embodiment etudes

short somatic studies applied to yoga

Month: August, 2016

maha mudra

by julee snyder


In Maha Mudra, we put the three core bandhas together. We draw up through the central tendon of the pelvic floor in mula bandha. We continue the upward flow of the energy, by drawing the abdominals in and, on an exhale retention, the diaphragm upwards. And simultaneously we bow the head forward, chin toward chest, keeping the width through the diaphragms above and below. Some people choose to swallow in this moment and hold the breath out. Maintaining that position until breath is needed again. Then we release the bandha ‘locks’ staying easy in the throat, allow the air to flow back into the body, breathing normally, and soaking in the surge of energy through the body.

Maha mudrjanua can be performed in standing, sitting or in this head-to-knee pose (janu sirasana).  I enjoy integrating it into my pranayama practice as a way to warm the tissues and build energy before meditation. From there, I prefer the subtle energetic expression of maha mudra, drawing the energy like a whisper upwards from the base through the palate to the crown as I settle. Sometimes, I’ll even turn the tip of my tongue back to the soft palate to create a suctioned lift that helps close the circuit. Softening into that energetic alignment and resting into a sweet stillness that emerges.

As always, happy practicing!

stacking the diaphragms

by julee snyder


Each of our diaphragms have a point on the front midline, a point on the back midline, and one each on the right and left side seams of our body. For the pelvic floor, for example, we have the tip of the tail, the pubic disc, and each of the sitting bones. For the thoracic diaphragm, we have the xiphoid in front, T12 in the back and the tips of the 11th Rib on each side. For the shoulder diaphragm, we have the manubrium in front, the two acromimum processes at the tips of the shoulders, and the T7 vertebra. For the cranial diaphragm, we have the ethmoid bone behind the nose, the temporal bones beneath the ears, and the inion point of the occiput.

Most of the muscular structures we typically look at in anatomy are longitudinal or vertical structures running along the length of our bones. The diaphragms are horizontal doming support structures, like hovercrafts, that we can stack one above the other for an internal sense of alignment, or more accurately, relationship.

Come to standing. Begin to feel the parallel structures stacking: menisci of the knees over the arches of the feet, pelvic floor over the doming arches, thoracic diaphragm over pelvic diaphragm, thoracic inlet and shoulder diaphragm over thoracic diaphragm, vocal diaphragm and hyoid over shoulders, palate and cranium stacking over the vocal diaphragm and shoulders. Shift your hips forward in space; do you feel the back of your pelvic floor contract? How does that affect the diaphragms above and below? Do you have the same access to your feet? Has your breath changed? Has your head position changed? Does your throat feel open or closed? Has your voice changed?

Come into a down dog, up dog, triangle pose. In each of theses poses, can you keep a dynamic and open relationship between each of the diaphragms? What does the attempt to do so teach you about your poses? Sometimes we sacrifice the integrity of this interrelationship as we push to achieve a certain external form. Is it worth it? What do we sacrifice by doing so?

Try a half moon pose and an inverted pose. How does the awareness of the diaphragms as inter-related hovercrafts assist you in orienting your internal alignment in non-vertical or pelvis over head positions?

Happy practicing!

jalandhara bandha

by julee snyder


Now we have a context for the the final of our core bandhas.  Jalandhara bandha is the bandha of the throat.  It draws the energy from the thorax into the head.  For me, jalandhara bandha is an integrated interplay of the thoracic inlet, the vocal diaphragm, the hyoid, the mouth and cranial diaphragms.

It is often taught with the image of holding a ball or a piece of fruit between your chin and your chest. I find this isn’t enough for me. It’s not a complete picture of what’s possible.

I like to maintain the horizontal lift of both the thoracic inlet and the shoulder diaphragm. I maintain the breadth of the vocal diaphragm and the palate and the softness of the tongue. The hyoid draws back as the palate and the cranium lift up and bow forward, chin towards chest. In this position, I can still breath and I can still speak with a normal voice.

The position is typically used in pranayama with breath retention and/or swallowing to create a containment of breath and prana for different purposes (which we won’t go into here). We also find ourselves in this position in poses like bridge, plow, and shoulder stand. How can we use this information to find a plow pose that neither compresses the cervical spine nor the structures traveling though the throat and thoracic inlet? These poses offer toning of the throat, thyroid and other structures of the anterior neck. We want to make sure we are toning and not compressing.

Awareness of the relationship between these structures can also create a more subtle variation of jalandhara that underlie head placement, cervical integrity, and a sweet stillness for meditation.

One last thought on bandhas: We do these exercises to wake up the tissues, to build awareness and access. But these exercises are not goals in and of themselves. Once awake, bandhas are available to you spontaneously as you need them, both for your practices and for everyday life. It is possible to overdo. These structures need to be dynamic, elastic, and supple. So spend a little time building awareness and tone and then observe how they support you without trying to make it happen. Trust that you’ve done the work and then let it work for you.

Happy practicing!