There are many layers to the yoga practice. Once you understand the basics of alignment, know your breathing techniques, and perhaps a few words of Sanskrit, you may be excited to dive deeper into your practice.
One of the most powerful yogic practices is Uddiyana Bandha — the upward flying lock, in which you suck your abdomen in and up, while holding your breath. Read our Beginner’s Guide to Uddiyana Bandha to learn the technique, benefits, and contraindications:
What is a Bandha?
To understand the meaning and purpose of bandhas, you first need to understand the yogic concept of energy. According to ancient scriptures, the body is a vessel of prana, or life force energy, which flows through thousands of energy channels. The main channel, called Sushumna Nadi, is located along the spine. By forcing energy into this “central channel” and directing it upwards, we experience higher states of consciousness. This expansion of energy and consciousness is the main goal of the Hatha Yoga Tradition.
By practicing yoga postures, you can loosen and remove obstructions in your energy body, thus freeing the flow of prana. However, if you want to consciously control, shape, and expand your internal energy, you need to master the practice of bandhas.
The word Bandha can be translated both as a “lock” or “bond” of energy. There are three Bandhas in the Hatha Yoga Tradition. Together, they form Maha Bandha, the great lock.
When practiced correctly, bandhas collect and restrain energy in specific areas of the body. They also work to connect and consolidate the two different qualities of energy: Prana, the life force energy, and Apana, the energy that flows out of the body for cleansing. If both of these qualities are blended together, we induce a state of calmness and neutrality that allows the energy to flow into the central channel and rise upwards – from the lower to the higher energy centers (called chakras).
What is Uddiyana Bandha?
Uddiyana Bandha, which is also referred to as the abdominal lock, is located between the navel and spine where the diaphragm forms a muscular and energetic barrier. The functions below the barrier are unconscious and reactive, while the functions that occur above it are more conscious and flexible.
Uddiyana Bandha crosses this mind-body barrier, sending the energy of the lower chakras “flying upwards” through a process of refinement and sublimation. This action directs energy into higher energy centers, such as Anahata Chakra and the chakras above it.
In Sanskrit, uddiyana means “upward flying,” which accurately describes the effects of this practice.
Step By Step Guide To Uddiyana Bandha
For beginners, the best position to practice Uddiyana Bandha is standing, with the knees slightly bent (as in skiing) and the feet wider than hip-distance. Place the hands on the thighs above the knees, with the fingers facing inwards. The body is bent slightly forward so that the weight of the torso is supported on the hands.
- First, inhale deeply through the nose, then exhale completely (through the mouth or nose) while bending forward at the hips, knees and elbows bent, contracting the abdominal muscles in order to push as much air as possible out of the lungs.
The Void Retention:
- Holding the void retention (without letting any air enter the lungs), completely relax the abdomen and bring the body back to its initial position.
- Perform a “false inhalation”. This means that no air is drawn in, but the ribcage is expanded as in a normal inhalation. This action sucks the abdominal muscles and organs up into the thorax and hollows out the belly.
- If you experience any unpleasant pressure in the throat, tuck the chin towards the chest. Many yogis recommend Jalandhara Bandha (the contraction and locking of the throat area) to be performed during Uddiyana Bandha.
- Hold the void retention for as long as feels comfortable. Always be careful not to hold the retention too long, so that a sudden and chaotic inhalation becomes necessary due to the intense shortage of air. For beginners, a few seconds are enough. With practice, you can gradually increase the duration of the void retention.
- When finishing, first release the abdomen before inhaling.
- With awareness, relax the diaphragm which will come down and bring the abdomen back to its normal position.
- Then, inhale through the nose, letting the air gently enter the lungs. Never breathe in without first releasing the seal of the diaphragm – taking in air while holding Uddiyana Bandha is very uncomfortable and possibly dangerous, as its violent entrance into the lungs can affect the fine alveolar membranes.
- After inhaling, hold your breath (full retention) for around 20 seconds or as long as feels comfortable to further acknowledge the specific effects of this technique.
Benefits of Uddiyana Bandha
Uddiyana Bandha is a powerful generator of life force. Along with Mula Bandha, the root lock, it moves our energy and awareness to the higher realms of the heart chakra and beyond. It is a highly energizing practice that unlocks our potential of self-healing and nurturance.
On the physical level, Uddiyana Bandha strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. It also massages the abdominal viscera and stimulates blood circulation in the abdomen, making it a great remedy for digestive troubles.
Use Uddiyana Bandha in Yoga Poses
Apart from the full Uddiyana Bandha, which is practiced on its own or in combination with the other two bandhas, yogis also utilize a gentle version of Uddiyana Bandha in their asana practice. Instead of hollowing out the belly completely, the low belly is gently drawn toward the spine. This action helps stabilize the body and is thus mostly used in balancing postures or when moving between poses.
So, if you’ve ever wondered how your yoga teacher can float through their Sun Salutations or gracefully lift up into a Handstand or Crow Pose, you now know that they are using Uddiyana Bandha (in combination with Mula Bandha).
A great pose to explore the bandhas is Downward Facing Dog. Its shape encourages a natural engagement of all three bandhas: Reaching the tailbone to the sky engages and lifts the pelvic floor muscles (Mula Bandha), the belly is automatically drawn in (Uddiyana Bandha) and the chin tucked toward the chest (Jalandhara Bandha).
If you are struggling to feel and engage your abdominal lock, try moving between Tabletop and Downward Facing Dog:
- Start on all fours, in Tabletop Position. Inhale deeply through the nose.
- On the exhalation, lift your hips into Downward Facing Dog. Focus on the sensation of your belly pulling in toward the spine.
- As you inhale, return to Tabletop. Allow your abdomen to relax and expand.
- Exhale fully and lift into Downward Facing Dog. Try to push all air out of your lungs.
- Hold the void retention for a few seconds, feeling the contraction of your abdomen.
- Repeat this sequence a few times, then come to rest in Child’s Pose.
Contraindications of Uddiyana Bandha
There are a few important things to remember when beginning the practice of Uddiyana Bandha. First of all, perform it only on an empty stomach, never after a meal. The best time to practice is early in the morning, with empty stomach and bowels.
Next, keep in mind that bandhas should never be practiced during menstruation or pregnancy due to their strong physical and energetic effects. Other contraindications for Uddiyana Bandha are high blood pressure, hiatal hernia, and ulcers.
Finally, you need to determine how much Uddiyana Bandha is beneficial for your individual constitution. If you experience irregular menstrual cycles or irregularities in elimination, or if you tend to feel “spacey” and “ungrounded,” practicing too much Uddiyana Bandha might be counterproductive. It moves energy upwards when you need it to move downward in order to stay grounded, embodied, and regulated. Therefore, it is recommended that beginners practice Uddiyana Bandha under the supervision and guidance of an experienced teacher.
We hope this Beginner’s Guide to Uddiyana Bandha helped you understand how and why we practice the abdominal lock. To put theory into practice, join our Online Studio where you can access hundreds of high-quality yoga classes. Start with a 30-day free trial!