditation teaches that any action we take is precipitated by an internal response. Whatever strong emotions arise, we can move toward purposefully choosing our own responses by dedicating time every day to seated meditation.

That retreat reiterated the importance of personal, daily practice, and upon returning I prioritized regular seated meditation. Of course, it’s not always easy for me to set aside time for sadhana (personal practice). But I notice when I am able to practice regularly on my own (in addition to taking classes) I am much kinder to others and myself. I am better able to see my own negative mental and emotional patterns. And I am better able to take a deep breath before blurting out a hurtful comment or automatic judgement.

This fall, I will be sharing tools for inner awareness with elementary students in NE Portland at a local elementary school. In a part-time position teaching yoga to K-5 students, I will have the chance to teach breathing exercises, yoga postures, and mindfulness techniques to help students stay present. I will be focusing on how yoga can help us learn to stay present even when big emotions and automatic reactions arise. It is my goal that this work will help influence the next generation to choose awareness over violence. I hope that my work helps others feel more peaceful and more compassionate toward themselves and others.

These days, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by and powerless in the face of violence. Taking political action, volunteering, educating family members and friends–these are all healthy ways to feel better about the state of our world. But the ultimate shift toward worldwide love will not come until we also learn how to effect change from the inside out, through personal awareness practice, whether that is seated meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, or other practices that help us feel present to our own physical, emotional, and mental experiences.

How do you stay present in the face of overwhelming emotions? How do you practice peace in your daily life? I would love to get a conversation started! Comment below.

 

 

Compassion: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Photo from Pixabay AutumnsGoddess0A scoff brought the first pain to my heart. I was checking in a student for a yoga class, trying to type her name into the system. Her unusually spelled first name was giving me troubles, and her scoff made it clear she thought I was a complete idiot. The interaction only became more difficult from there. With practically every word I spoke, her response became more critical. Old feelings arose–self-doubt, shame, sadness. They manifested in my body as tightness around the heart, scrunching at my brow, a jangling feeling in my stomach. I rounded my back reflexively, pulling in my belly as if protecting my guts.

I saw all of these things happening from one place within myself. At the same time, I was doing my job–squaring her memory of the classes she had taken with our system, offering to email management to get things figured out, generally trying to be calm and positive.

As a yoga teacher, I recognize that energy is sticky. If I walk into a studio feeling distracted, my students will only multiply that lack of focus. If I take a few minutes to breathe deeply before walking into the room, my students will reflect that groundedness back to me. (I have written on this effect for MoveYoga.com.) As neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor has said, we are energy beings, absorbing the energy of others. After years of practice, I have seen how one person’s energy can shift a whole room. An honest laugh can lift up a whole group of people. So I try to be very aware of what energy I am putting into the world.

Clearly this student didn’t understand a correlation of this law of energy–that we get back whatever energy we contribute to the universe. Looking at that sentence, I can hear some of my high school classmates marvel, thinking, “Wow, when did she become such a woo-woo hippie?” So let me ground this in neuroscience (a passion of mine). Our brains contain mirror neurons. These are specialized cells that replicate the emotions of others within our brains. Scientists discovered them when studying the brains of monkeys. They were watching to see which areas responsible for movement lit up in monkeys’ brains, when they noticed that the same areas lit up in the brains of monkeys who were simply watching another monkey move.

It turns out that we have these same cells in our frontal lobes–the most evolved portion of the brain, behind the forehead. And while scientists continue to study how mirror neurons work, it is clear that they can immediately convey our emotions to people around us. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. It is helpful to be able to quickly read the emotions of your tribe. In our day-to-day lives, our mirror neurons reflect back the emotions of people around us. So we are wired to understand and replicate the emotions of others. In other words, when I smile at you, you feel better. When I scowl at you, you feel worse. We have such power to affect the experiences of people around us!

This student’s negativity threatened to pull me down in the minute or two before class started. I definitely didn’t want to bring that energy into the teaching space. So I reviewed how I felt, took a few breaths to become grounded, and decided to let that energy go. I walked into the room and taught (what I thought was) a good class. I made sure to give the negative student some positive shout-outs during class, pointing out what she was doing well.

In years past, I would have avoided this student. I would have steered clear from her throughout class. This time was different. At the end of class, during savasana, I felt drawn to her. I recognized how difficult it would be to be in her shoes–to have her own negativity reflected back at her all day long. To be simmering in that anger. Also, if she was that critical toward me, she’s probably extremely critical of herself as well. As I rubbed my palms together and walked toward her, I thought, “I wish you happiness. I wish you peace. I wish you a life of ease.” I kept up the mantra and visualized white light coming from my palms into her shoulders, as I gently pressed her shoulders down to open her scalenes. I felt her body relax down into the mat, softening under my hands.

