Bandhas | The Third Pillar of Power Yoga
The third pillar of power yoga is bandhas. You might recall the first pillar is dristhi, a visual focus. Yes, dristhi is the pillar I wrote about many months ago. I lost my dristhi in terms of writing about each of the five pillars of Baptiste Power Yoga. Yet it is the practice of coming back to dristhi that allows me to be back on this blog; to refocus, breathe (the second pillar), and to create my foundation for which to practice and live on.
The third pillar of power yoga is referenced by several terms. While the sanskrit word is bandhas, in Baptiste yoga, we often refer to this pillar as "Hands, Feet, and Core." When you activate your hands, feet, and core with power and intention, your provide yourself with a foundation for each yoga pose. While there are many variations of each pose, there are essentially two ways to approach the pose. With foundation and without foundation. You can come into the shape of a downward facing dog with minimum activation of your hands, feet, and core. Or you can spread your fingertips and press your hands (specifically your knuckles and fingertips) down into the mat, spread your toes and press your heels down into the mat, draw your belly in toward your spine, and awaken all of the muscles in your body. With activation of your hands, feet, and core, you create a foundation from which you can expand out. From an active downward facing dog, I can find more ease and expansion to lift a leg to the ceiling and flow to another pose.
There are three key bandhas that many yoga practices focus on.
- Mula bandha - referring to the lifting of the pelvic floor.
- Uddiyana bandha - referring to the drawing in and up of the abdomen.
- Jalandhara bandha - referring to the locking of the throat with forward flexion of the neck.
Bandhas are traditionally practiced with the intention of locking energy in the body. It is this containment of energy that gives yogis access to jump or float forward and into handstands with ease.
These traditional bandhas do not make direct reference to the hands and feet. What, then, is the intention behind activation of the hands and feet? In my experience, when I spread my fingers and toes in any pose, I access a greater strength throughout my entire body. The spine is the center of your body and also the area where nerves are activated to ignite the muscles in your limbs. Therefore, when you spread your fingers and toes, energy flows from the center of you out. Simultaneously, spreading your fingers and toes causes sensation which causes nerves to fire and energy to flow back to your center. In essence, activation of your hands an feet awakens the energy in your entire body.
In most yoga postures, your hands or feet (or both) are in contact with the Earth. They are the physical foundation that support you. When I sit on a chair, I appreciate the support of four stable legs. If I sit on a chair with an unstable leg or if the chair is on an uneven surface, my whole being becomes unsteady. Our yoga postures require stability from the ground up in order to be able to expand out.
For many years, I found twisted triangle to be extremely challenging. I couldn't figure out how to twist further. It was not until I brought more attention to pressing my feet down into the mat, pressing my bottom hand down into a block (and eventually into the mat), spreading the fingers of my top hand wide, and drawing my belly in towards my spine that I gained access to opening. It was a strong foundation that I needed in order to gain access to something bigger.
Through the action of creating stability, we get access to grow to new heights. And this is not just true of yoga postures. It shows up in all aspects of life. Where can you create a stronger foundation? Consider your relationships, your career, your hobbies, and yes, your downward facing dog!
Dr. Trish Corley is a Baptiste certified yoga teacher and a doctor of physiotherapy. She leads regularly scheduled yoga classes in Singapore and teacher trainings and workshops globally.
Are you interested in learning more about Baptiste Yoga? Join Trish for a yoga class or her next yoga event. Check out her calendar!