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The term Hatha Yoga has been commonly used to describe the practice of asana (postures). The syllable 'ha' denotes the pranic (vital) force governing the physical body and 'tha' denotes the chitta (mental) force thus making Hatha Yoga a catalyst to an awakening of the two energies that govern our lives. More correctly the techniques described in Hatha Yoga harmonise and purify the body systems and focus the mind in preparation for more advanced chakra and kundalini practices.

The Hatha Yoga system includes asana along with the six shatkarmas (physical and mental detox techniques), mudras and bandhas (psycho-physiological energy release techniques) and Pranayama (pranic awakening practices). Fine tuning of the human personality at increasingly subtle levels leads to higher states of awareness and meditation.

1. Yogasana (yoga positions)
2. Six shatkarmas (physical and mental detox techniques)
3. Mudras and Bandhas (psycho-physiological energy release techniques)
4. Pranayama (pranic awakening practices)


SIX SHATKARMAS
Cleansing Processes (Shatkarmas) - Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga describes Shatkarmas (six processes) in details for Body purification and mind purification. Various asanas (Yoga Positions), six shatkarmas, mudras & bandhas (psychic knots or psycho-physiological energy release techniques) and Pranayama are described in old ancient sanskrit texts of Hatha Yoga (Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gherandasamhita).

Yoga has considered internal purification of the human body in depth. The shuddhikriyas (Cleansing Process) have been planned with a view to have total purification of the body before various samskaras are made thereon for baking the body in the fire named Yoga so as to turn the body into a ripe vehicle. The organs where there can be a lot of impurities require these shuddhikriyas. The internal organs, which come into contact with the external matters regularly, need to be purified. The trachea regularly comes into contact with the external air, the food pipe comes into contact with the external food products, and the mind comes into contact with the thoughts of the external world; these and such other organs need to be purified internally. Hence the shuddhikriyas. Certain elements are cured with these kriyas. Ayurveda has described these shuddhikriyas by the name of Panchkarmas. However, these panchkarmas take help of certain medicines and herbs. In the shuddhikriyas stated in Yoga, the emphasis is on the natural method. Many shuddhikriyas have been described in the Yoga texts. We will consider some of them in this syllabus. Direct study of these shuddhikriyas is expected over here.

While studying shuddhikriyas, one should consider the important difference in other yogic processes and the shuddhikriyas. Other yogic processes invariably form part of the daily activity of the human life, but these shuddhikriyas are not to be practiced daily. In fact they are not meant as part of the daily routine. When it is necessary to purify the body, these kriyas may be practiced daily, but when the need is over, the practice is stopped. It cannot generally be stated over here, when the need arises. It depends on each and every individual hence, the processes will be taught over here, but they are not to be practiced daily, but according to the duration which each individual may need. The duration may be different for each shuddhikriya. The detailed description of each shuddhikriya is given but it is enough to remember that shuddhikriyas are not to be practised like asanas and pranayam in day-to-day life.


Different methods of Cleansing Process (Shudhikriyas)
Agnisardhouti
Vamandhouti
Kapalbhati
Jalneti
Nasagra Drishti


Bandhas and Mudras in Pranayama

Bandh is a special characteristic of Hatha Yoga. The various types of bandhas have been described in Yoga texts. However none of them defines the term "Bandh" as such. The three types of bandhas, viz Jalandhar Bandh, Uddiyan Bandh and Mul Bandh have been described in many of the ancient texts. With the help of these descriptions, an attempt may be made to define the bandhas. Bandh may be defined as a particular action involving pressure or strain on the muscles. It is expected in Yoga to retain a firm pose in bandh as it is retained in the asanas. The bandhas are to be studied mainly while studying pranayama.

There are three types of Bandha's :-
Jalandhar Bandha
Uddiyan Bandha
Mulbandha

 
Jalandhar Bandha

Introduction

It is difficult to explain why this bandh is known as Jalandhar Bandh. However, one may guess that Rishi Jalandhar might have defined the act of this bandh for the first time, and the same was named after him. (In Yoga, sometimes the actions are known by the name of the Rishis, such as Matsyendrasan, Gorakshasan etc.)

If we try to trace the meaning of the word Jalandhar, " Jal" means "Net", in this case, net of Nadis (energy channels) and the word "Dhar" means to stop or to hold the flow of the fluid (Amrut), flowing through the nadis. However, let us understand the action behind this bandh instead of discussing its name or origin.

