In Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, author and yogi Dr. H. David Coulter claims, “Uddiaynna bandha is the only practice in Hatha Yoga that frankly stretches the respiratory diaphragm.” (p. 197)

After 16 years of yoga practice, Uddiyanna Bandha still remained to me an elusive Da Vinci Code only cracked by a few lucky adepts.  It looked so freaking cool, but seemed impossible and no one could actually explain how to do it or even what to practice in order to do it.   No one even said why to do it.  But that didn’t matter.  It looked radical,  and I’m radical.  But all I ever heard was “Pull the belly in” or “Pull the navel to the spine.”  Then finally, in January of 2011 during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, in Jill Miller’s Core immersion, I learned how to stretch – actually stretch — my diaphragm and I was free at last, free at last, thank gawd almighty, I was free at last.  I felt like a giddy little boy unleashed in the marvelously odd playground of my insides…and that was just the beginning!  This set the stage for the next three years of practice to graduate to Nauli Kriya, the seeming magical churning of the abdomen that yogis have performed for generations.

So how do we actually stretch the diaphragm?  For starters, we need to embody the difference between an abdominal breath and a thoracic breath and (most important) the difference between an “active” and  “passive” belly.  When yogis breathe consciously, the movements of the diaphragm set the stage for Uddiyana Bandha, this “flying abdominal lock.”

To review, in an abdominal breath, the diaphragm’s origins (T11-12, inner surface and margins of ribs 10-6, xypoid process) are fixed, and the central tendon (insertion) is pulled down causing the contents of the belly to swell.  In a thoracic breath, the central tendon is fixed and the contraction of the diaphragm pulls the origin(s) up, making the lower half of the ribcage swell like a barrel.  In both cases, as the volume of the thoracic cavity increases, pressure decreases and air rushes in to fill the low-pressure environment that is created. On exhalation, the thoracic volume is decreased, the intra-thoracic pressure is increased and air is pushed out of the lungs.

Here’s where Uddiyana Bandha comes in — during this pause between exhalation and inhalation.  Try this:  Inhale a Yogic Complete Breath (abdominal-thoracic) and exhale by squeezing all the air out. Every last molecule of it.  Hold the air out, and then relax the belly like jello. Do you feel the suction of the diaphragm deeper into the chest? Now, repeat the above step and then do the actions of a thoracic breath WITHOUT allowing air to enter the lungs.  Thoracic volume is increased and intra-thoracic pressure is decreased, but air is not allowed to enter the lungs, thus the central tendon of the diaphragm is pulled up into the thoracic cavity and the diaphragm is actively stretched and pulls up the muscles and organs that are attached to it.

However, if the muscles of the abdomen are tense and contracted, Uddiyana Bandha will not be possible.  Why?

Take a closer look from deep to surface. At the coastal margins on the inner surfaces of ribs 6-12, the transversus abdominus muscles (the deepest layer of core muscles) grow into the fibers of the diaphragm.   There is no difference.  Like a sleeve sewn to the body of a shirt, this deep corset muscle around your waist seems into your “six pack”, latches on your pelvic bones (ilia crests), and corsets around to the giant patch of diamond-shaped fabric on your lower back (the thoracolumbar fascia) that anchors layers of back muscles. The six-pack (really a ten pack) shares the same real estate with the diaphragm (ribs 6-7 and the typhoid), and also anchoring the internal obliques (with feet joining the diaphragm at ribs 10 and 12), and on top of them the external obliques (sharing real estate with the diaphragm on top of ribs 5-12).   This is some of the “strapping tape” we mentioned earlier.

If your diaphragm is ever going to be able to stretch, its abdominal bedfellows must let go of the sheets.  This is why the cue, “pull your belly in” or “pull the navel to the spine” doesn’t stretch the diaphragm.  It does the opposite.   It holds the diaphragm down like a hot air balloon trying to lift off while its ropes remain tied to the earth.  The abdomen muscles must passively stretch (we helped them let go with the Coregeous Ball) and lose their intimate connection with the diaphragm.  Free it!  Likewise uptown, the external intercostals (some of whom we massaged in the previous Therapy Ball Sequence) must be free to do their job of pulling the ribs apart for the actions of the thoracic inhale.  If the intercostal muscles are tight (I know from asthma what that feels like), Uddiyana Bandha will be felt minimally.

I practice Uddiyana Bandha poses in twists, backbends, and forward folds (in any orientation to gravity) in order to stretch it in all of its glory.  When you’ve mastered it, you have a de-stressing tool like no other.  And for those somanauts who want to travel deeper, Nauli Kriya waits for you, your organs, and your belly brain.  Free at last, free at last, thank belly almighty, free at last….

