Thursday, September 02, 2010


In April, senior ashtanga teacher Lino Miele told us that in the ashtanga vinyasa yoga system, Jalandhara Bandha (the chin-lock) is not used during the asana (posture) portion of practice. He said that it is only used for pranayama (breathing). “There are a few things that Guruji [Sri K. Pattabhi Jois] was very particular to teach,” he said. “This is how I know if it came from him or somewhere else.

“Once the guru dies, everyone goes like this,” he said, spreading out his arms. “I don't want to go like this.”

In August, David Williams (the first American to study with Pattabhi Jois) took me aside before his workshop, and told me that he liked my article about Lino, but that it was wrong when it came to Jalandhara Bandha. He said that the chin-lock is done in every pose. He had a text by Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (the guru of Pattabhi Jois) to back him up. It said, "When I explain the rules of yogasana [yoga postures], if the position of the head has not been specified, then keep the head in jalandhara bandha."

I said to DW that the correct response would be to write a letter to the editor. DW said he did not want to pursue it. I said that ashtanga is interesting that way; in April, Lino Miele said that Mula Bandha (the root lock) means to pull up the anus. From my Yoga Chicago article:

When he was writing the books with Guruji (they also completed a book on advanced A and B series, which has not yet been published), Lino said he brought in some other yoga books, and told Guruji he was confused about mula bandha. “Gurji threw away the books. He said, ‘I am the book. You and I are writing the book, and you go to other books?'

“OK, Guruji--but where is mula bandha?”

“‘The anus.'”

I told DW that a month later, Tim Miller (the first American certified to teach the ashtanga system) came to town and told us that Mula Bandha does not mean to pull up the anus. From my article in the September/October Yoga Chicago, which is not yet online:

Tim began “The Mysterious and Elusive Bandhas” by explaining, “mula bandha [root lock] doesn’t mean to contract your anus.” Instead, the action involves lifting the tailbone towards the pubic bone.

I told DW that I found the differences rather amusing.

As for the chin-lock, I recalled that the old pictures of Pattabhi Jois show him doing something like it in the seated forward bends (one year, David Roche, who is a certified teacher *and* a big-time mixer, came to town and had us do all the poses old-school like that. It felt good on the back, and it was easier to catch the bottom two locks. But it did not feel right).

I figured that at some point, it shifted to from chin-to-chest to chin-to-shin in the seated forward bends, with eyes towards the feet.

What I didn't say was that at some point these debates are a bit like the war over which side to open the hard-boiled egg on in the Lilliput section of Gulliver's Travels.

After my discussion with David W, I attended his led primary series workshop at his invitation. He had the students do Jalandhara Bandha in each and every pose.

The following week, the regular Mysore students were still practicing that way, and we had a discussion. I said that the reason for many differences is that Guruji's teachings evolved over the years. (What I did not say is that many differences are due to younger / newer / careless instructors teaching incorrectly, which is a whole 'nother post). I said that I tend to go with my own 12 months of experience with Guruji and what Lino says, since he spent so much time with Guruji trying to get everything straight. After all, how can you look at your foot (the correct dristi, or gaze, in most seated forward bends) if your chin is at your chest? I suggested they find some sort of middle way: neck neutral, eyes towards feet, forehead relaxed. But when I practice, I do chin-to-shin.

On Tuesday, I found Jason Stein's notes from a July 28, 2004 conference with Guruji and Sharath in Mysore:

"Jalandhara bandha is only to be engaged during pranayama, not during asana practice."

Straight from the Guru. To Jason. To you.

Although Jason adds a caveat:

"Take as gospel at your own risk."


  1. Thanks for posting this! For years, I've been hearing different things from different teachers regarding Jalandhara. It's a relief to know that the opinions are mixed!

    Looks like 'shades of gray' to me. I'll keep doing my practice and do what resonates for me.

  2. I think the correct way is to follow the Guru. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a traditional, complete system and not one of the newer American "styles" where one does what "feels good." Unless, of course, there is pain or injury - which should be avoided, or worked around.

