Hasta and Pada Bandha
In almost every yoga class, text, and workshop we hear about the Bandhas. The Bandhas most often referenced are Mula, Uddiyana, and Jalandhara. These are integral to asana practice and are the framework around which we move through sadhana. However, another key building block to alignment and embodiment is at the very foundation itself, our hands and feet, hastas and padas respectively.
Most asanas are built upon the feet, hands, or both. Just as with a house, a strong foundation is necessary to support the body in a healthy and engaged manner. Not only does awareness and engagement of our hands and feet protect them and the proximal body parts, their level of engagement is reflected through the entire body. The body is a whole with subtly kinetic moving parts that do not move independently. When you lift your arm, not only does the limb lift, the side body lengthens, the spine lengthens, core starts to engage, and so on and so forth. By correctly placing and engaging our hands and feet, we can encourage alignment and embodiment throughout the entire body.
Hasta means hand, and bandha means lock. Hasta Bandha is foundational to any pose where there is weight on the hands, including Downward Facing Dog, Upward Facing Dog, Plank, Chaturanga, Handstand, Crow, and Wheel. This bandha is a cupping and enlivening of the hands as they are connected to the ground. This engagement protects the wrists and provides stability all the way up to the shoulder.
From standing or seated, bring hands to prayer. Press the palms together and point your fingertips forward so that you can see the heels of your hands. Notice that there is no space between the heels of your palms. Now point your fingertips upward and press the finger pads into each other and the mounds at the base of each finger together. Continue this engagement as you press especially into the mounds of the first finger and thumb, avoiding pressure on the inner heel of the hand. Notice that the centers of the palms have suctioned outwards, creating a vacuum-like space in between the hands. As you point the fingers forward, you will see a space in between the center of the palms big enough to fit a pencil. This is the carpal tunnel, the passageway on the wrist that connects the hand to the forearm.
Next, try to find Hasta Bandha with your hands on the mat in Tabletop. Lift the center of the palms and press into the finger mounds and tips. You will notice that through this activation, the arms become strong and straight and the shoulders stabilize and engage. Transition to Downward Facing Dog, keeping the Bandha active. Notice that the length of the arms feeds the length of the spine with little effort. It should feel as if energy is traveling up through your palms and down the back, and the body is wrapped around this internal force.
Pada means foot, so this activation is the Foot Lock. Pada Bandha technique balances the weight of the body in the triangle formed by the big toe, little toe, and heel. The inner arch lifts and engages to send energy up the legs and lead to Mula Bandha. Pada Bandha also provides centeredness, stability, and balance. It strengthens the arches of the feet, which are key to healthy posture, and engages and tones the muscles in the lower body.
The direction in which we press the feet also translates all the way up the body and affects the alignment go the asana.
Stand in Tadasana with the feet hip-width apart. Knock the knees in towards each other to collapse the inner arch. Now, lift the inner arches and distribute weight evenly across the tripod of the foot - big toe, little toe, and heel. Notice how the legs automatically come back into line under the hips. Feel the upward force of energy lift from the feet up the inner legs to the lower belly. Feel a slight activation deep inside the core as the feet gently activate Mula Bandha, which in turn encourages Uddiyana Bandha.
In Warrior One, lift the inner arches and press into the tripod of the feet. The inner arch activation keeps the knee in line over the ankle. Press the front foot forward on the mat, heel to ball, to keep the hips square.
Lift the inner arch of the back foot to activate the back leg. Press that foot backward, ball to heel. This action keeps the back leg active and encourages buoyancy and grounding.
Set up your Warrior 2 front heel to back arch. Actively lift the inner arches of the feet. Once again this keeps the front knee in line with the ankle and activates the back leg.
Press the front foot forward and out, from the heel to the big toe mound to the little toe mound, This action is similar to trying to open a jar. This encourages the front inner thigh to press to the side, further encouraging proper alignment in the lower body from the front foot to the corresponding hip.
Activate the back foot the same way as you did in Vira 1. Press the foot backward, from ball to heel. This activates the leg and brings the corresponding hip to face forward. This also engages the glutes for stability and strength.
Through these explorations we are able to internalize the importance of our foundation. Notice how by cuing and activating the feet, there is no need to use many other cues. There is no need to tell students to press the knee out, press the thigh out, do so and so with the hip, because these foundational aspects bring everything into alignment in a more comprehensive and natural way then to break apart each aspect and body part from the whole.
Have fun practicing and don't forget your hastas and padas!