Mula Bandha

Thanks to Alisa who left a comment on the Jalandara Bandha post and asked about Mula and Uddiyana. I loved her description of the method she’d been using and tried it:

“So far, the best practice I know if is putting my hands on a sticky mat and my feet on a tray and sliding the tray backwards and forwards without bending my knees.”

What a fantastic idea! I think this process really gets to the feeling of the bandha, but maybe isn’t ideal for discriminating among the deeper layers that reveal themselves over time. David Life has  great article on the layers and how Mula Bandha relates to two distinct mudras in the same area on the Yoga Journal Page under “Practice”, called “To Infinity and Beyond!”

I usually begin to teach Mula Bandha as part of a breathing practice called kalabhati, rapid and forceful exhalations generated from rapid contractions of the low belly. When you compress the transverse abdominus which runs laterally between the pelvic crests, you naturally also lift the pelvic floor from pressure and attachments (not the egoic kind, the connective tissue kind).

From there we work imaginitively, because the most important and difficult part of this process is to actually feel with nuance this area of your own body. Most people don’t, thank you very much, and it can feel uncomfortable to refer to these areas when you’re unused to feeling them.

I begin with the usual references to Kegel Excercises, with the caveat that this is starting place. Mula Bandha begins with a contraction of the pelvic floor which is an intricate network of fascia, other connective tissue and muscles with either two or three openings, depending upon your gender. Kegel gets to the front opening. “Contract Uranus!” gets to the posterior. What we’re aiming for is a subtle lifting sensation above the perineum, and when you engage it you’ll feel instantaneously bright minded. It’s like your energy just bounced up from a trampoline.

And that is the final image I like with this exercise, usually performed sitting in Sukhasana or Virasana. Imagine a flat drum stretched from sitting bone to sitting bone, and from your tailbone up to the front of your pelvis. As your breath lands gently on this drum, it snaps gently back into the body, sending the breath upward. If in Virasana, press the knees together gently to tug the sitting bones slightly and tighten the trampoline.

Breathe, Love, Live!

Yoga Asana & Weight Loss

Yes, it’s January and the usual topics rear their heads. I’ve railed against marketing yoga for weight loss as much as a stretching routine. I’ve waxed mildly philosophical about contentment & acceptance as more transformative focuses than self-improvement. And yet… And yet.

Weight loss is no superficial matter. Being overweight increases infalmmatory processes in the body, as well as risks for all the major causes of death and disability: heart disease, vascular disease, stroke, diabetes.

Moreover, feeling overweight compromises how we are in the world, what we allow for ourselves and what we imagine. I’ve written here about quitting smoking, I’m writing a memoir about sober vinophilia, and I still write occasionally about my icey fascination with adreneline and extremes. So why not write about my experience with yoga and weight?

Weight has always been a sensitive topic for me. I started serious weightlifting when I was a young teenager & still feel safest, most at home in a spare, bright room full of metal and benches and bars and sweat. When things go really bad, I go to the gym. Because of having built a physique more muscular than the average woman, I’ve often heard extreme assessments of my appearance. Whether appreciative or derisive, it’s always felt intrusive, like someone commenting on your religion.

And of course through the years age, divorce, career change, night shift & the poignant stresses of living have taken their own tolls adding padding here & there, only to be shed as I process the emotions and memories they embody.

And this is where yoga comes in. My practice has given me the structure to observe the relationships between the shapes I embody and ideas, emotions, sensations and experiences I am processing. Yoga specifically addresses how we process and digest energy, specifically our food, emotions, rest and desire. Through breathing, circulation, motion and rest we can intentionally influence the efficiency with which we process our life experience. And this is the most important thing about weight, because even yogis die and in the end it’s always the heart that stops. Even yogis age, and in the end the face is never the same as it was when we were born. Even yogis struggle, and in the end stress shares the same physical processes regardless of where it is born.

From my own observation, weight stores emotion. Sometimes this is benevolent: we may not be ready or have the resources to process it we will soon possess. And the more thouroughly we process, the more time it can take, but the more we will understand and the freer we will be. When I was raped during my teacher training three years ago, I began a slow weight gain that was resistent to all my diet and exercise attempts. As that weight dissolved this last year, I was sometimes awash in emotions that were clearly out of context for my current existence. They were remnants washed out in the process of renewal. Cultivating witness consciousness (which is palpably and functionally different than disassociating), staying connected to breath and listening to my body for the poses and seats that would best support my activity were crucial in caring for and supporting this part of my process.

