Keep Your Six-Packs Outta My Yoga via Yoga Modern

Posted by on 7/29/11 in Uncategorized

I almost didn't make it to Schuyler Grant's Uddiyana Bandhaskara: Flow from the Core class at the Wanderlust Festival this morning. Between losing my bags at the airport, hitting snooze on the alarm, and getting lost on the way to Squaw, the universe certainly had answered my call for an adventure. But you know, when “it's meant to be” the path always seems to present itself… and somehow I managed to stumble my way into her 8:00am class this morning just in the nick of time.

To be honest, I wasn't so hyped about the topic of the class as I was curious to get an experience with Schuyler. As one of the co-founders of the Wanderlust Festival, I'd heard her name mentioned in conversation many times before and was curious about what she offered as a teacher. Usually I stray away from classes with titles I can barely pronounce… Say it with me now: Ooh-dee-yah-nah Bahn-dah-skar-ah. Geez, what a mouthful.

But I was pleasantly surprised at just how relevant and impactful Schuyler's class was for my practice. She started the class by discussing the meaning of the term “bandha,” which is usually translated as lock. Schuyler shared that a definition that makes more sense to her in her practice is valve. I liked that. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be locking up anything in my yoga practice.

I can't tell you how many times I've been instructed to activate uddiyana bandha with cues like “bring your low belly in” or “tighten your ab muscles.” That instruction has never quite resonated with me, and I admit I've even had moments of feeling very self-conscious in class after one teacher told me not to dump out my belly. You know that little voice… “She sees your pot belly! Better suck that baby in before everybody in class finds out just how many cookies you've been eating!”

So you can imagine my shock and then relief when Schuyler encouraged us not to firm up, but rather to soften… to (you're gonna love this) let it all hang out.

“We are taught in our culture to tighten, to harden, but that's not what uddiyana is about…”

Uddiyana bandha, I found, has very little to do with sucking in or tightening anything. When I softened, I was able to use my diaphragm to create a sort of vacuum in my abdominal area that propelled me forward from down dog, skyward into headstand, even deeper into the crevasses of my inner-torso during twists. It was phenomenal. And it all came in the softening.

As I walked out of class, marveling at those gorgeous mountains awaiting me outside, my mind began to wander. Why had I been taught my entire life (and my entire yoga practice) to harden?

And it also made me think about yoga and it's “evolution” in the West. What happens when you import an ancient, spiritual tradition into a culture that glorifies size 0 models and taut and toned abs? Well, it seems to me you get something like “uddiyana bandha means bringing your low belly in.” We've subconsciously changed the teachings to cater to our culture's crazy bodily ideals.

So, I'd like to offer my utmost gratitude to Schuyler for reminding me that it's okay to soften. For reminding me that when I release the clenching and tightening on the outside, there is space for a strength to emerge within.

And I'd like to hear from you… Do you think Western bodily ideals have influenced the teaching of yoga today? And if you do “core work” in your practice, does your motivation have anything to do with a desire for “better looking” abs?

Keep up with Chelsea here at Yoga Modern and follow Yoga Modern here on Twitter. 

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