  3. I've always wondered how, when and where drishti came about. Virtually no mention of it in Krishnamacharya's Makaranada but then the chin is mostly down in all the pictures (except for the kid who mostly looks at the camera), same goes for his Yogasanagalu, chin down lots of Jalahandrabandha.

    It's also how Ramaswami passes on what he was taught over his thirty years with K. So we know K was teaching chin down in the 30's and in the 50's through to the end of his teaching. Interestingly Jois has his chin down in ardha baddha padma paschimattanasana in Yoga mala but sharath is using all the different drishti's. In the text, of course, he gives the option of having the forehead or chin on the knee.
    My guess is that K taught both to J but as a rule kept the chin down in most poses. Some classic poses the chin down would become full Jalahandrabandha.
    I wonder if Jois taught both too but mostly chin down in the beginning which explains why DW thinks Jalahandra in every pose but by the time Lino come around, what, twenty years later he seems to be pinned down and formalizes the system. Lino has Drishti for every posture in his book but that's not the case in yoga Mala (occasionally he says gaze at the tip of your nose). I wonder was DW and those early guys taught drishti back in the 70's and 80's. If the chin is mostly down or in jalanhandra bandha there's no need to make it a big deal but once the chin is no longer fixed it becomes an issue.
    I follow Ramaswami's teaching now and keep my chin down in probably 90% of postures and full jalahandra wherever appropriate.

    Guess we'll never know.

  4. I would take what "the early guys" say with a grain of salt - unless they continued to study directly with SKPJ for years and years. Even then.... one must use viveka (discrimination). Some use their own experience and/or imperfect memory to decide how to teach it.

    You will like this: The Krishnamacharya text goes on to say that "Similarly , if it does not specify where to place the gaze, then the gaze should be directed towards the midbrow. If the position of the hands has not been specified, then the hands should be kept as in siddhasana [on knees]). Whenever there is a krama where some part of the body has to be held with the hand, and the placement of the hand has not bee described, hold the relevant part of the body with the first three fingers of hand (including the thumb). It is important to remember this.

    "When practicing the asanas, it is important to do both the right and left sides. First practise the right side and then the left side. If you don't do this, the strength of the yoga will not reach all parts of the body."

    (After DW showed me the text, Amy Beth grabbed it and made copies for us. I think it is technically not stealing if it is a rare text that no one could buy anyway, and this is the only way to pass it on).

  5. CK, what have you got there : ) would love to see a copy. I thought it sounded like the Yogarahasya but just flicked through mine and can't find it. Did find a sloka (73), that mentions some of the poses where you can practice jalahandra bandha, mainly the classic meditation postures and the next sloka says other yogi's practice it in some other poses like dandasana. So going by that not in everything.

    Was so confusing for me before, so many different dictates on how you should and shouldn't practice that were often contradictory, not surprising after reading the Guruji book (loving it btw) difficult when your practicing at home without a teacher. Nice now having Ramaswami. People would question in him in class about things, saying they thought something was supposed to practiced a different way. He would just smile gently and say he only knows to teach what and how his teacher taught him. I remember him saying he tried something a different way once, think it might have been a triangle pose, but that he was more comfortable with the way he was used to.

  6. Agreed! My favorite teachers (Guruji/Lino and Dharma/Chandra) practice and teach as their teaches/gurus taught them. That is correct parampara. When there is deviation, there is often some sort of ego involved (you may be surprised by the teachers to whom this applies). As Chandra used to remind us, during Dharma's 2007 training, "Don't think you know better than the teacher."

    The text is some badly photocopied pages (some missing).It is the Yoga Makaranda (pollen or fragrance of honey) or Yoga Saram (The Essence of Yoga). First Part. by Sri T. Krishnamacharya, Mysore Samasthan Acharya (Written in Kannada). Kannada edition 1934, Tamil edition 1938. Madurai CMW Press.

    I only have about ten pages of it - and much of it is pictures (NOTE: Krishnamacharya is grabbing the big toe of the straight-leg foot in Ardhabaddhapadma Pascimottanasana).

