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Ayurveda and Digestion

October 3, 2011
In the Rig Veda, life and longevity, or Ayur, is defined as Agni or fire, which is our life-essence. Ayurveda,‘fire medicine’, is the traditional natural healing system of India, which uses food, herbs, bodywork, yoga and meditation for both physical and psychological healing, taking into account our lifestyles and all that we do as encouraging health or disease. Ayurveda views human health as intimately connected with the environment and with the forces of nature, so therefore has a profound understanding of the role of the elements of space, air, fire, water and earth for healing purposes.
Ayurveda recognizes fire, Agni, on a physical level as the key to all bodily processes, focussing strongly on the digestive fire, jathar agni, as the key to health. If we learn to harness, regulate and balance our own internal fires, we can create this well-being within ourselves. Sometimes the ayurvedic view on digestion can seem complex; however the methods used are simple, as we saw in the previous article on jathar agni. Now, from agni sara, we can move onto nauli kriya.
Ease yourself slowly into practicing this powerful cleansing technique… as with all other yogic practices, there’s no rush. If we build our yoga practices patiently over time and with awareness, we begin to understand the effects on our bodies and mind, learning to recognize when to use them in our daily lives according to how we are feeling.
Before attempting nauli, first be comfortable with uddiyana bandha. Also referred to as the abdominal/belly lift, uddiyana bandha is the second of the three keyyogic energy locks. The Gheranda Samhita says “of all the bandhas, this is the best”. Uddiyana bandha increases jathar agni, helps to tone, cleanse and massage the internal digestive organs, stabilise the retention of the breath, stimulate blood circulation in the abdomen and blood flow to the brain, and stimulates and lifts the energy of the lower belly up towards the navel and heart. The cautions are the same as with agni sara: do not do this if you have eaten a meal 2 hours before, are pregnant, or suffer from chronic diarrhoea, heart conditions, respiratory ailments, glaucoma, hiatus hernia, ulcers of the stomach or intestine, high blood pressure or abdominal surgery. If at all unsure, consult your doctor for medical advice.
Begin by standing with feet about half a metre apart with your knees bent, hands resting on knees for support. Practiced on its own, uddiyana bandha can be done sitting, standing or lying flat on the back. For now we are going to look at uddiyana bandha standing, as from there we will proceed to nauli. As with agni sara, work towards an elongated spine, trying not to round the back. Engage mula bandha, as it helps lead naturally into agni sara and uddiyana bandha.

Relaxing as much as possible into your position, close your eyes and see how your belly feels. Begin with three rounds of abdominal breathing, and three rounds of agni sara, keeping your abdomen nice and relaxed. Uddiyana bandha is described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as the rising or flying bandha, “because through this practice, the great bird shakti flies upward with ease.” Keeping this in mind, allow the last exhale from agni sara to be through pursed lips, emptying as much air out as possible without straining. Then tuck your chin down to your chest and raise your shoulders – this is the third lock, jalandhara bandha. Now, without inhaling, pull your abdomen in towards the spine and up into the rib cage.

Hold this still only for as long as you are comfortable, allowing your belly to relax before inhaling through the nose, slowly and with control. Breath normally for a few breaths before continuing, building the practice over time.

Once you are comfortable with uddiyana bandha, you can start practicing nauli. Many of us have seen practiced yogis (and some non-yogis!) perform nauli, and when we try it ourselves, we look nowhere near anything like the pictures… don’t worry – just have your smile ready end enjoy the journey!
Nauli Kriya is seen as a blessing to humanity. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “it is the foremost of the hatha yoga practices. It kindles the digestive fire, removing indigestion, sluggish digestion and all disorders of the doshas, and brings about happiness.” Nauli is performed in stages, the aim being to isolate the abdominal muscles left, right and centre, then churning them from one side to another! Follow the same precautions as uddiyana bandha.

Stage I : vama nauli and dakshina nauli (left and right isolation)

Whilst in uddiyana bandha, lift the right hand slightly off the knee, keeping pressure on the left hand and knee, but try not to lean too much into the left knee. This automatically isolates the rectus abdominus muscles to the left (vama nauli). To release, go back to uddiyana bandha and release as described above. Do the same on the other side, isolating the muscles to the right (dakshina nauli). Practice this until you are comfortable before moving on.
Stage II : madhyama nauli (central abdominal contraction)

From stage I, start to roll the muscles from left to right, but before they reach the opposite side, hold them in the middle. This is where your sense of humour comes in! If this seems impossible, try slowly shifting the weight to the hand that was lifted from the knee. Keep both hands resting with equal pressure on the knees when holding in the middle. Gradually, over time, learn to contract the muscles only without shifting weight from one knee to the other, keeping both hands fixed on the legs. Once comfortable here, you can start to practice with your hands on the upper thighs.


Stage III : Abdominal rotation/churning

Practice vama nauli and then roll the muscles to the right and back to the left in a circular clockwise direction, and then reverse into an anti-clockwise direction. This may, however, lead to rolling around on the floor in fits of giggles! Start by practicing once or twice consecutively, then release, increasing the amount of churning over time. The full benefits of nauli can be achieved by a slow, gentle, controlled churn, so don’t think you have to be Speedy Gonzalez when practicing nauli.

To complete and close the practices of uddiyana bandha and nauli, close your eyes, finish with three rounds of abdominal breathing, and see how your belly feels compared to when you started.
When balanced, our inner fires have a profound healing potential, and it is my hope that these articles have stimulated your appetite so you continue to explore different yoga practices, observing how they make you feel and finding ways to integrate them into your lifestyle. In the next issue we will look at asanas that help with digestion, how to cope after a heavy meal and some general pointers to help keep our jathar agni flame burning. Until then, happy churning!
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Brenda grew up in Pretoria and has been practicing yoga for the past 15 years. She now lives in a beautiful part of Scotland where she runs regular classes, workshops and the successful ChillOut Yoga Teacher Training School. Brenda is planning some exciting workshops in South Africa in 2012 and beyond. More info on www.chilloutyoga.co.uk, or email: welcome@chilloutyoga.co.uk , phone +44 1877 389302, or sms +44 7791 385240.
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