What do the Bones, Breath, and Bandhas have in common? Each of these “B” words, when used as the object of meditation, has the capacity to move your senses from shallow to deep and can induce what the yogis call pratyahara. Pratyahara is a state of being where your senses no longer seek nourishment or attention from the external environment; instead you feel content, peaceful, and at home within yourself. Pratyahara locks you into the “now” and is a precursor to meditation, which requires steady uninterrupted attention to the present moment and/or object of focus. In Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, pratyahara is described as a transitional moment between the outer limbs (yamas, niyamas, asana, and pranayama) that help you develop ethical standards, healthy relationships, and cleansing practices in order to purify the body/heart/mind. After purification has occurred via diet, asana and pranayama, its easier to sense and feel into the subtle inner limbs (dharana, dhyana, and samadhi) that describe different stages of concentration and meditation.
As we move from the extroverted energy of summer towards the quiet and dormant energy of winter, the autumn season is the space between these two extremes and is considered a transition time in Ayurveda, much like pratyahara is to the 8 Limbs of Yoga. The autumn transition beckons you to slow down in order to ease into the winter gracefully and in good health. By practicing the 3 B’s on a regular basis this season, I hope you discover steadiness in form and contentment in the now.
Step 1: Bone Meditation
Sit in Virasana or alternative seated position to meditate. Relax your gaze and begin to visualize the shape of the all tiny bones in your head. Bring your awareness down to the lower jaw and release it away from the upper palate. Drop your attention down the length of your cervical spine, around the shoulder blades and into the arm bones. Let the arm bones release with gravity toward the earth, hands bones steady on your thighs. Inhale and bring your attention up the arm bones and along your collarbones. Follow the next breath down the chest bone (sternum) and soften the organs in between the ribs. Let your breath fill the bones of the ribs and feel them widen towards your arm bone on inhale; exhale and feel them soften toward the mid-line of the body. Bring your attention to the thoracic spine and walk your attention down to your lumbar curve. Pause and bring some breath and vitality to your lower back vertebrae. Continue sinking your attention down to the sacrum and tailbone; root your attention deep towards the earth. Follow your attention from the tailbone around the pelvic bones; breathe into the bones of the pelvis. Sense and feel the shape of the head and neck of your femur, then move your awareness down the shaft of the femur, past the knee, into lower leg bones, ankles, and feet.
Step 2: Breath Awareness Practice
After completing the Bone Meditation, begin to observe the breath coming in through the nose, down into the body toward the lungs. Notice the end of your inhale and follow the breath back up the chest to the nose on exhale. Repeat for 3-5 minutes. Once you are comfortable with the breath orientation, begin to add a moment’s pause at the end of your inhale to help expand the ribs and chest, followed by a long steady exhale. Repeat for 3-5 minutes. The last step is to add an additional pause at the end of the exhale, and for a moment keep the breath out while you maintain relaxed and calm in the space between breaths. Repeat 3-5 minutes.
Step 3: Bandhas (best to practice these under supervision of a teacher)
The final step in the 3 B’s practice is to familiarize yourself with the bandhas. Bandhas are often described as seals, energy locks, or binds that fasten your attention deep in the psycho-muscular energy body. When properly engaged, bandhas may induce pratyhara; increase blood supply to the pelvic floor muscles, digestive organs and upper chest; purify or stimulate the chakras and energetic knots called grantis; and help maintain good alignment, which eventually clears the mind.
Mula (root lock)
Lift and weave the pelvic floor muscles together after exhale and you are creating the foundation of mula bandha. Relax the pelvic floor on inhale.
Uddiyana (upward moving)
To initiate uddiyana, exhale fully, pause, and spread the diaphragm muscle wide at the same time your navel moves deep towards the spine. After you feel the compression and lift of the organs, relax your effort, breathe and relax.
Jalandhara (neck lock)
After a comfortable inhalation, drop your chin down towards the base of the throat, lift the chest bone up to meet the chin and seal in prana, or the energy of the breath that is rising. Release your head back to neutral and observe the effects of jalandhara bandha.