Heat Up Your Internal Fire with Belly Lock
Agni Sara is a cleansing practice, requiring knowledge of the bandhas, or at least one of them: uddiyana bandha, or belly lock (see below). Agni is the Indian God of Fire and Destruction, and in this practice, represents the internal fire that is stoked, helping to heat up the body from the inside to stimulate digestion and detoxify. Easy sitting pose is a good position from which to practice, although many poses are appropriate for agni sara. For beginners, I recommend cat tuck position to initially experience the belly lock. Then with that body awareness, move into a more suitable position where the spine can elongate. Agni sara can also be done standing with the feet wider than hips width apart, knees bent, like an easy standing squat, with the hands resting on the thighs for support. Whichever position is chosen, remember to work towards an elongated spine, rather than rounding or hunching.
The benefits of agni sara are incredible. Too many to list, but here’s a start: increased circulation to abdominal muscles, tissue and organs, pelvic muscles, tissue and organs, improves elimination of wastes and excess fat around the abdomen, increases energy and elevates mood. Do not practice agni sara if you are pregnant, suffering from heart, nervous system, or respiratory ailments, or have glaucoma, hiatal hernia, or ulcers of the stomach or intestine.
In this practice, you are contracting from the pelvic floor all the way up to the diaphragm, and this is done after you have exhaled all your air. From hands and knees position, exhale all the air out of your mouth, to get really empty. Then with no breath in the body, quickly draw the head and tailbone towards the navel, with the back arching up to the ceiling. The belly is sucked in, and eventually upwards into the rib cage (although this is the more intermediate phase), and holding that suction, with no breath, for five to ten counts is agni sara. When it is time to inhale, the cat tuck position and the belly suction is released and a regular inhalation and exhalation is done in between sets. I recommend five to ten sets on a very empty stomach! After the cat tuck variation seems comfortable, try agni sara in an easy sitting position or in an easy standing squat.
A Word About Bandhas and Mudras:
Bandhas are locks, mudras are seals. Both are used to seal off and contain energy, prana, within the Yogi’s body, so it can be transformed into movement, healing or purification. Basically, every asana is a mudra, or seal of some sort and needs to be practiced with moderation. I caution you as a teacher or practitioner in using bandhas unless instructed by a knowledgeable teacher. I do not regularly caution against hand mudras because they don’t seem to have a large effect on the nervous system, unlike the following:
Mula Bandha is the Root Lock, and traditionally it is used to seal off energy and help to support pelvic muscles as well as the lower back region. Because in general most students have digestion, elimination, or reproductive troubles, I use caution when instructing mula bandha, emphasizing the necessity to completely relax the perineum is just as important as temporary contractions. I feel strongly that these exercises need to be learned from an experienced teacher. And moderation is the key. Those who will benefit greatly are pre and post-natal women, who can benefit greatly from contracting mula bandha (similar to Kegel exercises). People suffering from a prolapsed bladder or uterus also benefit from mula bandha, and men can stimulate the prostate with mula bandha exercises.
Uddiyana Bandha is the Belly Lock, most often done during exhalation and the retention after exhalation, (bahya kumbhaka). Again, moderation is strongly urged. Uddiyana means flying up and the key to this lock is not just to contract the abdomen towards the spine, but then, suck it upwards into the rib cage. The most common problems I have seen, mostly in hard-core vinyasa practitioners, is digestive troubles due to over-contraction of the belly. Cultivating a soft belly with a strong internal core is the ideal yoga belly (no six-pack abs!). On the other hand, uddiyana bandha can actually be very beneficial for digestive troubles, as well as menstrual troubles, if practiced carefully and knowledgeably.
Jalandara Bandha is the Throat Lock, and is said to relieve pressure off the heart and lungs, as well as help to support spinal posture. This takes some sensitivity on the practitioners part to learn the proper placement of the jaw to achieve a correct “lock” or seal. Again, an experienced teacher is very helpful here.
Excerpted with permission from The Yoga Handbook, An Inspirational Reference for Teaching and Home Practice, by Stephanie Keach, self-published. Stephanie is the owner of the Asheville Yoga Center, 828-254-0380 or online at youryoga.com