 Action : Pre-position

This bandh can be achieved without getting into any asana pose. But generally, it is studied in Padmasan or any other asana specified for Dhyana Process. Padmasan or Siddhasan are considered as the best positions to practise this bandh.

To perform the Bandh
In this bandh, it is expected to contract the muscles of the neck and to press the chin firmly on to the depression at the end of the throat (jugular notch).

The neck is to be bent a little for achieving this bandh. But it should not be bent much. It is to be pressed onto the depression just as a spring is pressed with a little force. The release of the force brings the spring back into normal position. The same principle is to be applied in this bandh. Since all the muscles of the neck and the throat are contracted totally, a force is exerted onto the seven paths in the throat. The presence of the force interferes with the breathing process. Hence, this bandh is to be attained after Pooraka and is to be released before Rechaka. The bandh is necessary in Kumbhaka.

Physical Effects

Nowhere, the effects of this bandh on the body have been clearly defined. However, effects can be enumerated on the basis of experiments carried out at Kaivalyadham, Lonavala and other observations while teaching and studying this bandh.

Due to the particular action of the neck required to achieve this bandh, it is pressed forward and the spinal cord gets a little bit lifted upwards. The force of this action is felt on the spinal cord. Spinal cord has the utmost importance in the control of the body. With this force, the circulation of blood increases thereby increasing the efficiency of the spinal cord.

The bandh also affects "Vidyan Nadi" which passes through the neck. It is the only blood vessel passing below the neck. It is divided into two parts, which move towards the brain. These are known as Carotid Arteries. These arteries pass from both the sides of the neck to the brain. The beats of the heart can be easily felt if the neck is bent backwards, the pulse is felt on both the sides below the jaw. The area where the blood vessel is divided into two parts is a little bit flat and is known as Carotid Sinus. The wall covering Carotid Sinus is thin and can easily get affected by inner or outside pressure. The nerve passing from here to the brain is known as Carotid Nerve. It goes high up into the skull and then down into the brain. This nerve is related to internal carotid, external carotid and carotid sinus. The pressure exerted on this nerve is transmitted to the brain. The pressure can be exerted from outside too. This process is attempted in the Jalandhar Bandh. Due to the peculiar position of the neck, the pressure is exerted on carotid sinus and the nerves are activated to send a signal to the brain. The brain activates its machinery to lower the blood pressure, so that the muscles of the heart start functioning slowly. The heart beats are reduced. The reason why this happens is that the position of the bandh lessens the blood supply to the carotid artery. The reduction in the blood supply to the brain slows down the body activities and the practitioner can observe the complete stillness of body and mind. But to achieve this position, the bandh has to be practised for a number of years. After putting in enough practice, the yogasadhaka can achieve such elated state of mind wherein he can forget the outside world and even the awareness of his own body. Most of the functions of the body are stopped and the sadhaka can progress towards samadhi. However, with even a little bit of study and practice of this bandh, sadhaka can achieve calm and quiet mind devoid of any thoughts and the nearly lifeless body. The state is pleasurable.

The messages are passed on from carotid sinus to that centre in the brain which regulates the blood pressure. The pressure on the carotid sinus is transmitted to the brain in the form of messages and accordingly the blood pressure is reduced. This is the plan of the nature to reduce the increased blood pressure. In pranayam, there is a possibility of increasing the blood pressure while performing Kumbhaka. Hence, achieving Jalandhar Bandh before Kumbhaka automatically results in controlling the bloodpressure. This is a major benefit of Jalandhar Bandh.

There is another important benefit of this bandh. The bandh is advised in Pranayam after Pooraka. Kumbhaka is observed after Pooraka. At the time of observing Kumbhaka , the increased pressure on the inhaled air, results in air trying to find out an escape route. Since the usual path of escape i e the nostrils are closed, the air tries to enter eustachian tube and finds a way behind the ear drums. The increased pressure on the eardrums is not advisable and can cause a lot of complaints. However, the position of the pressed neck in Jalandhar Bandh stops this inhaled air from entering into these routes and the eardrums are saved from the ill effects.

Duration

This bandh is to be observed after Pooraka and before Kumbhaka. After Kumbhka, the bandh is to be released before practising Rechaka. Hence, the duration of Kumbhaka is the duration for this bandh too. Instead of practising this bandh independently, it is to be practised while practising Pranayam. Precaution

The bandh is not to be practised by persons suffering from breath related problems or high or low bloodpressure, unless advised by the experts in the field. During Pranayam, the bandh is to be observed after Pooraka. Rechaka is to be practised after Kumbhaka, after releasing the bandh. Rechaka should not be observed while being in this bandh.