Read “Building A Coregeous EmbodyMap – Part 1”

Read “Building A Coregeous EmbodyMap – Part 2”

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Louis Jackson

Louis's love of yoga emerged in the 1990s after receiving a copy of B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. After pledging to learn all 202 poses by himself, he injured his back and sought tutelage at Julie Lawrence’s Iyengar Studio in Portland, Oregon, where he learned to cool his fire and practice with impeccable alignment. In the Bay Area, he began studying with Master Iyengar Instructor Ben Thomas, who mentored him during his teacher training at Avalon Art and Yoga and taught him how to breathe. Under the guidance of both Jill Miller’s Yoga Tune Up and Master Teacher and Sanskrit scholar Anirudh Shastri, Louis weds the most recent research from physical therapy, physiology, and neuroscience with the rich tradition of Hatha Yoga practiced in North India.

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Andree-Anne Gagnon

I have had intermittent success with uddihyana bandha for a few years but recently, I have had no luck. I have found that I have a fairly high level of inflammation in the viscera for the past few months and I am wondering if that could be the reason I have not been able to access the diaphragm vacuum? I have been rolling on the Coregeous a lot and have found some relief there, but have yet to “find” my bandha.

Sebastien Noel

Superbe explication.il reste a le pratiquer maintenant, merci.

Lee

Really clear descriptions…following these makes uddiyana banda seem attainable for most people! Encased in this same (often supertight) fascia is much of the body’s immune cells (in the gastro-intestinal tract), our liver (responsible for blood/glucose balance, detoxifying, hormone metabolism etc), our reproductive organs, bladder and so on…. such a great way to release the diaphragm and give that fascia a much needed massage, with so many other unexpected benefits! Your article has inspired me to at least prescribe active/passive belly breath to new naturopathic clients with the view to moving to coregeous ball and uddiyana banda soon after. Thanks for… Read more »

Dana Healey

Louise, what a great read! I have taken your workshops and they were fantastic. I teach a class on abdominal lifts and its always so hard for everyone to grasp the concept. Thank god for the gorgeous ball otherwise I fear most people won’t reach the full lift and then transition into Nali. Do you think it’s all the tension most people hold in their gut that inhibits them from reaching this abdominal lift?

Sonia

I’ve been trying to practice this myself lately. I have had some success, but I think I will try your suggestion of the coregeous ball on the stomach and ribs. Thanks for the ideas.

Meredith Hutter Chamorro

Uddiyana Bandha has always remained somewhat elusive for me, too, but this article really brings so much clarity to the process. I think I might actually be able to achieve U.B.!!! Thank you.

Chelsea Vickers

Beautiful post 🙂 Thanks for the insight.

Ed

I have a dream that one day I will have a deep an understanding of uddiyana bandha and be able to articulate it as well as you have. Thank you.

Nicole

This made me question if I have ever actually done uddiyana properly before! I really had to quiet it down, and feel for the suction action that you refer to here. I finally found it! I am hoping this will help me get to Nauli a bit easier now; a path I’ve been working toward for the last 2 years. Thank you!

Cathy Favelle

On my quest to finally conquer the elusive Udiaynna bandha. Your post has brilliantly laid out the map to follow! First stop for me, Coregeous ball! Time to release, relax and perhaps finally find the glory. Truthfully, I’m a little green with envy! I want to be unleashed in the marvelously odd playground of my insides too! Thanks for the great post!

Anfisa Maksimyuk

Thank you for the article, Louis. I feel the benefits of daily morning practice of Udiyanna Bandha, or better say attempts of doing Udiyanna Bandha. I would be interesting in knowing how Udiyanna Bandha affects a woman’s body, and what is the difference with men.

Jessica

I will practice this!

Tina Broome

Louis,
Thank you! Uddiyana Bandha was one of the most effective breath exercises to bring my scattered thoughts back in to focus and I appreciated it when I first regularly practiced it in Vini- Yoga classes. But I had not CLUE what was involved anatomically! Thank you for the clear explanation of what this move works.

Amanda Crutcher

Free at last! The diaphram connects to abdominals in a way that demands coordnation and and once again it is all about doing less. It is as the abdominals relax the diaphram relaxes up creating space for the great pranic flying upwards to happen. Thanks for the clear and poetic imagry. Happy MLK day 2014!