The weight that I carried wasn’t always comfortable, but it was often comforting. Loosing it wasn’t always comfortable, but my lighter body feels at home in my world. I lost thirty pounds during 2008, which is a steady & sustainable rate.  As important as the physical activity in yoga is the constructive rest and meditation. The eight limbs (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi) are as necessary to yoga practice as to an octupus.

Overall, daily practice and meditation are crucial. Even if it’s just a moment on the mat, the imprint that I carried into my day was sustaining. What I did on a given day was based on a general structure which I refined over the course of time, but tailored each day to my needs. My sleep patterns were stabilizing, my food habits were changing, my practice varied depending on my health, my cycle, the time I had set aside, emotions, work demands and classes I was prepping.

What I recommend for students who are designing a practice with weight stabilization in mind is first to be clear about what emotions and meanings you anticipate processing. Be open for change, and stay grounded in your overall process. For some drawing and journalling help with putting a particular day’s events in the larger context of their life. Remember that your practice is ultimately supporting you in digesting your experience and that no emotion, no day or night or wash of feeling is definitive of anything. It is information, it is color and you can be present for it and be the space and awareness of it.

I begin my own practice with breathing and pranayama. Kalabhati & Stomach Churning are particularly mind clearing and energy producing. They are also helpful for generating warmth on a cold morning, or on a camping trip. I follow these with 20-30 minutes of sun salutations beginning slowly and meditatively, feeling every centimeter of motion exquisitely with every cell of my body and working up to crisp motion in concert with breath.

Standing postures with lots of twists and revolved poses felt integrative, strong and cleansing, and by Fall I was closing with Sarvangasana, or shoulderstand, for 5 minutes each day, followed by Halasana, or Plow, a final twist & squeeze. After a luscious Savasana I like to practice Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, before silent meditation, focusing on my breath. Some chanting brings me nicely into the rest of my day.

That’s what I’ve devised. I’ve recently read Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga with great pleasure and he has a routine at the end which has many of the same elements. I wouldn’t recommend diving in without a teacher, because no amount of reading will enable you to transition between postures or guage your readiness like a teacher. But if you have experience or a teacher to guide you, either through private or group lessons, it’s a well rounded program, and regardless, the thoughtful first chapters are valuable for the clarity & simplicity of his explanation.

I continue to observe the changes of my body and mind through my practice and while I’m now at the weight I was before, my body continues to grow slimmer and more muscular, though of a different  density than my 145# benching days. (Yeah, I actually used to loose boyfriends because I could bench more.)  I regard this as evolution, information, experience and contribution to the wisdom I seek. I invite you to share your story, plan, experience or struggle through comments or email. Remember, it’s all Gunas acting on Gunas (Bhagavad Gita) or loosely translated, “It ain’t nothin’ but a thing. Another thing.”

Metaphor is Powerful; Yoga is Powerful

We’ve just witnessed the power of metaphor on the national stage, and yoga asana practice is direct, personal engagement & embodiment of the power of metaphor. We embody particulars and so transcend the generalities of natural forms in postures,  as when we engage the majestic conversation with air that is the Eagle in Garundasana, the enduring stability of the Tree in Vrkasana, the open reflectivity of the Moon in Ardha Chandrasana. 

While performing asana, the student’s body assumes numerous forms of life found in creation, and he learns that in all these there breathes the same universal spirit – the spirit of God. ~BKS Iyengar

Yoga asana is movement in concert with breath. Each release, each opening is supported by and in turn invites more breath. Each moment of awareness is tied to a simple motion or stillness, a particular moment of physicality accessed through awareness riding the conduit of breath. Minute particulars, infinitely organizable, known only through our unique presence in this one prescious moment. The moment as it is given to us.

Even believing the force of metaphor and the empowerment of presence and embodiment, the mechanics can remain deeply mysterious. How can physical movements change our lives, change the world? While my first inclination at response is “How can they not? Aren’t our lives, Isn’t the world, a collection of movements?”, the deeper answer comes down to particulars.
“Labor well the minute particulars,
 take care of the little ones
 For Art & Science cannot exist but in
 minutely organized particulars.”
~William Blake
Yoga practice leaves us more adaptable, more present and so more alive, creative & responsive. 
“Enhancing respiratory function is the surest and simplest way to increase the adaptive capacity in the organism.” ~Thomas Myers 
So through awareness and attention to particulars of our own ever-present existence, we train ourselves to become more responsive to our worlds and the needs of the people in them.
Still need motivation for practice? How about a recent report in Prevention magazine linking meditation to better sex? We all know better leving leads to longer lives, but if meditation can lead to sexier life, what’s not to try, to love?

