Uddiyana Bandha: The Yogic Abdominal Lock Explored

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If you are looking to improve your strength and stability during your yoga practice, Uddiyana Bandha is something that you might want to add. It’s a physically engaging abdominal exercise that is often referred to as the yogic abdominal lock.

In this article, we will examine the following:

  • What The Uddiyana Bandha Is
  • Uddiyana Bandha In Ancient Texts & Yogic Philosophy
  • The Benefits Of Uddiyana Bandha
  • How To Perform Uddiyana Bandha
  • When To Use Uddiyana Bandha
  • Uddiyana Bandha Contraindications
woman doing Uddiyana Bandha

What is Uddiyana Bandha?

There are three physical locks practiced in yoga. Each of which have their own intention and focus:

1. Mula Bandha, also known as the “root lock,” refers to the activation of the pelvic floor muscles. When engaged, its purpose is to prevent positive energy from escaping the physical and subtle bodies.

2. Jalandhara Bandha is a “throat lock.” Its purpose is to prevent pranic energy from moving upward.

3. Uddiyana Bandha, the center of this article, focuses on the abdominal system and its intention to harness the important vital energies of the body.

Uddiyana Bandha, or the abdominal lock, comes from two Sanskrit words: “uddiyana” means “up” or “upward“, and the term “bandha” means “binding,” “contracting,” or “lock.

All three locks play a part in the energetic channels of the body. They can be performed independently or they may accompany one another in specific styles of yogic practice to promote energetic flow throughout the body.

When all three of these locks work together, they form an additional lock called Maha Bandha, also known as “the great lock.

two people with rainbow or chakra coloured energy emanating from their bodies

The yogic locks work in conjunction with the nadis (channels for energetic flow) and the chakra systems (energy centers of the body).

The bandhas assist in purifying the body to enhance the movement of Prana (life force) throughout the physical and subtle bodies.

Due to the contracting nature of the abdominal muscles with this particular lock, it temporarily inhibits the flow of blood. When released, fresh blood and oxygen flow more efficiently through the physical body.

Furthermore, the engaging and disengaging of the lock creates an effective movement of Prana throughout the subtle body.

Uddiyana Bandha in Ancient Texts & Yogic Philosophy

Now that you know what Uddiyana Bandha is, studying the origin of the abdominal lock is also important.

Knowing the history of Uddiyana Bandha will provide a better context of understanding so that your practice of this exercise is more meaningful and beneficial to you.

buddhist statue with flower offerings underneath

1. 8 Limbs Of Yoga

As mentioned, Uddiyana Bandha helps to induce and circulate pranic energy throughout the body.

This is directly related to one of yoga’s primary intentions: to live an enlightened life. If one lives their life according to the 8 Limbs of Yoga, one is working toward Samadhi (the 8th Limb) or Bliss.

2. The Gheranda Samhita & The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

There are several important ancient texts that document the history, philosophy, and teachings of yoga. Some of these ancient texts specifically mention Uddiyana Bandha.

The Gheranda Samhita, known to be one of the most comprehensive of the ancient texts, is considered a “manual for yoga.It highlights the journey of yoga; a guide for the yoga practitioner.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, another important ancient text, illuminates the physical principles of yoga and integrates them with the spiritual components of yoga.

Both the Gheranda Samhita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika mention the abdominal lock as a mechanism to heighten the potential for Samadhi. In these particular texts, Uddiyana Bandha is described as a Mudra.

A Mudra is a symbolic gesture, often performed with your hands, to emphasize and encourage energetic flow. These sacred gestures are practiced during meditation and within Kundalini Yoga classes.

Although the abdominal lock is technically not a Mudra, it holds similar qualities.

person doing Uddiyana Bandha stood up

The intention of Uddiyana Bandha, also considered a sacred gesture or mechanism, is to channel Pranic energy throughout the bodily system. The purpose is to rid the body of energetic obstacles and distractions so that one can lead a healthy and enlightened life.

A statement referenced about Uddiyana Bandha in the Gheranda Samhita and the Hatha Pradipika is “the lion that slays the elephant of death.

The metaphor relates to finding liberation. When one practices Uddiyana Bandha, they create a “fire within” that purifies the practitioner. He then “conquers death” and lives a life of peace and harmony.

