People often ask me how to engage their core and make their backs strong and healthy. I guess it sort of comes with the territory as a chiropractor and a yoga therapist. Many yogis often just opt for the rote response.
Well, I’m not many yogis. So let’s have a good old fashioned anatomy satsang and talk about the back and uddiyana bandha to dispel some myths and share some truths. This is a tricky topic and I know I’m gonna ruffle some feathers with this one, but that’s okay with me. I kinda like doing that to be honest! LOL.
Uddiyana bandha, a.k.a. the belly lock, is traditionally an energetic practice to “create an upward lifting flow of prana.” It is has been taught in Yoga throughout the ages and can be found in texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita, which states that it is “the lion to the elephant of death.” Pretty powerful stuff! From an energetic perspective, it is a given fact that there are many relevant ways that uddiyana techniques are helpful for the practitioner in how he/she works with the nadis and energy centers.
Yet, many people today in yoga and fitness use uddiyana bandha as a way to engage the core. They hallow the stomach and bring it in and up in an effort to stabilize the back. Why? Because a teacher taught it to someone whose teacher taught it to them whose teacher taught it to them, back to time immoreal. And since the stomach muscles are actually doing something for a change it must be supporting the back, right?
Not so fast yogis!!!
The current research in the world of evidence-based sports medicine and rehabilitative therapy does not support people engaging the core through uddiyana bandha. It has now been repeatedly shown that the abdominal hallowing procedure, a.k.a. uddiyana bandha, was the most ineffective stabilization maneuver for control of spine motion and stability [when compared with abdominal bracing and a natural spine strategy] (Lederman, 2009). In addition, it has been reported that “the instability of the hallowing position reduces the potential energy of the spinal column causing it to fail at lower applied loads” (McGill, 2009) and “there seems to be no mechanical rationale for using an abdominal hallowing…to enhance stability” (Grenier, 2007).
Why then, do so many in yoga and fitness teach and learn it this way? Should we dare to change it?
When approaching paradigm shifting ideas like this, I take heed of the wise words of famous European Professor, Karel Lewit, M.D., D.Sc. who once said, “I am always aware of how many things which I taught in my long past have since been proved wrong. The most important attitude is therefore to be constantly aware that what you are doing and teaching now you will have to modify and correct in view of new facts. Thus, you must keep an open mind for new knowledge, even if it sometimes shows that what you believed and taught before was wrong.”
Dr. Lewit’s wisdom and inspiration in remaining ever-humble has often led me to take my own studies deeper. Doing this brings forth even more new ideas and new ways of evolving myself and my teachings.
In light of the newest information and research, I now teach my clients and patients a procedure known as abdominal bracing to engage the entire core musculature, not uddiyana bandha. I think they have been a lot safer because of it. This combined with a sternal crunching maneuver that specially activates the upper abdominals and adds dynamic core muscle support to the back and can be quite a powerful combination in adding support for the spine. When people ask me how to engage the core for back or spinal pain, this is often what I teach them. For most, it will keep them stronger, more functionally coordinated and healthier long term.
So, the next time you teach or practice uddiyana bandha in a warrior 2 or add it into your warrior 3 or tell your students to do it to stabilize their back in a crescent pose…ask yourself the question of how it really feels in your body, back and spine. The practice always begs that we do that as a sign that we are listening to ourselves, progressing our sadhana and growing beyond our patterns.
Check back to this blog in a little while to learn the abdominal bracing and sternal crunching techniques. I look forward to sharing them with you. O;-) They may just change your entire practice! They totally did for me!
Grenier, S. M. (2007). Quantification of Lumbar Stability by Using 2 Different Abdominal Activation Strategies. Archives of Physical Medical Rehabilitation , 54-62.
Lederman, E. (2009). The Myth of Core Stability. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies , 84-98.
McGill, S. P. (2009). Exercises for Spine Stabilization: Motion/Motor Patterns, Stability Progressions and Clinical Technique. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 118-126.