We're All Citizens

“Yoga” means “union”.  Today in the United States of America we vote for who will lead our union for the next four years. Whatever you think of the last 4 – or 8 – years, whatever you think of our war, our economy, our taxes or our infrastructure, you have a voice today. Excercise it. Then remember to exercise yourself. Breathe deeply, look next door and remember that the neighbor with the McCain or the Obama sign is … just like you. Just like you, a citizen. Just like you, struggles with fears, lacks, limitations.

That’s the deep challenge of our yoga: to remember that whatever the face of the “other” is, it’s not so forgein. It’s a mask, just like our own, animated by consciousness just like our own.  When we are aware of watching our thought, aware of our awareness, we approach our true self, our self beyond personna, beyond affiliation and beyond name. In this self, we really are the same. This is what we recognize with Namaste.

So maybe as you’re exiting the polls, watching the returns, overhearing conversations of those with whom you do not agree, you can whisper a quiet “Namaste” to yourself, to remember our basic sameness.

We are all citizens and we can remember this, whichever side of McBama we stand on. Tonight, I’ll be leading community yoga (Guerilla Style!) for Reds, Blues, Greens and Libs and everyone in between and around. Tonight, I want to remember that we all breathe the same air, we all walk the same Earth, we all have the same access to consciousness, we all have the same potential for awareness. We all struggle with the same demons, just the little faces change. Much like Halloween, our foes and fantasies can occupy our minds, or we can acknowledge them, give them what they need, and remember how small they are.

We are bigger than our hopes and fears. We remember this each time we assume an asana, becoming the Eagle, the Warrior, embodying Dogs facing down, up & Sages facing sideways. Maybe you can use your yoga to remember your wholeness and bring that to your community. Bust an Eagle at the polls! Remember your wholeness, the wholeness of the citizen next to you and the wholeness of our communities from small to large. Now that’s Yoga!

Yoga Thoughts on Ashtanga, ~Amy Nobles Dolan

Amy Nobles Dolan teaches yoga in Wayne Pennsylvania and writes a blog at Yoga With Spirit.  She exemplifies the addage that you’ll know you’re ready to teach when students come to you, and her expansive sense of generosity and gratitude, grounded in experience, wisdom and knowledge illuminate her writing. She’s an Ashtanga Yogi who brings an embracing perspective to both her choice of tradition and her teaching. On her website bio, she affirms, “…yoga works for everyone.” Here’s her reflection on why Ashtanga works for her. Thank You, Amy!

ps: also check her out at the YogaJournal website featured blog!


Not too long ago my husband and I took our three kids to Baskin Robbins.  When I ordered (as I often do) Rocky Road, my youngest daughter, Sally, asked me why I chose that flavor.  Hmm.  I actually can’t think of a single reason not to order Rocky Road!  But trying to explain to my daughter why this flavor beat out the other thirty left me tongue-tied.  Where to start?  The creamy chocolate ice cream?  The delicate swirl of marshmallow cream?  The chocolate covered nuts that add a perfect textural balance?  I had no idea there were so many reasons I love this flavor!  Not wanting my scrumptious scoop to melt while I crafted my response, I bailed out of the question with a wholly unsatisfying “Because I like it,” leaving her to make her own choice without my input.


Shortly after this incident, a curious student asked me why I had chosen ashtanga yoga over all the other types of yoga out there.  Perhaps because yoga is a lot more important to me than Rocky Road ice cream, the retort “Because I like it” felt even more like a cop-out than it did in the ice cream parlor.  And, perhaps because yoga doesn’t melt, I was more willing to take the time to put my thoughts into words.  I’d love to be able to say that I stood in front of the ice-cream-case of yoga and selected ashtanga for myself.  But I can’t.  It was pure providence that led me to my first ashtanga yoga class – which was also my very first yoga class.  Had I turned up in another kind of class, the practice may not have “stuck.”  And I shudder to imagine my life without this sustaining daily practice.  You see, throughout the years, ashtanga yoga has always been a perfect match for me.


