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Let’s Talk Poses: Part Two – The Myth of Uddiyana Bandha

People often ask me how to engage their core to make their backs strong and healthy. I guess it sort of comes with the territory as a chiropractor and a yoga therapist. Most yogis often just opt for the rote response, “Uddiyana Bandha.”

Well, I’m not most yogis! LOL. O:-)

So let’s talk about Uddiyana Bandha a bit and dispel some myths and share some truths about the back and core engagement. This is a tricky topic and I know I’m gonna ruffle some feathers with this one. I kinda like doing that though to be honest!

Uddiyana Bandha

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 old school 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 (much like the picture above) in an effort to stabilize the back. Why though? 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 they must be supporting the back right?

Not so fast yogis!

The latest research in the world of evidence-based sports medicine and rehabilitative therapy does not support people engaging the core through Uddiyana Bandha. It may surprise you to know that the abdominal hallowing procedure, known in yoga as Uddiyana Bandha (the belly lock), was in fact 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 remember the wise words of famous European professor, Dr. 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 has often led me to be humble and take my own studies deeper. In doing so, I’ve been confronted with even more new ideas and new ways of evolving myself and my teachings.

Nowadays I don’t teach Uddiyana Bandha to support the core and back. Instead, I teach most of my clients and patients a procedure known as abdominal bracing that engages their entire core musculature, 360 degrees around their spine. This combined with a sternal crunching maneuver that specially activates the upper abdominals and adds dynamic support to the back can be quite a powerful team. While nothing is ever 100% across the board in the world of therapy, when people ask me how to engage the core for chronic low back pain, this is what I usually teach them.

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 because it “stabilizes their back” in a crescent pose…ask yourself the question of how it really feels in your own body. The practice always begs that we do that every so often as a sign that we are listening to ourselves, progressing our sadhana and growing beyond our patterns.

Check back in to this blog in a little while to learn how to perform the abdominal bracing and sternal crunching techniques. They may just change your entire practice! They totally did for me! O;-)

References

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.

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