    The text is where I got the quote from my previous post, regarding the three obstacles to practice (Boy was THAT an unpopular post. It seems that no one is interested in giving up their personality/ego identification).

  7. Ahhh, Ok thought it sounded a bit familiar. We were lucky enough to study the full text and also his Yogarahasya In Ramaswami's Krishnamacharya class. It was wonderful we read them aloud line by line a paragraph each. Ramaswami would explain and expand on things with stories references etc after each paragraph. Highly recommend taking the class next time he's in Chicago.
    Must have missed your previous post will have a look.

  8. Your enthusiasm about his teachings is contagious. He's here next month, and it looks like I'm teaching / giving workshops the entire time. However I do think I can make it to at least one of his Sutra studies sessions.

    I took his workshop here in 2004. My article is here.

  9. Of course you wrote that, never looked at who wrote it. must have read it twenty times before I decided to go on the course. thank you so much for writing it so glad I went.

  10. I took his workshop aagain in 2005. Article is here.

    Here's an excerpt:

    'In yoga there are four parameters that connect the mind and body: steadiness and comfort are combined with smooth, long breath and mental focus on that breath. “If you are breathing heavily or hurried, you should not proceed with your practice,” he said. (I’ve said this in many of my classes and have found that it’s advice that’s not often followed--especially at health clubs.)

    'As the breath rate slows while you are practicing, it calms the mind. It calms the whole system as it stretches it. The breath rate and pulse calm down, and pranayama and meditation become more pleasant.” Several of Ramaswami’s longtime students attended the workshop, and their ujjayi breath (audible breathing in the back of the throat) was longer, smoother and more quietly powerful than I’d ever heard before--and made me consider following Ramaswami around the country, too.'

  11. You are SO welcome. Of course you would have found him anyway.

  12. John told me recently to use Jalandhara Bandha in viranchayasana B, first part. He said, "It's one of the only places." I guess it might be THE only place...

  13. Why would you believe him over SKPJ?

    (I try to do what the teacher says in their room, as long as it isn't dangerous - but at home, on my own, I go back to what I learned from the source).

  14. I know PJ would give different answers at different times. I'm pretty damned sure JC wouldn't have told me that if he hadn't been told the same thing, but to be sure I will ask!

    Whenever he talks about specific instructions, he's NEVER said, "Sharath said xyz." It's always been Guruji.

  15. I hear you. But it seems that in this case it's pretty clear that since at least the 1980s SKPJ has been saying no chin-lock in the asanas. (The pre-illness conference in 2004 was with SKPJ, with Sharath acting as the

  16. Maybe there are exceptions to the rule. It's funny but C gave me some new asana on a Tuesday once and said, "You're a problem child so..." He told me that Guruji gave David Life new asana on Tuesday and he was a problem child too.

    I know John doesn't adhere to the Tues rule if he doesn't feel like it as well.

    Probably not that important. As Rolf once said of the Gomukhasana hand position, "It's changed three times since I learned it. [demonstrates] You can do this, this, or this. Do what you want!"

  17. Hey Grimmly-

    Look at what I found while scanning Yoga Mala for info on the topic of this post:

    "For the very old, however, who find the practice of Sarvangasana, Halasana, Uttanapadasana, Shirshasana and Padmasana too difficult, it is enough to practice mahabandha daily, as well [various pranayamas]. These will help them live happier and longer lives, and will insulate them from disease."

  18. It seems that Rolf studied with the Guru steadily and for a long time (ie; he is not a newbie / he did not get his papers some time ago and never come back) *and* he paid close attention. Plus he's honest! That, to me, makes for a great teacher.

  19. He's studied with more than one guru, as per that other dude on his site, Baba Santosh Puri. He IS an extremely experienced & passionate teacher. I love how he says yoga is definitely an art form in the Guruji book.

  20. Before making art, one must copy the Masters.

  21. Yes... practice, working with good teachers, and retaining awareness of aesthetics!

    I just got to Dena Kingsberg's chapter & am really enjoying it btw.

