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Bandhas

The following is based purely on my personal experience. I have not studied its application to running other than trying it on my own. As always, please proceed with caution and consult your doctor with any issues or concerns.

Running is a physical sport but there is a spiritual and energetic aspect to it. Whether or not you believe in the spiritual or energetic aspect of Yoga, I find engaging the practice of “bandhas” can have a positive effect on my running.

Bandha means bond or joining together. At its very basic, the purpose of a bandha is to control and utilize energy created by breath. It’s similar to the way transformers, fuses and switches control electricity; bandhas essentially create a closed circuit of energy.

This is achieved by internal locking, gripping or controlling of certain organs and muscles in any or all of three locations of the body: the pelvic floor (mula bandha), belly (uddiyana bandha) and throat (jalandara bandha)—but I only utilize the first two for running and will describe them here.

The mula bandha is the locking of the perineum or pelvic floor, similar to a Kegel exercise. Clenching the same muscles that control or stop the flow of urine engages mula bandha. During Yoga, it helps build core body strength, protects the low back, increases energy and vitality, and improves concentration and mental clarity. During running, this is where I see the most difference, particularly on days when I feel heavy and sluggish.

Uddiyana bandha engages the abdominal muscles and works all the internal organs. It improves digestion and liver function as well. To perform in a Yoga practice, exhale fully then—without inhaling—simultaneously pull the belly button toward the spine and lift it up toward the heart. For running, know that it is OK to relax the belly enough to allow for uninhibited breathing. The engagement of the abdominal muscles helps my posture and core strength.

Before hitting the pavement, know that the yogic practice of bandhas involves holding the breath, which is probably not a good idea when running and can be harmful for certain medical conditions. Bandhas also have five degrees of engagement from least to most and are usually practiced during meditation or static poses.

How to Incorporate Bandhas into Running

When running, aim to keep the intensity of bandha activation at half or even a tenth of a degree and focus on breathing in and out of the nostrils in a controlled and slower manner. Energy is already flowing through your body as you run, and adding this practice will help harness any extra energy that might dissipate.

To look at it from a purely physical standpoint, think about ballroom dancers. When a dancer dips his partner, she maintains an active and engaged posture so her partner can easily whip her back up to standing. Imagine how hard it would be to move her if she was limp, or disengaged. For runners, engaging a bandha can provide the same kind of lightness and strength, plus for me it adds a Zen-like concentration that can really be lacking when I’m tired, distracted or just not feeling it.

For more information on bandhas and how to practice them in Yoga, consult a Yoga instructor.

Written by

Alma Bahman is a certified yoga teacher registered with the Yoga Alliance. She completed 200-hour yoga teacher training in November 2010. She has been practicing yoga since 2006 and running since 2008 but it wasn’t until she began her teacher training that she realized how intertwined yoga is with running. She plans to run her first marathon for her 26th birthday at the end of this year. Bahman is also a journalist, recently graduated from Cal State Long Beach, and will be pursuing her master’s degree later this year. Currently, she is assistant editor of Caring Magazine, a quarterly publication of The Salvation Army.

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2 Responses to "Bandhas"

  1. laura m says:

    wonderful article, i’m going to try this tonight!

  2. Vik G says:

    Great Article! Its such a surprising coincidence to find your article about this since I’ve been utilizing the Uddiyana bandha and Moola bandha while walking. I’ve recently developed a deep interest in Ashtanga yoga since it pertains to my culture and I was reading up on some of their techniques. I assume if two people can think of this then there might have been others out there, which doesn’t explain the lack of literature about it…

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