Are Bandhas Important for Advanced Yoga Practice?
There’s a question that comes up quite a lot in yoga teacher training. Usually it’s toward the end of a couple weeks of practice in releasing stress, building harmony in your whole body so energy flows freely, creating the conditions for healing, and for challenge to be approached with peace rather than force.
What about bandhas?
The question is simple, and comes from a straightforward place. These practices of learning to use your whole body as a whole body in harmony, rather than a collection of disconnected parts, are wonderful. They make complete sense. It’s what we want, to learn navigating challenge with ease rather than pushing and struggling our way through.
But it takes time, these practices. It’s a big thing, dropping old habits that don’t work for us, creating new ones that do. So there’s also right now. And right now, what if I still want to get into that pose? That’s where bandhas come in.
Mostly these questions come from yoga teachers. It’s not something you’ll hear so much in the human community, among athletes or dancers, runners or climbers, people just looking to be healthy and fit, or have some ease and renewal in life. It’s more coming from our community that has focused on yoga quite intensely, and in particular, the challenge of getting into poses that are considered harder, or more advanced. It’s an important group of people, with lots of responsibility for how yoga is shared. So it’s why I always find this question so interesting and useful to explore.
One quick answer is, if you’re not moving very well, and you’re not trying to learn to move well, but you just want to get into poses, I think there’s a very different and isolated list of rules that apply here. And bandhas are always on this list.
This gets highlighted in how people go about yoga, but really I think it has to do with how someone goes about anything.When there’s a problem or challenge, do you isolate or do you look at the big picture? Do you use one part of you to approach this challenge, or everything you’ve got?
Does the solution count as a solution if it fixes something in one place, but creates a cascade of new problems everywhere else?
Of course I think people believe it’s good to see the big picture, and a solution that creates worse problems isn’t really a solution. So it’s nice to create what you believe, starting with how you approach yoga. But, if you’re mostly interested in manipulating one isolated part of your body at a time in order to perform a yoga pose or some other task, then you probably need to think about things like engaging, flexing, extending, rotating . . . it’s a long list. On this list you’ll have plenty of bandhas. And you might even get the pose. But disconnecting all our parts, then stressing, pushing, and depleting one part at a time, all tend to come along with some bigger problems. In fact, most health approaches are trying to do the opposite for people.
This kind of disconnected thinking and part-by-part manipulation doesn’t much come up when you’re in a practice of moving well, bringing your whole body into harmony. And you won’t see it in East Asian arts, whether it’s calligraphy or healing or martial. You also won’t see it where people need to accomplish anything truly substantial, whether it’s in a physical challenge like mountaineering, or maybe some creative challenge in work. The best in human achievement always seems to come along with connection and harmony rather than isolation, force and control.
All a long way of saying, when you run into something new, or something that doesn’t sound right to you, ask questions. Where’s the evidence for this idea? Where has it worked, and with what kind of long-term results? Is it the opinion of a person or system or cult, or is it an objective truth based on solid, repeated research by many people in many different groups? Is there significant scientific evidence that links creating a certain external shape with your body to any real health, healing, or wellbeing benefits? How does that evidence compare to taking a walk? How does it compare to the lifelong evidence for learning to move and breathe with grace and coordination?
I think this is useful in navigating through some conversations. It’s not that we need science and objective truth for everything there is. But when it comes to health and healing, or wellbeing and life accomplishment, it’s useful to know you’re building a house that will stand up. When something really matters for your whole life, this is important.
If you’d like to read a little more on these topics, I’ll share a few links below.
About Strala Yoga
Strala combines the movement and healing wisdom of tai chi with the form vocabularies of yoga, tai chi, qigong, and Traditional Chinese and Japanese Medicine, to help people release stress, move easily through challenge, and live radiantly inspiring lives.
It begins with a mindset, that says our best way to get where we’re going is to feel good along the way. It also works miracles for whole health, helping us to find ease in our bodies and minds, and create the right conditions both for healing and optimal performance.
In our Strala Yoga Training Courses, you learn to shape your destiny on every level that counts, from your psychology, chemistry and neurology, to your chromosomes and even gene expression. The unique set of skills you develop – for connecting with yourself and others, unblocking your energy, healing what needs healing and accomplishing challenge with ease – uncovers your ability to create the life you want, and be an inspiring leader to the people around you.