The Samahita Blog

Diaphragm Raised (Pre-Nauli), Lower Abdomen Engaged (Uddiyana Zone), Pelvic Floor Managed (Mula) Techniques Differentiated in the field of Yoga Practice

by Paul Dallaghan

This is a technical article that explores the specifics of the use of the abdomen in modern hatha yoga practice under the following areas:

1. Introduction
2. Uddiyana Bandha (Kriya) as an Interchangeable Misnomer Across 3 Scenarios
3. Mula Bandha Function Across a Gradient of Activity
4. Uddiyana Bandha Distinguished from the Gradient of Activity Across Uddiyana Zone
5. The Lower Abdomen as Uddiyana Zone and Used in the Mudra Uddiyana Bandha
6. Uddiyana Bandha Misinterpreted as Upper Abdominal Force
7. PRE-NAULI is Uddiyana of the Diaphragm, Not Uddiyana Bandha
8. Nauli and Uddiyana Bandha in the Texts
9. Method of Pre-Nauli to Nauli as Opposed to the method of Uddiyana Bandha
10. From Pre-Nauli to Nauli and their Shared Benefits
11. Conclusion

1. Introduction

Yoga, though ancient in origin, is now found around the world in one form or another, from traditional ashrams to the modern yoga studio offering its different styles of classes. To take a deeper look reveals asana practice as the most conspicuous representative of this vast tradition of yoga. Many who practice yoga today will not know what the kriyas of hatha yoga are but have most likely come across a few of them in a modern interpretation of those techniques.
Yoga instructors attempt to increase their learning by attending a workshop, try the technique, and then start teaching it. However, this diluted approach to spreading yoga means more practices and techniques are parroted to students, not taught from long experience, strong practice and clear understanding. As a result names and techniques can become confused and reduced based on limited understanding. Fortunately, when clarity and rationality fail within yoga teaching circles we have the original texts and their unambiguous references to come back to.

2. Uddiyana Bandha (Kriya) as an Interchangeable Misnomer Across 3 Scenarios
The term “uddiyana bandha” is referred to in many yoga settings, typically mixed across one of these three:
(1) in active and flowing asana classes practitioners are advised to do “uddiyana bandha” in addition to “mula bandha”, meaning pull the abdomen up and engage the pelvic floor. This is in part due to the popularization of vinyasa approaches and the parroting of these terms without their full comprehension; (2) the instructor might introduce a standing technique of sucking back the abdomen, or so it seems, described as “uddiyana bandha”, and, depending on their degree of comprehension, might refer to the raising of the diaphragm;

(3) the instructor guides students to sit and breathe and incorporates breath retention, and in doing so suggests the students do “uddiyana bandha”, as well as “mula bandha”, engaging the abdomen and pelvic floor respectively, sometimes with force.
The above are three common situations where the terms “mula bandha” and “uddiyana bandha” are used crudely without any direct relation to how they are explained in the original hatha yoga texts. Though yoga is represented by several classical philosophical works one will only find reference to such body- based practices primarily in hatha and tantric texts.

3. Mula Bandha Function Across a Gradient of Activity
Though “mula bandha” is not the focus of this article its reference in the hatha text1 is as a mudra, an intense practice to be performed in a particular seated pose with breath held by a practitioner who is reasonably advanced in terms of how they have trained the body, breath and mind to handle such force. This level of force, a strong contraction of the pelvic floor that involves, but not solely, the anal sphincter, is only appropriate in such a high pressure situation. To apply this level of force in other asanas and pranayamas is overdoing it and may lead to other irregularities as opposed to the reported benefits stated in the texts. One needs to think of “mula bandha” in terms of a gradient. To engage the pelvic floor is essential for many body postures, both in and out of a yoga asana class, and during a breath hold. However, the amount of force used should be directly in relation to the degree of pressure existent in the pose or breath hold being practiced. A stable maintenance of the pelvic floor is key. This means for the average asana or breath hold the pelvic floor has tone and support without being squeezed.

4. Uddiyana Bandha Distinguished from the Gradient of Activity Across Uddiyana Zone Simply put, if “mula” is the region of the pelvic floor and its muscular activation brings about a degree of “mula bandha”, then “uddiyana” refers to the abdomen. However, this is where the confusion begins due to the differentiation across the abdomen and when to apply such abdominal force. In the three typical scenarios described above, used interchangeably in error, we find that (1) is an indiscriminate use of the entire abdominal musculature, whereby the practitioner typically activates both lower and upper abdominal areas when engaged in physical asanas, often with an attempt to pull up the upper abdomen due to an incorrect understanding of the entire abdominal region as “uddiyana”. This results in increased upper abdominal tension, a pattern common in daily life already and exacerbated in error in practice. More specifically we refer to the lower abdomen as the “uddiyana zone”, which may not be highlighted specifically in the asana class; (2) if done correctly where the diaphragm is raised, subsequently the abdomen becomes passive, contrary to the previous technique. This represents the state of “PRE- NAULI”; and when (3) is done correctly by the accomplished practitioner then the primary force applied below the navel – the lower abdomen area termed as “uddiyana zone” – while in kumbhaka (breath retention), represents “uddiyana bandha” as described in the text2.