After class, she b-lined for the door. I didn’t have a chance to check in with her. But that’s fine. I was able to recognize my own growth as an instructor and as a human being. My Vipassana meditation practice, my ongoing Svadyaya (self-study) and my yoga practice have helped me cultivate compassion.

It is my dream to bring this same process to my students, to adults and to kids alike. I envision a world where we can feel our own internal response first, before we automatically fire back the anger and sadness of others. It’s a practice. Compassion can’t be instantly taught. It must be something we work on every day, an opus that we compose across our lifetimes. To those who are yearning for peace within themselves and on our planet, I say, “Keep up the good work! Keep the faith!” Your compassion practice will be successful over time. Plant daily seeds of compassion, for yourself and for others. Sooner or later those seeds will grow, bloom, and bear fruit.

 

Next 3 Saturdays: Teaching Saturday Noon Vinyasa at Yoga on Yamhill

I am delighted to teach at Yoga on Yamhill, a beautiful donation-based studio in downtown Portland. For the past six months or so I have taught the prenatal yoga class there on Saturdays at 9am. It is a joy to teach in a donation-based environment–I feel so happy that anyone can get yoga and pay the amount they can afford. (The suggested donation is $8-$12, cash only.)

The studio has two practice spaces, one downstairs and one upstairs. The prenatal class is usually held downstairs (although this coming Saturday it will be held upstairs to make space for a workshop). The vinyasa class is upstairs. The downstairs space has warm brick walls, it’s cozy. The upstairs space has a tiny courtyard; it makes me feel like I’m teaching in a New York walk-up.

Grasshopper Pose

Grasshopper Pose

When I have the chance to teach this 75-minute vinyasa class on Saturdays from noon-1:15pm, I feel it is one of the best classes of my week! I have been practicing my flow for the whole week, so by the time I get to Yoga on Yamhill it is well worn into my mind and I can be very present as an instructor. This week we worked toward grasshopper pose, a challenging arm balance. As an instructor, I hope to give my students inspiration and a challenge– but I don’t expect every single person to get into the peak posture. I define success as trying, as setting up a strong foundation, and staying present throughout the class.

I invite you to join me for class at Yoga on Yamhill for the next three Saturdays, February 13th, 20th, and 27th.

 

Second image: from Pinterest

My Yoga Diary: An Early Entry

DiaryI have decided to start posting diary entries to this blog, as a way to help others see yoga not as a one-time workout, but rather as a lifelong practice. I have certainly changed in the last ten years, since I started practicing yoga. Here’s a journal entry from 2008, when I was in teacher training:

~~~~~~~~

“I began doing yoga about two years ago, during my student teaching [for elementary education]. My roommate, Satya, saw that I was depressed. I wasn’t enjoying teaching, and I had never ‘failed’ at anything major before, the way that I felt I was failing at student teaching. I can see now that I had never lived for my own joy before– I was doing what others expected of me and what would earn me praise.

I think some of my relationships and negative habits were tied into this lack of self-awareness, or perhaps more succinctly, lack of self-propulsion. I was attracted to either victims or smart rebels who put up the same front of wit and charm to hide their vulnerability and denial of their true selves. [My ex boyfriend] comes to mind.

Satya was working at a Portland yoga studio at the time, so she got me a discounted month-long unlimited membership. Throughout the turmoil of graduate school and the next year, working at a local school and fighting the tiny voice inside telling me that I actually hated the prospect of being a full-classroom teacher, yoga was one of the only things that consistently brought me deep, unreasonable joy.

After that year, I moved home to Reno to reassess my interests and direction–who I was without teaching [elementary school classes]. I finally had the time to do exactly what I wanted to do during the day–what I would do no matter what, just to make myself happy. Some of those things are writing, yoga, ballroom dancing, and crafts. So I started going to yoga every day at a lovely studio in downtown Reno. I loved the calm, non-competitive nature of this studio, the patient and spiritually aware teachers, etc. I discovered Kundalini and Tibetan Heart Yoga, and practiced Yin and Restorative, all of which I look forward to teaching myself someday. One of my teachers mentioned that she became a teacher because she wanted to do yoga every day, and she knew she would if she taught. ‘Hey!’ I thought, ‘That’s just like me!’ So, I started researching schools, and here I am in Portland, attending CorePower Yoga’s teacher training.

I’m surprised at how many people in the teacher training program really saw yoga as just a physical exercise. I may not be as physically fit as they are (perhaps because I’m still smoking a bit), but my spiritual understanding of yoga is more developed.

(There I go again with my competitive nature. One of my goals is to let that go–but for now it may be a stepping stone to self-confidence, which I found through others’ praise for a long time. Now I’m providing the praise, and I want to work toward an innate sense of self worth that’s not based on how I stack up to other people.)

Further, it’s interesting to see what types of people are in this CorePower training. CorePower, as a school of yoga, is more focused on Hatha Yoga, enlightenment through the physical realm, than say, Tibetan Heart or Yin or Kundalini Yoga. So I guess it’s not surprising that my classmates are really tuned into their bodies. On the other hand, when I express my joy in yin yoga, they usually say that it’s ‘torturous’ to them because they can’t quiet their minds. Humph. And I thought that was one of the most important goals of yoga– inner calm and clarity, and the ability to calm your mind. Then again, I’ve had experience with other schools of yoga as well as Buddhist philosophy through some of my favorite books, like The Joy of Living. So, I guess one of the lessons I’ve learned from this experience is to avoid judgement of others’ paths to joy. There are many paths to joy and self-awareness and compassion, and why should I assume my path is the only “right” way? Gosh, that would make for a boring world!

Another lesson: JOY is one of my primal qualities, and a gift I can constantly give to others. My housemate said I bring others to enjoy life more–I love that. I hope I can do that through yoga, writing, and tutoring.

I’m feeling good about my progress so far–I’ve been practicing a lot with friends. Yoga makes me SO HAPPY.”

