Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Bandhas, Breathing and the five minute Utkatasana

This evening/afternoon's 20/20/20 asana practice was the  Utkatasana subroutine from the On your feet sequence.

I've been practicing Supine sequence all week, after practice this morning I was checking something in the relevant chapter in Ramaswami's other book Yoga for the three stages of life when I came across something interesting.... and frightening.

I love this book, every time I open it I find something I've missed or rushed over. This is what I found today.

'Chapter 8 Supine postures 
Before discussing the supine postures, it may be good to introduce the band has, or locks.'

So that's where he's buried away the bandhas. It's good place, as he mentions, after going through Chapter 7's Standing postures the body becomes lighter, circulation improved, breathing longer, smoother more regular.

' Regular practice results in both more tranquility-and paradoxically- improved stamina, as revealed through one's capacity to do the postures more deliberately and with slow stretching, and in one's ability to stay in the final posture longer and for a greater number of breaths' p.126

So we're nicely prepared to take our practice a little further. The upcoming Supine sequence begins with Tatkamudra and this is an excellent posture to introduce the bandhas. First though Ramaswami has a few words to say about the breath.

'The four aspects of yogic breathing were also discussed in chapter 7. To repeat, the first is recaka, or long and smooth exhalation. the second is puraka, or long inhalation. It is possible to hold in the breath after inhalation which is known as internal holding, or antha-kumbhaka, and is the third aspect. Holding the breath out during the time interval between the completion of exhalation (recaka) and the beginning of inhalation (puraka) is bahya-kumbhaka, the fourth aspect'. p126

Ashtanga it seems recently stopped referring to the distinctive Darth Vader breath as Ujaii. The argument being that Ujaii is pranayama but pranayama employs retention. As there is no retention of the breath in Ashtanga it can't be called ujaii. It's now referred to as 'breath with sound', which isn't as catchy. 

In Vinyasa Krama, as we shall see, there is indeed Ujaii and Ramaswami used to prowl around the room, coming up behind you to make sure he could hear your breathing. We don't employ breath retention in every posture and in the postures that we do, perhaps not all the time. It's something that's available to us and in some postures more than others.

The same goes for the bandhas.

Jalandhara bandha

'There are three important band has. the first is jalandhara bandha, or locking the chin against the breastbone. This may be done during kumbhkas and whenever the the posture requires the chin to be locked, which is normally the case during forward bends and when keeping the back erect. In backbends and twisting postures it is not possible to do jalandhara bandha'. p127

Mula and Uddiyana bandha

'The other two bandhas, however, should be practiced in most of the asanas, especially after exhalation. The first is mula bandha, which means "constricting of the anus" It is done after a complete exhalation. After the exhalation is over, the abhyasi (yoga student) should anchor the body in the asana he or she is in and then slowly and deliberately close the anus and draw in the rectum by contracting the perineal and surrounding muscles of the pelvic floor. Then as if in a continuous movement, the abdomen, including the navel, is drawn in, pushing up the diaphragm into the now almost empty chest cavity, which is then called uddiyana bandha ( drawing in of the diaphragm)... This technique is one of the specialities of yogic breathing" p127

So now I'm expecting to move onto discussion of the bandhas in Supine sequence but here's where Ramaswami scared the living daylights out of me. Before mentioning the Supine postures he mentions the one standing posture where all three bandhas 'can be effectively practiced', Utkatasana. 

'When one is able to stay in the posture (utkatasana) for three to six breaths, then one should slowly increase the time to complete a stipulated number of breaths. Thereafter, one should remain in the posture for a predetermined number of breaths chosen by the practitioner or teacher, or for a fixed persiod, say three to five minutes. Then one's practice should be aimed at reducing the number of breaths while remaining in the posture for the same duration. for instance one may take a total of twenty breaths while in the posture. Later on, it may be possible to remain in the posture steadily and comfortably (sthira and sukha) for five minutes with perhaps only ten breaths. This is one method for attaining asana siddhi (perfection in posture) that one can test of oneself. Having achieved this level of comfort in the posture, one can then introduce the band has, which will increase the time taken for each breath. P 127

FIVE MINUTES!!!!!! in UTKATASANA? ouch., serious tapas.

So this evening Utkatasan it was. First the subroutine inculing the different hand variations. Here's the video from my Vinyasa Krama Sequences and subroutines site with the different variations.

And then this five minute Utkatasana with bandhas and antha-kumbhaka from this evening/afternoon which is frankly like watching paint dry, towards the end though you might be able to catch the sweat from my forehead changing from a drip to a flood.

Stiil a way to go before it's sthira and sukha

* All quotes from Yoga for the three stages of Life by Srivatsa Ramaswami


  1. Thanks, for sharing your time and effort. As good as any class; really been able to delve into Vinyasa with your great visual aids.

  2. Well, I know what I am doing in my evening practice tomorrow. Yeah, good job. Serious Tapas. 10 breaths? Only 10 breaths for five minutes. What ratio is that? 2 breaths per minute. That actually seems pretty reasonable. 1 breath per 30 seconds: 5s inhale: 20s exhale: 5s hold? That actually seems really reasonable.

  3. i will have to try too. why not lengthen inhale? to ten?

  4. Maybe a silly question, but do you stretch/tense your quadriceps, etc. during full utkatasana (same as with ardha-utkatasana)?

  5. Just checked, not really K, I hold it with band has, Mula in particular.

  6. Checked too :))
    But do you push your hamstrings to your calves, like you were sitting on your calves? Or do you have a slight space between them, like not letting any real weight on them?
    My problem is when coming out (up) from full utkatasana (if I was pretty down), my knees "click" at some point, even if I push them together (not letting to fall down an imaginary sheet of paper between them).

    Actually you were right, I'm also using bandhas, but not really know the depth of the pose, I think.

  7. In Ramaswami's other book 'Three stages', he says

    'bend your knees all the way until your thighs touch your calf muscles and your knees are fully bent'. p107

    Not as many postures in 'Three stages' as 'The Complete book' but what there are often get fuller discriptions.