In the beginning, I was searching for a way to regain my body after years of sharing it with babies.  I craved the physical.  I needed the endorphin high of a good work-out to carry me through the grueling day ahead filled with diapers, bottles, heavy car-seats and temper tantrums.  I yearned to look good again.  Heck, I yearned to simply feel good.  Ask and ye shall receive.  Ashtanga yoga fulfilled all these desires and then some.  The challenging asanas toned and strengthened my body.  The vigorous, at times speedy, flow steadily increased my stamina and endurance.  The stronger and fitter I became, the better I felt.  My regular ashtanga yoga practice had completely revamped my physical body.


Time passed (as it does) and I changed (as we do).  My babies got bigger and the challenges that filled my days changed.  The demands I faced were no longer as physical.  I needed the wherewithal to focus on thirteen things at once – imagine three simultaneous requests for help with math homework while cooking dinner, folding a load of laundry and developing a marketing plan for my new yoga studio!  I needed the self-awareness to understand that my short temper had more to do with an over-abundance of volunteer commitments than with my husband and children.  I needed the prescience to see past the scowling face and rude demeanor to sense that something had happened at school to upset my child.


Again, ashtanga yoga met my needs.  The ashtanga series requires high levels of concentration and focus.  As my abilities to focus on one thing at a time and to stay present in the current moment developed, I found myself better able to deal with the multiple demands for my attention one at a time.  As I was learning to be curious and aware of myself – my feelings, my fears, my reactions, my ego – on my mat, I became more tuned into what was behind my feelings off my mat.  This awareness also resulted in a heightened sensitivity to the feelings and needs of the people in my life.   My regular (now daily) practice of ashtanga yoga was transforming my relationships – with myself, with my family and with my friends.


With time, discipline and dedication, my practice continued to deepen.  My times on my mat became more inwardly focused.  As I became stronger and more flexible, I began to be able to relax into the postures.  The more comfortable I was in the asanas, the less mental energy was required of me to stay in them.  I could now sink below thoughts of alignment and balance into the quiet of moving meditation.  As my physical practice matured, I began to work more diligently with my breath.  Ashtanga’s ujjayi breathing became a point of meditation for me, taking me even deeper into a meditative state.  And, as meditation became more natural for me, my rests in savasana at the end of my practices became richer and more rewarding.  Day after day while I practiced, I drew closer to the divine spark of life and love that is at my core.  Day after day, I recognized that same spark in the people I met after I rolled up my mat and moved on into my day.  My daily practice of ashtanga yoga was transforming and expanding my spirituality.


Why do I choose ashtanga yoga?  Like with Rocky Road ice cream, I can’t think of a single reason not to!  Why do I choose ashtanga yoga?  Like Rocky Road ice cream, I choose it because I like it!  Why do I choose ashtanga yoga?  As I said before, I shudder to imagine my life without it.  Physically, mentally and spiritually, the practice is transformative — and as wholly satisfying as a scoop of ice cream.  Just as Rocky Road ice cream is the perfect flavor for me, ashtanga yoga is the perfect yoga for me.  What about you?  What do you choose?

Press Down to Lift Up: shoulderstand, the up side down way to learn to reach your dreams

One of the most delicious and maddening things about being human is having dreams. I’m not just talking about goals:  this house, that sales figure, that asana, this number of pounds lost or muscle gained. I’m talking about a vision, a feeling of how the world could be, will be how we want it to be.

It’s called being attached, and any first time visitor to meditation hall or yoga class knows that attachment is the cardinal sin of those who seek “Enlightenment”. According to some ways of thinking, it’s the number one cause of dukkha, suffering. But simply severing it isn’t the answer… even if we could.

I’m a great fan of recurrence theories, perhaps it’s my Ancient Greek Philosophy roots, or maybe even the sparkling brilliance of Hegel still bubbling and opening my cranial cavities after all these years, but if there’s one thing of which I’m certain, it’s that nothing happens BOOM! all of a sudden, once and for all, emerging Athena-like, full blown from the thigh of anything or any one.

Even love at first sight. Take the first time I saw my husband. He waited behind me with  a compliment and a smile after my first poetry reading. I stood at the bar, ordering refreshment for my moral support, ready to wheel and slice any man who trod near my tender heart or toes. As I turned, ready to “burn him with my eyes”, my ember stoked eyes fell on his and the furnace of my heart opened to a rush of air that fed flames I didn’t know existed. It was truly a life changing moment.  I knew this person was important, and social stories and norms being what they are, I bore the usual twinge of “could he be…?” But love is a series of choices to keep the furnace tended, sometimes opened, sometimes closed, always stoked, but not to high… and not to jump in, but to sit close and absorb the warmth, to sit close with somebody else, and to remain.