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Jennie Cohen

Thanks so much for this clear explanation! I, too, have long been mystified by uddiyana bandha. My body eventually figured it out, but I wasn’t entirely clear on what was going on mechanically. This is really helpful…

Holli Rabishaw

I am going to need to explore this a bit more on my own body and in poses. My concern for students that Uddiyana Bandha is elusive and they still require the support of the abdominals in their poses that the tubular core is the protection they need for the lower back. I am going to need to discuss uddiyana bhanda vs tubular core, how they are used, purpose, benefits, for students vs the old stand by “draw the navel in and up” cue beaten into the yoga instructors habitual tool box. Thanks for forcing me into this position of… Read more »

Barbara Treves

This is so helpful Louis – I followed your “Try this” and I felt the sucking action just like you said! I have been cueing “pull your belly in and up” to my Pilates clients but will do so no more!
Achieving Uddiyana Bandha is on my 10 things to achieve before I die list but I think if I put it as #1, I’ll likely live longer and will be able to add alot more things to my list.

Melissa

Freeing the abdominal Muscles are so much harder than imagined. Thank you for such a great explanation, and Jill what a great photo! I have a lot of work to do before I get there, do you have any other exercise I can do to ‘let go’ or ‘roll out’ my abdomen muscles.

Thanks Louis!

Mado

Louis, this is the simplest and clearest explanation of uddiyana bandha that I have ever seen. I am so excited to have a deeper understanding of this beloved exercise. Thank you.

Jiin Liang

What a wonderful article with many many valuable responses. I just begin practicing uddiyana bandha, and found relaxing the belly and allow it be passive challenging. I found the expansion of the rib cage during thoracic breath (no air come in) particularly helpful when I focused on opening the back side of the rib cage. This back rib expansion stretches the related spinal muscle, such as multifidi, rotators, and serratus posterior inferior, in addition to external intercostals. It noticeably relieves the tension in my mid-back caused by scoliosis. A bonus to me!

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[…] care, Sports, yoga breathing When Joanna-Lynn McBain posted a question to Louis Jackson’s article about uddiyana bandha, she never expected the response she got! Not only Louis, but Kristin Marvin, Dawn McCrory and […]

Helen McAvoy

Wow, i am working at really understanding this in my own body, filled with alot of scar tissue…I really need to focus more and see this process unfold. thank you for the education and dialogue, this is amazing!

It Takes A Village Of YTU Teachers To Talk About The Diaphragm | Yoga Tune Up

[…] That’s what happened when Joanna-Lynn McBain left a comment on Louis Jackson’s article “Building A Coregeous Embodymap, Part 3: Uddiyana Bandha.” Louis replied, and I pulled in fellow YTU Teachers Kristin Marvin, Dawn McCrory and Keith […]

Rachel

That is so incredibly cool that the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and internal/external obliques impact uddiyana bandha! So uddiyana bandha would probably be very difficult and almost impossible to access for those with a very tight core like abs of steel tight. Now I have another amazing reason to add to my list of why someone wants a strong but not tight core, so that they can practice and stretch one of the most fascinating things- the diaphragm!

Yasmen Mehta

Thanks Luis,

This is complicated stuff, I wish I could get a cadaver and see all this. What blew me away, was the understanding of how the diaphragm is so inter-connected to the core abdominal muscles. I don’t think I have the Bandhas down completely, but just opening up the front of the body with the coregeous ball has allowed me more access to abdominal work in Pilates.

JL

I tried this tonight on my living room floor and was not sure if I was sucking or vaccuming enough to fully get the effects of this movement. My other question would be how many times a week and for how long should one do this to see a noticeable improvement of stamina? I work with elite athletes and this would be a really good exercise for me to incorporate into my sessions with them. thanks for this

Stephanie Fish

Great post and articulate description of the diaphragm and neighbors. I too was never clear on Uddiyana until Yoga Tune Up de-mystified the technique. I also had thought to pull in, so learning how to allow the vaccuum and feel the stretch of the diaphragm has been glorious.

Celeste L.

Thank you for breaking this down and for illustrating just how relaxing activating and applying Uddhiyana Bandha is and how it can not only serve my yogic practice, as a Pilates teacher, I may just get to softer engagement of the deep core stabilizers…yet to be discovered:)

Sophia

Another great post! I can totally relate to hearing those cues that have not been helpful for me to understand this concept beyond the anatomy and physics of it that I’ve learned dozens of times! Finally, I feel like I really understand the concept of why “ungluing the abs” plays an integral role in this! Thank you!

Anastasia

Louis,
Thanks for this amazing information. I’m still working on freeing all of my over-contracted and overused core muscles and I just discovered the diaphragm and how it can affect my back and am now fascinated that there has been a muscle in my body that I don’t know how to use! I have been using the soft spongy balll to roll out my guts and hope that it can allow me to work towards Uddiyana Bandha and will continue working on the breathing techniques you shared!, Thanks