5. The Lower Abdomen as Uddiyana Zone and Used in the Mudra Uddiyana Bandha
Just as “mula bandha” becomes applicable across a gradient of response in different postural and breath retention practices, similarly scenario (1) above should apply a varied degree of abdominal force depending on the level of pressure on the body in the actual posture (asana). This varying degree of force is driven by the lower abdomen and so is more of a zone of activity than a final forced contraction, hence “uddiyana zone”. It reaches its culmination as a mudra, as does “mula bandha”, in (3) whereby breath is retained and strong pelvic floor and abdominal locks are applied, hence “uddiyana bandha”. However, this final state is only recommended for the well-practiced student and should be initially directed by the teacher. Prior to that most practitioners will engage their abdomen to manage the body. A more refined look at the abdomen will delineate between muscular effort below and above the navel. In this case we can refer to the lower abdomen as the “uddiyana zone”. It can be applied on a gradient scale from mild to medium to reasonably strong in both asana practice and seated breath practice. When it is fully applied,
powerful force in the lower abdomen, felt in the navel and upper abdomen, it is “uddiyana bandha”, and only technically the mudra of “uddiyana bandha” when in a breath retention.

6. Uddiyana Bandha Misinterpreted as Upper Abdominal Force
The most efficient exhale uses “uddiyana zone”, the lower abdomen, to complete the active exhalation. To use the upper abdomen in a strong way during exhalation misapplies tension. To then keep that tension during the inhale is both counter-intuitive and counter-productive as it limits the motion of the diaphragm and lower ribs, extending too much inhale activity to the upper region of the chest. In a controlled breath one can consider 80-90% of the force applied to be at and below the navel but naturally one will feel some force just above the navel. Some of this misdirected forced action above the navel comes from an attempt to understand the statements in the hatha text3 about “uddiyana bandha”. It should be pointed out again, that this reference in the text is “uddiyana bandha” as a mudra whereby breath is retained and subsequent pressure applied at the navel, above and below, continued during the exhale. The experienced student, when ready and taught by their teacher this precise practice, learns that the force is managed by controlling the pelvic floor and pulling the lower abdomen in with an effect that the navel, above and below, is engaged4. However, the effort is to initiate contraction below the navel, from “uddiyana zone”. What is “raised” or “goes up” is the energetic impact of such force. Hence the technical specificity of genuine “uddiyana bandha” as a mudra. As the exhale continues “uddiyana zone” continues its effort while the upper abdomen remains without any applied tension.

7. PRE-NAULI is Uddiyana of the Diaphragm, Not Uddiyana Bandha
The above descriptions of both “uddiyana bandha” and “uddiyana zone” refer to, in short, active force of the lower abdomen primarily. There is no relation to scenario (2) above where the diaphragm is raised and the abdomen shifts into a passive, albeit drawn back, state. Yet this raised diaphragm state is the most commonly referred to position for “uddiyana bandha”. On the surface the observer only sees a pulled back and raised abdomen. The distinction is clear – the diaphragm is active, reverse contracted around its central tendon, which causes a negative pressure in the abdominal cavity so a suction effect pulls back the abdomen. The skilled practitioner doing this correctly will observe in this state that the abdomen is passive, the diaphragm is active, the breath is paused after an exhale.
When this is not properly understood then teaching instructions refer only to a crude, indiscriminate raising or pulling of the abdomen, whether attempting this or confusing with (1) and (3) above, referring to all abdomen practices as “uddiyana bandha” regardless of breathing in a posture, trying to raise the diaphragm in the kriya, or doing the actual bandha (mudra) at breath retention time.

8. Nauli and Uddiyana Bandha in the Texts
“Uddiyana bandha” is specifically described in chapter 3 of the Hathapradipika as a mudra5. As one of ten mudras it is considered a powerful practice to stimulate and channel metabolic force from the lower end of the spinal region, meaning below the navel, to apparently shift consciousness, increase longevity, and “bestow the eight supernatural powers”. When “uddiyana bandha” is specifically described later in chapter 32, it refers to this raising of energetic force upward, felt in the spine to the head, based on applied force in the abdomen. This force, as noted above, is applied from the lower abdomen with an effect in the upper abdomen. Though the uninitiated student, or ambitious practitioner, attempting to translate these verses may argue for effort above and below the navel, verse 57 clearly states “in the manner prescribed by the guru”, meaning taught from experience. There is a difference between an applied force and a felt force and this is the difference between the lower and upper abdomen in this case. There is no reference to the raising of the diaphragm which occurs in the preparation state of the kriya “nauli”, being “pre-nauli”.