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Uddiyan Bandha

Introduction

This bandh involves movement of the muscles of the stomach and especially the muscles of the diaphragm. The movement is important and characteristic. Hathayoga assigns a special importance to Uddiyan Bandh. The study of Pranayam is not complete without studying this bandh. While performing this bandh, the muscle of the diaphragm is stretched in upward direction; hence this bandh is termed as Uddiyan Bandh. Also, this bandh is useful for awakening of Kundalini Shakti while making spiritual progress, hence it may have been termed as Uddiyan Bandh.

Pre-position

The bandh involves action of muscles of the stomach and hence it may be performed while being in Standing Pose or Sitting Pose. The bandh can also be performed while being in Padmasan, Siddhasan, Vajrasan and while practising pranayam. Or it may be performed independently while being in these asanas too. However, for the new entrants in the field, it is advisable to study the bandh, while being in standing pose. It is easier to learn this bandh while in standing pose and it can be performed effectively too. Hence, here the bandh has been explained while being in standing pose.

To perform the bandh

Stand up with distance of 1 to 1.5 feet between the legs
Bend a little in the knees and place left palm on the left knee and right palm on the right knee.
Bend the shoulders a little towards the front and the neck also towards the front so that the weight of the body is shifted onto the knees through the
hands. This reduces the strain on the stomach and the muscles of the stomach can be relaxed.
Inhale deeply and then exhale gradually.

While exhaling, try to shift the muscles of the stomach towards inner side. Lift up the ribs a little bit and push the muscles from within with a gentle push towards the upward direction. The muscles of the stomach must be relaxed at this time, so that they can be pushed up. This results in muscles of diaphragm being pushed upwards. This is the final stage of Uddiyan Bandh. Try to remain firmly in this pose. This pose is to be retained when the breath is fully exhaled. When there is an urgent need to inhale, the bandh must be released gradually as under.

Releasing the bandh pose
Relax the muscles of the stomach so that they are slowly released back to the normal position. Diaphragm will also be released to the normal pose.
  Relax the pressure in the shoulders and neck area and start inhaling gradually.
After inhaling completely, bring back the hands into the normal pose and straighten out the bent knees.
Join both the legs together and come back into the standing pose.

Important aspects of the bandh

The pose involves pressure on the knees with the help of both the hands and retaining a firm pose with a particular pressure on the neck and shoulder muscles. The weight of the body is shifted onto the knees due to the pose. This relaxes the muscles of the stomach and the diaphragm. In this position, the muscles of the stomach are pushed inwards and the muscles of the diaphragm are pushed upwards. The ribs are lifted up a little bit and the chest is broadened. All these actions are performed simultaneously. However, the pose is to be attained after exhaling the breath completely. An attempt is made to inhale without actually inhaling the air into the lungs. This attempt results in expanding the ribs but as the air is not inhaled, the diaphragm is pushed upwards. This is the main part to be achieved while in this bandh. The stomach is pulled in and the navel pushed upwards. Further the muscles of the stomach must be relaxed while in this bandh. The more the relaxation, the better the performance of the bandh.

During this bandh, the stomach is taken considerably inside and a vacuum is created in it. A little bit bending of the shoulders in forward direction will prove useful for this bandh. Once the pose is achieved, it is essential to be in that pose for some time. However, all this time, the breath must be exhaled. The pose is to be retained after exhalation of the breath and till the time an urge is felt for inhalation. When the urge is felt, all the muscles should be gradually relaxed and brought back to the original position and then the breath should be inhaled. Inhalation should not take place before bringing the muscles to the original state.

Physical Effects

The diaphragm is moved to a great extent in this bandh, hence the muscles of the diaphragm get well exercised and this movement also helps in the regular breathing. When the strength and the efficiency of diaphragm is improved, the breathing system also works more efficiently. Also, it is discovered after research that the organs in the stomach develop a negative pressure in this Uddiyan bandh. Due to such negative pressure, the blood supply to these organs is improved. The difference between the negative pressure during this bandh and the normal pressures resumed after relaxation, increases friction on the internal organs such as stomach, small intestines, liver etc. thereby improving their efficiency. This also results in improving the secretion of the digestive juices. The bandh involves movement, as if one is inhaling, however actual air is not inhaled, hence this creates negative pressure on the lungs and the heart. This also results in affimproving their efficiency. Due to this negative pressure, the blood circulation in the heart is increased. The bandh also helps in improving the digestive system. It may also be affecting several other organs of the body. However, further research is necessary to find out all such effects.

