"Just as the bird soars into the sky, so does man score a victory over death, like a lion over an elephant, thanks to the vitality procured from uddiyana bandha."
This metaphor from 'Yogacudamani Upanishad' shows the importance attached to uddiyana bandha in the yogic tradition. The effect of uddiyana is that it causes prana to fly up sushumna nadi. Medical science can say little to affirm or reject this idea, and uddiyana still retains some dust of mystery. It is interesting that nauli, which is associated with uddiyana, was the first yogic practice to be thoroughly investigated by scientific methods.
In the beginning of this century Swami Kuvalyananda disproved the hypothesis that during basti (the yogic enema) water is sucked into the colon by antiperistalsis. He performed many measurements and proved that nauli creates a negative (sub-atmospheric) pressure, which may suck water into the colon.*1 We recently repeated his classical uddiyana experiments and published our results in a Czech medical journal. In our experiment,*2 the negative pressure in the stomach was found to vary on the average from minus 18 mm. Hg (2.3 kPa) in a slender female student to minus 44 mm. Hg (5.9 kPa) in a professional dancer.
After deep exhalation, the breath is held, and the intercostal muscles perform the inspiratory movement of expansion of the thorax, while the glottis remains closed. The negative intrathoracic pressure so created, draws the relaxed diaphragm up, and the effect is transferred into the abdominal cavity. As a result, the relaxed abdominal wall is passively drawn in. During nauli, the isolated abdominal muscles also contract, so that the negative intra-abdominal pressure increases still further.
During uddiyana the negative pressure created in the thorax is higher still, causing the blood in the abdominal veins to be sucked into the heart. Simultaneously, fresh arterial blood is drawn into the internal organs. Peristalsis is stimulated, and the internal organs, including the heart, are mechanically massaged. The mechanical stimulation of the autonomic nerve fibres and their plexuses also occurs. Systematic practice strengthens the inspiratory muscles and increases the mobility of the diaphragm, the most important respiratory muscle.
Uddiyana is a relatively easy technique which can be performed inconspicuously, e.g. in the normal standing posture during daily work. In conjunction with other yogic practices, uddiyana can be very useful therapeutically. Under expert guidance and in conjunction with proper medical care, patients with chronic gastrointestinal disorders can be benefited very much by uddiyana, nauli and agnisara dhauti. These practices also relieve anxiety and are probably very valuable in prevention of various psychosomatic diseases.
The quotation from 'Yogacudamani Upanishad' is a veiled reference to the awakening of kundalini from mooladhara, the base chakra, whose vehicle is an elephant and element is earth, up to manipura, represented by the lion and the element fire. Uddiyana and nauli belong to the shatkriyas of hatha yoga. These psycho-physiological techniques bring a state of balance between the prana in the ida and pingala nadis, corresponding to a focusing and integration of the mental and vital forces in particular physiological systems.
In medical science the concept of a balance between the sympathetic (excitatory) and parasympathetic (relaxatory) limbs of the autonomic nervous system as a prerequisite for a state of optimal health is fairly clear. Whether a third force, kundalini, which is neither mental nor vital but. spiritual, awakens in a third nadi, sushumna, as a result of this balance, is a matter of personal experience.
Kundalini can be understood in scientific, medically acceptable terms simply by working forwards from the state of disease and imbalance to the state of optimal healthy function, for example, from ulcerative colitis to perfect digestive health. Proper digestive power is a manifestation of kundalini awakening in manipura chakra, just as clear vision, both external and intuitive, is a sign of ajna chakra's awakening.
Full awakening of kundalini is the elusive state of perfect physical and mental health which by normal standards is impossible to achieve. This is the state of some great yogis. Perhaps doctors and scientists should take to these practices, under proper guidance, and try to understand and interpret their experiences in the light of the yogic scriptural descriptions. In this way yogic and medical psychophysiology will surely converge - for the two are experiencing and analysing the same single subject - the human body and mind.