~~~~~~~

Since the time of this entry I have stopped smoking all together (and at this point I’m not drinking alcohol or caffeine, either). I did continue writing–indeed, now I am a freelance copywriter. And although I never would have anticipated it when writing this diary entry, I am getting back into the schools. I was recently hired as a substitute teacher for Portland Public Schools, and I just completed a P.E. endorsement program last December.

It is very interesting to look back at my mind during teacher training. Some of the same themes in this diary entry have resonated throughout my yoga career–balancing physical fitness and mental peace, not comparing myself to others, focusing on joy. I am glad to share this entry because it tells the beginning chapters in my yoga journey.

If you practice yoga, I encourage you to keep a yoga diary too. Bring it into the room with you and jot down your thoughts before and after practice. It can help you observe your own thoughts and get to know yourself better. This self-study is a basic tenet of yoga–known as Svadyaya in Sanskrit, it is the idea that we can make compassionate choices when we know ourselves well.

Image: by Kevin B. Pixl

 

Updated Events Page: Looking ahead to 2016

The new year is almost upon us! This time of year brings butterflies to my belly as I think about what I wish to manifest in the new year. Rather than wait until January to set intentions, I find it useful to do as much of this work as possible before the holidays. To get my own ducks in a row, and to keep you informed of the exciting yoga happenings coming your way, I have updated my events page.

Here’s a smattering of the events you’ll find there:
–I’m leading CoreRestore teacher training for CorePower this month.
–I’m subbing at Mandala Yoga this month and in January.
–Starting in January I will be co-leading Yoga + Therapy workshops on depression, trauma, stress, addictions, and how yoga can help us heal.
–Next April I will be presenting on how meditation and yoga is good for brain development at the PCPO conference.

My additional goals for next year include:
* Building out my mat donation non-profit efforts to bring more mats to more area schools. I would like to formalize this organization as a non-profit, while also outfitting Grant HS with 65 more mats. This year I have donated mats to four schools. I would like to increase that number for next year. Also: I need more help with this–drivers, storage space, etc.
* Finding a K-8 P.E. position where I can empower children with yoga and mindfulness tools for emotional regulation. (I am currently earning my P.E. endorsement for the state of Oregon; I will complete this program this month.)
* Leading at least one retreat in the Portland area. This would be an affordable extended weekend retreat, perhaps including camping and hiking.

If you’d like to help out with mat donations, retreat planning, or any of my other goals, please get in touch! Email me at BrightYogaPDX@gmail.com.

Kicking off Kids Yoga for Winter/Spring 2015 with Yama-Based Rules

Kids Yoga RulesThis week marked the beginning of my kids yoga classes this winter/spring term. I love the butterfly-stomach feeling I get before the first class in a series. Around 1pm on Monday, that butterfly feeling returned as I prepared for my first class of the session at The International School.

For years, I have taught kids yoga using rules from other teachers. My background in elementary education taught me that it’s okay to build on the work of others. Indeed, one of my mentor teachers in grad school encouraged me to steal what worked from other teachers. And yes, steal was the word she used. So I have been willing to adopt what worked for others in my own classes. Before this semester my rules were:

1. Be kind to yourself and others.
2. Leave the mats down. (This is a big problem with fidgety kids!)
3. Do your best and have fun!

But this year I have decided to switch it up a bit. I thought, “Why not base the kids yoga rules on the ‘rules’ that govern adult yoga as well?” Those rules are the Yamas and Niyamas, principles of yogic behavior that ancient yoga teachers traditionally taught before any physical postures. I talk a bit about the yamas (social observances) and niyamas (personal observances) here.

