Bandha- The Great Protector in Asana Practice
A previous article I wrote titled, "Bandhas Demystified" explained the concept of Bandhas in a simplified way. Bandhas give a sense of tautness in the body without sloppiness. One of the many benefits of bandhas described in the yogic texts, along with general physical health (due to internally exercising the organs) and the production of exalted mind states, is the protection it offers to the body, when doing advanced yogic practices like pranayama and asanas. This article describes this factor of protection the Bandhas offer in asana practice.
1) Causes of sudden injuries in asana practice
Generally people attribute 2 main causes for injuries that happen suddenly in asana practice, like a muscle tear or a dislocated shoulder:
a) Holding of the breath
b) Performing an asana in a brute force fashion without coordination and controlled application of force
There are also other causes of injuries that are brought about by wear and tear due to prolonged repetitive use. It is said that in asana practice, the best way to reduce sudden injuries is through the use of various bandhas (together with the Ujjayi breath).
2) Human instinct to tense when faced with danger and the difference from a bandha
When we face a sudden threat, our natural instinct is to tighten our shoulders, draw our stomach in and tense various muscles in the body. This is how the body prepares for a fight or flight situation. Unfortunately, in this situation, the breath is either held or becomes short and disheveled. The difference between this state of tension and that produced by a bandha is that in the state of the bandha, even though certain muscles are tensed, one is fully conscious of the flow of prana (energy) in the body. The breath, typically Ujjayi, is long and strong.
3) How to learn the bandhas systematically
The best way to learn bandhas is from a teacher from a reputed school of yoga. Of all the popular mainstream schools of yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, arguably, pays the most importance to the use of bandhas in asana practice. Many die-hard practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga consider this way of asana practice the most authentic and the most traditional way of teaching Hatha Yoga, inspite of the one hunderd and one things that are wrong with the system, including complaints about the harshness of some teachers (resulting in coining of the term 'Ashtanga Police'), the seeming rigidity of the practice without allowing room for individual needs, and the way the teacher certification is done, a prolonged and arduous process that only checks the physical abilities and not the ability of the teacher to understand and impart yoga.
Inspite of all these defects, the best chance for a beginner of asana practice to understand bandhas is to find a good teacher in this school and learn them over a period of time. Teachers in other schools also teach the bandhas, but in general finding a good teacher, in any system of yoga, who teaches these techniques without harshness towards their students, is a not an easy task.
4) The benefits of bandhas mentioned in the yogic texts
The hatha yoga pradipika mentions many advantages when one masters the use of the bandhas.
Because of its great benefits especially offering protection against sudden injuries, bandhas need to be used with awareness in asana practice