How to Use Uddiyana Bandha in Yoga

Uddiyana bandha is the abdominal lock. It is the second of the three interior body “locks” used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy (prana) in the body. Each lock seals a specific part of the body. The first lock is mula bandha (root lock) and the third is jalandhara bandha (throat lock). When all three are used together, it is called maha bandha, which means great lock. In Sanskrit, uddiyana (which is pronounced oo-di-yana) means "flying up," which pretty accurately describes the feeling of drawing the belly in and up that this bandha requires. Uddiyana bandha tones, massages and cleanses the abdominal organs and deep interior muscles.

How to Engage Uddiyana Bandha

It's easiest to learn uddiyana bandha in a standing position since the abdomen is not compressed. Come to stand with your feet about as wide as a yoga mat. Bend your knees slightly and bring your palms to your thighs just above your knees. Keep your arms straight.

Begin by engaging mula bandha. In brief, this is done by drawing up the pelvic floor initiated from the perineum. Once you have mula bandha going, exhale your breath, then take a false inhale. To do this, draw the abdomen in and up without taking any air into the lungs. Hollow the belly completely, drawing it up underneath the rib cage. It's advised that you also take jhalandara bandha at this point. Try to hold this position with all three bandhas active for a count of 10. To release, soften the abdomen and inhale. You may repeat this exercise three times.

When you are not used to holding your abdominal muscles this way, the feeling is quite intense. You may even have sore abs the next day. Once you get used to the feeling, you can begin to see how the drawing up of the pelvic floor in mula bandha naturally leads into the drawing in and up of the abdomen, which leads to the tucking of the chin that initiates the throat lock. This is how the bandhas work together.

When to Uddiyana Bandha

In Iyengar Yoga, bandha work is typically performed separately from asana, often at the end of an asana session. Ashtanga Yoga offers a different approach. In Ashtanga, mula, and uddiyana bandhas are supposed to be used throughout all the postures. This is one of Ashtanga's basic tenets. However, uddiyana bandha is defined a little differently in Ashtanga sources. It's usually described as more of toning of the belly, which draws it toward the spine but not up and under the rib cage. This allows for normal breathing to occur while the bandhas are activated. 

If bandhas are taught at all in other types of yoga classes, it tends to be more in line with the Ashtanga method, especially in the flowing vinyasa styles that evolved from Ashtanga. Uddiyana bandha is also sometimes taught as a pranayama practice, which is more in line with Iyengar's approach.

However, it's pretty common in yoga classes to receive a cue to keep the belly toned and the navel moving toward the spine in many standing and seated postures. This can be considered the descendant of a more traditional bandha practice. 

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.