And so with all great stories and commitments, which both enlightenment and non-attachment must be. We make small choices every day that create conditions to invite the condition of which we dream. We dream. We are attached to our dreams, but then we sit. We become and are capable of making distinctions between the conditions of which we dream and the particular things, feelings and people that stand in for our imaginative purposes. We find the emptiness in the dream, and so make the realization possible.

We can live and create our dreams, but only if we let go of specific ideas about how they’ll come true. The best way I know to do this is head down, eyes on the path. Do what is right in front of me with everything I am. The “everything I am” part keeps me focused on foudations, because a big part of who I am is the commitments I’ve made and the beings I love.

And so, contemplating one readers’ plaint of being unable to lift the butt into shoulder stand, I’ve been paying particular attention to how that lightness is created. And it’s no surprise to find that it’s from the bottom up. If you focus on levitating your backside over your shoulders, you’re going to struggle. It’s a lot of core strength, but as much as muscle it’s the union of opposing forces. To raise any part of the body, mind or spirit, another part must be reaching in & down.

In this case the elbows and backs of the arms work nicely. But we can even get more basic than that: the precursor to shoulderstand is bridge, so this is a lovely place to investigate the feeling of butt levitation. From a supine position, bend knees & place the feet on the mat, parallel and hip width apart, close to your rear. You press into your feet to lift your backside and so your frontside. Play with all the ways to press your feet into the floor – there are multiple combinations of muscles that will get the job done and you’ll feel the differences. Press more into your heels, then the toes, then lift the outsides of your feet. Try to move your knees farther from your hips (but never further than your ankles) without moving your hips.

Next, move up to the arms which will be important in your levitation. You can bring the elbows together & support your upper butt with your hands. See what that feels like and maybe try lifting one leg at a time off the floor. You can also support the sacrum with a block and experiment with different levels.

Investigate drawing the shoulders back & together, externally rotating the upper arms and maybe even clasping the hands. The neck should not be on the floor. This is very important, and you should take great care. Do not try shoulderstand if you have an injury or are concerned about your neck, high blood pressure, strokes. Talk to a teacher before going up. This blog is never a substitute for in person advice of a qualified teacher.

Another way to investigate your foundation for this amazing inversion is against a wall. Sit knees tucked with one arm & thigh against the wall. Lay down with the support of the other arm, onto your back, extending your legs up the wall. You might still want to inch your butt closer still to the wall. Bend your knees, place your feet against the wall, parallel and hip width apart, and press into them. Voila! Your butt comes up & off the wall, over your torso. You can play with pressing into the feet, and eventually (making sure your neck is always in a gentle natural curve off the ground) straighten your legs, feel pressing into the wall, for a supported shoulderstand. If you support your sacrum with your hands and bring your legs back so that your thighs and abdomen are at a right angle, this is half shoulder stand and a great way to work into the full stretch of the back required for shoulder stand. Focus on your legs and feet being bright and engage your core, bringing the abdominals back to support your organs and spine.

By focusing on the little things, the everyday decisions of where we press down, what we engage, little by little we move toward the fullest expression of our dreams. The path sometimes bears little resemblance to a disinterested viewer, but we know where the connections are, we feel how the oppositions support one another and finally flower into the very conditions that seemed so far away.

Non-attachment? Maybe, or maybe just loosening the strings, tending the tent stakes and letting the breeze billow the tent makes the heart light enough to take refuge under the sky.

Bow Down & Open Up

Sometimes, most times in fact, the best way to address large projects is to take up the small things. Starting a business? Do the small, unsexy boring things first. Working on a relationship? Do the simple things and watch truth and love break through the cracks. Working on an asana? Check your feet, your alignment and your breath, make sure you can smile, set your eyes free.

Listening to Lara Hedin of YogaPeeps interview Sofi Dillof of Bow Down Yoga this morning reminded me that my focus is always best centered on the small things. Wake up breathe, smile, stretch. Practice. Be Kind. Everything in between is not only negotiable, it depends on these other small things.

I hadn’t heard of Sofi ’til this morning over my coffee & peaches. She introduced me to new things about Jivamukti, things that’ll make me take a second look. I’ll definitely be listening to her podcast. I’ve been a fan of Lara’s ‘Peeps show since my first listen and wholeheartedly recommend it for inspiration, community, reflection. She interviews the most amazing people and her own growth as an interviewer is organic, with great integrity.

Time for me to attend to the small things. May all your small things be great doorways to truth.