Incense and oriental bells are time-honoured instruments to nudge us back into the present if our minds have gone elsewhere. Meditators know that if they don’t have a strong focus they will drift, probably often.
An even more powerful device for making us aware in the moment is our breath. In the practice of pranayama, we can listen to our breath, identify such nuances as tone, pace, and depth, and even locate it in various areas of our bodies. The variety of things we can notice about our breath is myriad, but staying with any strong focus will keep us in the moment.
The application of bandhas, sometimes called internal locks, is another refinement that grounds us in the present. Whether we practice using the bandhas in doing pranayama or asanas, these internal seals are transformative. Mulabhanda creates safe grounding from the the lift of the pelvic floor to the lower spine and prevents us from losing the energy we gain in yoga practice. Uddiyanabandha is done along with mulabhanda and the lift of the abdominal wall tones and massages the digestive organs. Jalandrabandha creates a vacuum at the base of the throat that mirrors the work of the lungs and leads to greater control of the breath in pranayama. This “chin lock” has subtle influences on the various glands of the throat and head: pituitary, pineal, thyroid, parathyroid, and thymus.
These locks require thoughtful application – a kind of sensitivity that comes from experience over time with the asanas. The bandhas, nevertheless, are worth exploring as a kind of physical meditation. Play with them when you have those daydreaming moments in the queue at Woolies or while waiting for the train.
Even better, if you’ve taken my advice and are a regular at the beach-goer now, try on the bandhas on your next beach walk.