Gheranda Samhita 10 describes “uddiyana” as a mudra in a similar manner to Hathapradipika, emphasizing force applied by the abdomen being drawn back above and below the navel. It is given special importance if “properly practiced” and stated to be performed in later mudras. To extol the virtues of “uddiyana” on its own is ill-advised. It is effective within a suite of hatha activity whereby the practitioner has learnt how to manage the pelvic floor and use the abdomen.
“Nauli” is a kriya 6,7, a cleansing technique, and explained in chapter 2 of the Hathapradipika and chapter 1 of Gheranda Samhita. Both texts offer little practical description of how to do it other than rotating the abdomen, which is a final visual outcome where isolation of the recti is required. However, it is referred to as the “crown of hatha practices”, excellent for health, digestion and well-being.
The Sanskrit word “uddiyana” translates to English as raising up. Swami Kuvalayananda, a pioneering figure in scientific research on yoga and meditative practices, founded the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute in 1924 and launched a journal publication, Yoga Mimamsa, to bring to the public the outcome of both empirical researches and textual study and research on yoga. The first edition8, in 1924, detailed a study done on the practice of “nauli” and its preliminary stage, an “uddiyana” of the diaphragm, which seems to have been labelled as “uddiyana bandha” later (1931) in Swamiji’s book on Pranayama9. With full respect to the eminent teacher and researcher Swami Kuvalayananda, we now consider it timely to distinguish between “nauli” and its required preliminary stage, one that is completely part of “nauli” proper, a “PRE- NAULI” stage that involves an “uddiyana” of the diaphragm. This necessary practice of “pre-nauli” must be performed if “nauli” is to be achieved. The actual practice of “uddiyana bandha” is, however, a different technique under a very different set of circumstances, as described in the previous section. Unfortunately, the term “uddiyana” in today’s yoga teaching environment causes too much confusion for it to be of value in this “pre-nauli” practice.
Swamiji states9 a “deepest possible exhalation, and the simultaneous relaxation of the contracted front abdominal muscles” whereby “automatically the diaphragm will rise upon and the abdomen will undergo a pronounced depression, producing the concave appearance”.

9. Method of PRE-NAULI to Nauli as Opposed to the method of Uddiyana Bandha
Below is outlined five steps to achieve the successful raising of the diaphragm accompanied by a negative suction of the abdominal muscles which impact the entire abdominal viscera:

Step 1 above requires an exhale. The most efficient exhale makes use of “uddiyana zone”. One can consider 80-90% of the force applied to be at and below the navel but naturally one will feel some force just above the navel. Too much force above the navel misdirects where the force goes and interferes with step 2, the necessary relaxing of the abdomen. When the abdomen, both lower and upper, is nicely relaxed full attention is concentrated on the diaphragm. To parse out these elements reveals the exhale using “uddiyana zone” and the diaphragm being raised, in an “uddiyana”, to bring about “pre-nauli”. The diaphragm has to be released, step 4, before the inhale occurs in step 5.

Nauli proper includes all 5 steps noted above but adds one extra activity while in the state of “pre-nauli”, in step 3. Swami Kuvalyananda refers similarly to nauli in 1924 as “only a step further than Uddiyana” 8, meaning this “pre-nauli”. Nauli can only occur if the diaphragm remains raised in its pre-nauli state. Those attempting to do nauli make this classic error of pushing the abdomen out which releases the diaphragm. Instead, maximum emphasis stays on the diaphragm being raised, creating a strong vacuum or suction within the abdomen. If strong enough the central nauli will come automatically, and if not then a small “push” from just above the pubis symphysis is required with the diaphragm staying in its raised position. What manifests is an isolation of the abdominal rectus muscle, showing maximum to the observer’s eye in the upper abdomen. However, it is only maintained, and subsequently churned, by keeping the diaphragm raised and the effort directed from the lower abdomen.

10. From PRE-NAULI to Nauli and their Shared Benefits
A clear understanding of the technique of “nauli” reveals that it is the entire effort of “pre-nauli” followed by abdominal recti movements. Thus, the benefits of the final state of “nauli” are just an amplified level of those gained by doing “pre-nauli”. Many find the practice of “nauli” difficult to almost impossible to do. However, the emphasis should be entirely on perfecting a “pre-nauli” diaphragm raise and subsequent suction of the abdomen. In so doing the majority of the benefits of “nauli” are achieved, “pre-nauli” is perfected, and the following step to achieve “nauli” actually becomes possible with time.