It is stated in various ancient texts that apart from these benefits, the bandh is also useful for spiritual progress and awakening of Kundalini power. The bandh is indispensable for the study of pranayama. The air pressure resulting in pranayama is regulated in proper direction due to the position of this bandh. Otherwise, such pressures can create harmful effects on the body. Hence, this bandh is indispensable in pranayama.

Duration
The bandh action is to be performed after exhaling completely. The proper duration for the bandh is the time for which it can be retained comfortably but firmly after exhalation and without inhaling. Inhalation should not be immediate after releasing the bandh pose. The inhalation i.e. pooraka after releasing the bandh has to be in a controlled manner. Hence, the bandh is to be retained till the time it can be easily retained after complete rechaka. After releasing the bandh, the pooraka should be performed gradually. In the initial stages, the bandh cannot be maintained even for 10 to 15 seconds. However, after proper practice, it can be firmly maintained for 1 to 2 minutes. If after achieving bandh pose, all the other muscles of the body are relaxed, the bandh can be maintained for a little more duration. Because in a relaxed state of the body, the need for oxygen is reduced and the oxygen present in the body can be used up for a little more time. Hence, the bandh duration can also be increased.
Precaution

Persons suffering from stomach ailments, heart troubles or defective blood circulation should not attempt to perform the bandh. Persons suffering from diseases like hernia too should not perform this bandh.

While performing Uddiyan bandh, it is to be performed after exhalation. This is the proper method while studying this bandh independently. However, while practising this bandh during pranayama, the pose of the bandh is to be taken while being in kumbhaka.
 

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Mulbandha

Introduction

This bandh relates mainly to the muscles of the anus, penis and the muscles located nearby. The muladhar chakra is supposed to be located near penis. Hence this bandh relates to muladhar chakra and is termed as mulbandh. Also it relates to the base of the spine, this may be the other reason for naming it as such because 'mul' means root or base.

Pre-position

If the bandh is to be performed ideally it should be performed in Siddhasan. Otherwise it may also be performed in Padmasan. But Siddhasan is supposed to be the ideal preposition. Action of the bandh

After sitting in Siddhasan, the left heel is properly placed under the penis. The weight of the body creates pressure on that part. After achieving a firm pose, the anal muscles and the other surrounding muscles should be contracted and moved upwards. This is the pose of the mulbandh.

The anus has two muscles. One inside and the other outside. Both these muscles are round. It is expected in this bandh to contract these muscles and to lift them upwards. However, these muscles alone are not to be contracted and lifted but the other surrounding muscles should also be similarly contracted and lifted. The muscles of the penis are also to be lifted in this bandh. Achieving pose in this bandh is easier, however it is important to be in the same pose for a while. This is difficult and requires quite a bit of practice.

Physical Effects

The muscles which are not generally used, are contracted in this bandh. This results in more blood supply to these muscles thereby improving their efficiency. This is the obvious benefit of this bandh. Also, the muscles surrounding Muladhar Chakra are contracted and the pressure of such contraction is definitely felt on the Muladhar Chakra. Kundalini power, which is supposed to be residing at the chakra, is awakened due to the practice of this bandh. However, it cannot be definitely stated as to the duration for which the bandh is to be practised for such awakening of the Kundalini power. The beneficial effect of this bandh is also felt on the nerves attached to the muscles involved in the bandh. It is stated that the bandh is to be practised while doing Pranayam. While performing pranayam, the blood is accumulated around the waist. Practice of this bandh results in circulation of this accumulated blood.

Duration
The real study and practice of this bandh is to retain it for maximum period. A duration of 5 to 120 seconds may not generate beneficial effects of this bandh. The bandh has to be retained for at least 3 to 4 minutes. With further practice, the duration can be increased to 5 minutes.
Precaution

If the bandh is not performed properly, it can affect the digestive system in a bad way. This results in indigestion or similar other ailments of the digestive system. Hence, the bandh should be practised under expert guidance.

Persons suffering from hernia, piles etc should not as far as possible perform this bandh. If such a person wants to perform this bandh, onset of any symptoms described above should be immediately reported to experts and the bandh performed under their guidance.
 


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