About 7 years ago, I found myself in one of my first yoga classes. 30 minutes into practice, the teacher said “feel mula bandha lift”. Confused by her gibberish, I stood up out of my pose and said, “what the heck is that?” Which made the whole class giggle, leaving me red-in-the-face-embarrassed and still confused when I was left without an answer.
Uncountable hours of yoga practice, and a few teacher trainings later, I want to share what I’ve learned about some of the core aspects of a physical yoga practice. The trifecta of bandhas, breath, and drishti are techniques that once mastered can strengthen and deepen a students experience on their mat.
Bandha is a sanskrit word, that means “lock”. The three main “locks” we hear cued in modern yoga classes are Mula Bandha, Udiyanna Bandha and Jalandhara Bahnda.
Mula bahnda, meaning root lock, is a feeling of lifting the pelvic floor up.
Uddiyana bahada is best translated as “upward flying lock” and this is the engagement of our deepest abdominal muscle, the Transverse Abdominis. It gives us the feeling of pulling our belly button to our spine, like someone is tightening a corset around our waist. When engaged, it stabilises our entire torso and allows us to float through our practice and eventually fly up into inversions such as handstand.
Lastly, Jalandhara Bandha is the “throat lock”. It is when we draw our chin all the way to the chest and the chest slightly lifts up into the chin. Jalandhara is usually only used during yogic breathing exercises, pranayama, and not in poses on our mats.
Utilising the locks during our yoga practice we can harness our strength to stabilize our body, gaining an overall feeling of lightness so we can float in and out of our practice.
The breath we use throughout our vinyasa yoga practice is called Ujjayi breath. This is commonly referred to as oceanic breathing, but best translates to “breath of victory”. Iyenger said that “breath is king of the mind”. So when we use Ujjayi breath we are aiming to gain victory over the business of our minds.
Keeping the belly drawn into the spine and a slight restriction at the back of our throat, we breathe in through the nose. It channels the air into our lungs causing the ribs to
expand and is followed by an exhale back through the nose as the ribs gather back together.
When done correctly, smoothly, and rhythmically, Ujiayi breath creates an audible whisper that sounds like waves rolling onto the sands of a beach. It helps regulate our internal body heat and stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system, our bodies’ way of controlling our “rest and digest” responses. When this part of our nervous system is stimulated, we find ourselves in a serene, and safe state, and our body and mind restored through our yoga practice.
Drishti is where we softly fix our eyes in a pose. When we have wandering eyes, we have wandering minds. When we have a single-focused vision, our brain is less exposed to the constant visually stimulating information around us, thus allowing us to drop deeper into our concentration. We become less concerned about the practice of those around us, and who has the best tights in the room!
Drishti takes us past our outer appearance and to out inner essence. With our drishti we develop a single-pointed focus, eka-graha, and we move from looking at something, to looking through something, into a universal oneness.
My hope is that now when you’re in a classroom and the teacher asks you to engage your
bandhas, to soften your drishti and to find your ujjayi, you won’t feel like a foreign exchange
Instead of disregarding it all as gibberish, you can understand how and why these three techniques are a backbone in your yoga practice. It might not happen instantly, but notice overtime how through your strong body, still mind, and steady breath you can dive into a meditative mindset on your mat.
Using your breath, bandhas, and drishti you will find more stillness and inner peace, paving the way for a life-enriching practice.
Join Kaylee for a Breath, Bandhas and Drishti workshop on Sunday April 2 and learn how to implement these techniques into your practice. Find out more information here.
By Kaylee Falkner