The hatha texts describe “nauli” as being wondrous for digestion, good health, increased energy, and longevity. A modern understanding of how the body works identifies that just by “pre-nauli” alone the impact on every bodily system is felt – digestion, elimination, cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, endocrine, urinary, reproductive, respiratory and integumentary – with “nauli” bringing a more intense effect to each system and, in addition, being able to literally massage and move the abdominal viscera. No other technique, not even skillful massage, can achieve such visceral effect as the process of “pre-nauli” and “nauli” involve a voluntary and willful use of the inner wall of the abdominal muscles which are fascially connected directly to the inner abdominal organs.

11. Conclusion

It should be clear from these descriptions that the three previously referred to scenarios terming “uddiyana bandha” indiscriminately are correctly termed as follows:

(1) Uddiyana Zone activity, driven by the lower abdomen with upper abdomen subsequently engaged, to be used in posture management, whether sitting or doing asana or breathwork;
(2) Pre-Nauli as the stage directly before nauli, with a raised diaphragm and passive abdomen;
(3) Uddiyana Bandha proper as a mudra, strong force in the lower abdomen felt in the upper
abdomen, applied during kumbhaka into exhale while in a specific seated posture.
“Pre-nauli” requires a strong exhale from the lower abdomen, “uddiyana zone”, followed by a pause in the breath, relaxation of the entire abdomen, and a reverse contraction of the diaphragm on its central tendon, the proverbial raising, or “uddiyana”, of the diaphragm. This then advances into “nauli”, a kriya, or cleansing practice, when the recti are isolated and eventually rotated. At no point in this activity does it relate to “uddiyana bandha”, the mudra defined in the hatha texts. “Uddiyana bandha” also uses
“uddiyana zone”, the lower abdomen, to apply force, especially in its full expression whereby the practitioner will also feel force in the upper abdomen at the end of breath retention and through the exhale. However, when “uddiyana bandha” is done in standard asana and breath practice it is better known as a gradient of activity across “uddiyana zone” that manages the bodily posture and completes the exhale.
Clearly then the act of exhaling and raising the diaphragm with a passive abdomen is the preliminary stage of the kriya practice known as “nauli”, and henceforth called “PRE-NAULI”, or in Sanskrit, “Purva Nauli”.

Notes:
1. Hathapradipika on Mulabandha, chapter 3, verses 60-68
2. Hathapradipika on Uddiyana bandha, chapter 3, verses 54-59
3. Hathapradipika, chapter 3, verse 56: “Pull back the part of the abdomen and raise it to the level
above the navel. This is Uddiyana Bandha, a lion to the elephant – death.
4. Hathapradipika, chapter 3, verse 58: “One should with effort pull (backwards) the parts above and
below the navel (the abdomen including the navel). By practicing this for six months one, verily,
conquers (premature) death.
5. Hathapradipika, chapter 3, verses 5-8
6. Hathapradipika, chapter 2, verses 34 and 35, refer to “nauli”, as a kriya, only describing the final
stage of the practice where the abdomen is rotated but calling it the “crown of hatha practices”.
7. Gheranda Samhita, chapter 1, verse 51, makes one short reference to “lualiki”, another name for
“nauli”, under the section on kriya practices or cleansing techniques.
8. Yoga Mimamsa, the pioneering scientific journal of Kaivalyadhama, first published in 1924,
featured in its volume 1, issue 1, a study by x-ray examination on the effect of uddiyana of the
diaphragm and “nauli” practice.
9. Pranayama by Swami Kuvalayananda, chapter 2, pp.23-24, section “Uddiyana Bandha or The
Raising of the Diaphragm”, wherein the stage to arrive at nauli is described and named as a
bandha with an uddiyana of the diaphragm.
10. Gheranda Samhita, chapter 3, verses 8 and 9 describe “uddiyana” in a similar way to
Hathapradipika as one of 25 mudras. Verse 18 suggests the performance of “uddiyana” in “mahabandha” to perform “mahavedha”.
References:
Ghosh, S. (2004). The Original Yoga. (includes Gheranda Samhita)
Kaivalyadhama. (1924). Yoga Mimamsa Volume 1, no. 1. (October 1924)
Kuvalayananda, Swami. (1931, 1966). Pranyama: Kaivalyadhama.
Svatmarama. (1983). Hathapradipika: light on the teachings of hatha yoga. The original 13th century
classical work on hatha. In S. Digambarji (Ed.): Kaivalyadhama.

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