What is the Benefit of The Abdominal Lock

Some of the benefits of performing the abdominal lock include:

  • Strengthening your core muscles – for full-body stability
  • Improvement in your breathing and posture – to boost blood and oxygen circulation
  • Removal of energetic blocks – for the purification of the mind, body, and spirit
  • Assisting with digestion – to improve the elimination and cleansing of toxins from the system
  • Restoring balance – for a whole, healthy body and mind
lady sat on the rocks by the sea opening her arms out wide

How to Perform the Abdominal Lock

There are several ways to practice Uddiyana Bandha. These methods are listed in the order of difficulty, from most advanced to beginner.

1. Classic Practice of Uddiyana Bandha

1. Start in a standing position with your feet slightly apart. Sit back as if you are sitting in a chair and rest your hands on your thighs. Allow your back to round.

2. To begin, take a deep inhale and completely expel the breath through an open mouth.

3. Take a deep breath through your nostrils with your mouth closed. Exhale with some force through your pursed lips until you are empty.

4. Instead of taking another breath in, contract your stomach muscles by pulling them in and up toward your spine. This will create a hollow sensation in your belly.

5. You may hold this contraction for 5-10 seconds or create a “pumping” effect with your stomach. (Actively push out then pull in your belly several times.)

6. When complete, relax your abdominal muscles and take your next breath in. You can repeat the exercise or continue for another round.

2. Practice Uddiyana Bandha in a Vinyasa Flow

Another way to practice the abdominal lock is while moving through a sequence of poses.

group of people in downward facing dog on yoga mats

1. As you move from pose to pose, you can engage your core muscles to stabilize and support each bodily movement.

For example, while in Downward Facing Dog, you can incorporate the abdominal lock to help jump or step your feet toward your hands as you transition into a Standing Forward Fold.

2. While in Downward Facing Dog, inhale to fill your lungs. As you exhale (keeping your mouth closed), draw your navel in toward your spine to activate the bandha.

3. As you approach the end of the exhale, hop or step both feet to the top of the mat into Forward Fold.

4. Another example is to stand in Mountain Pose. Although this is a neutral posture with no movement, you can still engage the abdominal lock. Take a breath through your nose to fill your lungs.

5. Exhale with your mouth closed and draw your abdominal muscles in and up toward your spine. This will create a support effect for your body and improve your standing posture.

3. “Pedestrian” Uddiyana Bandha

You can also perform Uddiyana Bandha off the yoga mat: while sitting at your work desk, taking a walk through the park, or going for a jog. To do this, simply engage your core muscles whilst doing any of these daily tasks.

This will improve your posture during these activities as well as support your spine and entire bodily frame.

When to Use Uddiyana Bandha

You can practice the abdominal lock as a stand-alone practice, during a yoga class, or even off the yoga mat.

man and woman jogging through a park

As a stand-alone practice, you will generate the ability to fully control your breathing and the abdominal “pump.” This bandha intends to heighten the movement of Prana throughout your body.

Once you have learned this practice, you can apply it to other vinyasa yoga classes like Ashtanga Yoga or Power Yoga. The breath flow provides a rhythm in which you transition from pose to pose.

Furthermore, it creates strength and stability for the body to safely and effectively move into the yoga posture.

Uddiyana Bandha Contraindications

Due to the level of difficulty of the classic method to practice Uddiyana Bandha, it comes with some contraindications and precautions.

If you have the following conditions, you may want to refrain from this particular bandha:

  • High blood pressure: Adding the “pumping” aspect of the practice increases blood flow thereby also increasing blood pressure
  • Stomach issues: If you suffer from an ulcer or have a hernia, you should refrain from practicing this bandha
  • Pregnancy: Practicing Uddiyana Bandha may lead to health concerns for the mother and/or fetus, so its best to avoid
  • Lastly, it is best to practice the classic form of the abdominal lock on an empty stomach to avoid stomach pain, indigestion, or contributing to any other stomach issues

In Closing

Performing Uddiyana Bhanda will add to your overall experience of practicing yoga. This physical exercise dates back to the ancient traditions, principles, and intentions of yoga.

woman doing Uddiyana Bandha standing up

The physical effects will enhance your strength, stability, and posture while you practice.

It will also heighten your internal energetic connections by creating unobstructed pranic flow through your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual being.

If you want to incorporate the lock into your practice more regularly, you can start by reviewing our yoga pose library to see where you can use it.

Photo of author
John Cottrell is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher and Certified Yoga Therapist residing in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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