    Richard Freeman's was painful for me :)

  22. Always seem to find something you missed ot prassed over or forgot about when I go back to Yoga mala, thanks for that one CK.

    one thing I've wondered about, in the sense of the bandhas as locks, is there a point of locking down one end and not the other?

    I read Tim Miller's last night, interesting how he was writing about Sharath out playing cricket in the street rather than practicing. As an Englishman, of course, one feels he had his priorities right .

  23. I don't have any source material regarding locking the bottom only; does Sri Ramaswami use the locks? I bet he'd have a great answer.

    I think that locking the top would be painful in many postures, since technically the chin should touch the chest (one may open the teeth to acheive this) and the tongue is pressed against the top two front teeth. It's interesting that DW didn't have us do Setu Bandhasana or Headstand (or Shoulderstand. Hard to avoid the chin-lock there!).

    My standard answer for the use of the bottom two locks is that they are used for:


    They have uses in specific poses as well; for example, in Pascomottanasana, Uddiyana Bandha lenghtens/protects the lower back, while Mula Bandha protects the hamstrings.

  24. Yes Ramaswami was always saying gently, 'bandhas please". Mula most of the time as in ashtanga but i think we might be using uddiyana a little more perhaps ( i probably over do it). We tend to have chin down most of the time as I mentioned but not the full lock as in pranayama, quite something when I learned to do that properly, very intense.
    As you say probably painful to do the full lock throughout rather than in just those handful of 'meditative postures'. One of the reasons he mentioned having the head tilted forward a little was for how it affects the spine, gently lifting/curving it, must admit I never much liked the looking up in Ashtanga. How's Dharma Mitra on that I wonder, up or down?

    MB protecting the Hamstrings, interesting, must experiment with that tomorrow.

  25. Dharma often has us close the eyes in postures and focus on the third eye as a form of Pratyahara/Dharana.

    The head position varies according to the pose but is often unspecified; in Mexico one year an ashtangi (not me) yelled out in the middle of practice, "Where's the Dristi?" and someone (me) said, "This is not ashtanga!" But it is specified in some postures; in Parvritta Parsvakonasana, for example, the face is turned up (not to the side). In Cobra, the head goes way, way back towards the feet (not my favorite!); the eyes are closed and the focus is on the lower back.

    I think it's easier to catch the locks with the chin tucked in slightly (as it is in Downward Dog). Tim Miller had us do Mr. Iyengar's Downward dog - wide and fully extended - and try to catch the locks. Not easy! Then he had us do Pattabhi Jois's short version, with back rounded and chin tucked. It was SO much easier to find the locks in SKPJ's version. That's why I think the chin is tucked in so many of those old photos. Tim had us try to find a hybrid, by the way.

  26. Curious the little differences, eyes closed quite a bit in VK too I think, I tend to through most of the tadasana sequence. Head is down in upward dog which was really hard for me to get used to . The gaze seems to be down or straight ahead in the twists. Third eye in Mantra meditation but the focus is on, I guess heart chakra, where you feel the breath centered, through most of the poses.

    i think these are details that the yoga korunta, if there ever was such a thing, probably never went into anyway. I imagine it being very broad strokes, breath and movement, key poses, some vinyasa and the merest mention of bandha, completely different from the explicit text written today. Perhaps something like the yogarhyasa or HYP, a mishmash of slokas perhaps some paintings if we're lucky. the rest would be chinese whispers from teacher to teacher.

  27. Yes, it seems like the old texts are like the sutras; bare-bones essentials leaving plenty of gaps for the teacher to fill in. I like that it's not analyzed to death; perhaps that's why I like ashtanga and Dharma's system. They don't focus on the minutiae of alignment and seem to believe it's already built in to the pose. Plus, there are other things to focus on (locks / breath / driste / vinyasa and, in Dharma's case, going within / offering the pose to God).

    I really like Sri Ramaswami's teaching style; how he says "please" and smiles. Very sweet. Yet so strict about correct pronunciation.

    One of the things I really love about the Guruji book is how often the more serious teachers say that they are concerned with teaching the practice in keeping with how Guruji taught it, and what a struggle it is. It's so true! But so important to do.