One thing to keep in mind: the yamas and niyamas are not black and white rules. Growing up with the ten commandments as ethical guidelines in Catholicism, I rankled against the all-or-nothing element. Thou shall. Thou shalt not. That’s it. No in-between. And that meant that there was no need to be involved with the ethics personally. I really love how the yamas and niyamas are much more gray. They encourage us to constantly think about how we can improve as human beings. The most important yoga “rule,” ahimsa, means non-violence. You can begin where you are with ahimsa and continually improve your relationship to it. That might start with a personal vow not to use your words to hurt others. Or you might begin by going vegetarian. There are always more ways to become less violent, and there is always room to push your understanding of what it means to move through the world peacefully.

This year, I decided to bring my student yogis into the wonderful world of yoga ethics. I decided to base my kids yoga rules around three of the yamas:

Yoga Yamas/Rules
How Yogis Behave

1. AHIMSA = Non-Violence.
Treat yourself, others, and the yoga tools with kindness.

2. ASTEYA = Non-Stealing.
Take turns speaking.

3. SATYA = Truthfulness.
Be honest with yourself and others.

As I move forward into this semester of kids yoga classes, I am looking forward to using these rules with kids. Knowing how kids are, I am sure I will refine my understanding of these yoga principles, as my students share new ways to think about each yama. I hope that my littlest yoga students will remember these rules and use them across their lifetimes–as one of my friends on Facebook put it, these rules are “Not just for kids!”

Yoga for the Core: Bandhas (Energy Locks) 101

The BandhasThis week I’m focusing on the core in my yoga classes. Say the word “core” to a yoga teacher (especially a power vinyasa yoga instructor) and it’s likely that that word “bandhas” will come out of his or her mouth. The bandhas translate to “the locks” in yoga’s mother tongue, Sanskrit. When we engage these three points in the body, we can control the flow of energy. Yoga texts say that true mastery of yoga, inside and out, requires the engagement of the bandhas. They not only help your physical practice, but keeping them engaged will also improve your mental practice. Engaging the bhandas also keeps you safe on the mat.

Overall, the core is the body’s great stabilizer. A strong, engaged core with Ujayii breath can make your poses stronger and safer. Turning on the bandhas during class will make you steady, strong, and purposeful during classes. I have noticed that I can flow much more fluidly if these centers are turned on.

Here are the three main bandhas:

1. Mula bandha, literally the root lock. Engaging mula bandha during practice keeps energy (prana) inside, letting it circulate and increase within you. To activate it, pull up on your pelvic floor. Men may be better able to locate it by thinking of contracting the area between the anus and the testes. Both sexes can find it by emulating what you do when you really have to urinate but have to hold it in.

2. Uddiyana Bandha. Uddiyana means to rise up or to fly up. This makes sense if you think of the belly flying up and in. In class, I often say to button your belly button to your spine to engage udiyana bandha.  This will tone your abs, increase stability, and improve digestion. To find full uddiyana bandha, read Lauren Imparato’s MindBodyGreen article on the bandhas. I will point out that the full version of the pose makes it impossible to take breath in smoothly, which we definitely want to do throughout practice. So a light engagement of the core pulling back toward the spine is more what you’re looking for in vinyasa yoga, not a full uddiyana bandha. Read Mark Stephen’s post on the bandhas for a more detailed anatomical discussion of this lock.

3. Jalandhara Bandha. Different schools of yoga have different ideas about this lock. My power vinyasa teachers explained it as a tightening of the muscles at the base of the throat. When teaching this in class, I name these as the same muscles you use to whisper. I also lead students in pretending to fog up a mirror–that’s the sort of textured, heated breath that is created when you activate jalandhara banda. In my training, breathing through the slightly constricted throat of jalandhara banda was used to create Ujayii, or triumphant breath. This is the resonant breath that you hear more advanced students practicing in flowing vinyasa classes.

With all that said, my Kundalini yoga teachers define this lock as a lifting of the heart, while pulling the chin back and up. That does wonders to bring your thoracic and cervical spine into alignment, and in Kundalini they say this improves energy flow as well.

Finally, other schools of yoga teach jalandhara bandha as a double-chin-ish move, where you pull the chin back into the throat. (See Yoga Journal on this verion of Jalandhara Bandha.)

In my vinyasa classes, I teach students to engage mula bandha, create a light uddiyana bandha, and do the first version of jalandhara bandha. All together, these energy locks create a sort of “air bag” on the inside of the body, keeping you steady and protected. I recommend Yoga Anatomy for more detailed scientific information on how the bandhas interact with respiration to create this air bag effect.

I look forward to practicing the bandhas with you this week as we practice jump-switches and balancing postures in my yoga classes!

<photo: via injuryfreeyogapractice.com>