The body is incredibly complex. With over 200 bones, hundreds of muscles and just as many joints (as well as connective issue, nerves, organs and cells) it can be difficult to distill information about the body in a way that is easily digestible, and importantly, functional for students. One way we can do this is by breaking the systems of the body down into units of action. For example, when talking about several joints that work together for a common purpose we can refer to this is a ‘joint complex’ (e.g. the shoulder, or shoulder joint complex, comprises four joints).
There are nine major joint complexes in the body
- lumbar spine (mula bandha)
- thoracic spine (uddiyana bandha)
- cervical spine (jalandara bandha)
We can simplify things further still. When muscles work together for a common purpose around a joint complex we can refer to them as ‘muscle groups’.
The body’s main muscle groups, and thus the main actions of muscles around a joint, are
- internal rotation/external rotation
When we think of the actions of the body in this way we can simplify our understanding of anatomy while retaining key information about the way the body works. This is made easier by the fact that many muscles carry out more than one function around a joint. For example, around the hips, the muscles that are responsible for internal rotation are also responsible for adduction and flexion.
What are bandhas?
When stabilizing the body in yoga we use bandhas. A bandha is defined as:
The co-activation of opposing muscles around a joint complex (for example, the simultaneous co-activation of flexors and extensors or of adductors and abductors etc).
A bandha is a physical and energetic lock. Bandhas stabilize our joints and control the flow of prana through the body. In order to understand how bandhas work it is important to understand the principle of reciprocal relaxation. The principle of reciprocal relaxation states that:
When muscles on one side of a joint switch on, the muscles on the other side of the joint switch off.
You will notice that this is actually the opposite of what we are trying to do when we activate bandhas. To activate a bandha we need to switch both sets of muscles on at the same time. We can do this if we understand that some muscles have more than one function around a joint. For example, we may want to create a bandha around the shoulder joint complex by simultaneously activating the shoulder adductors and abductors. The principle of reciprocal relaxation states that if the shoulder abductors are switched on, the shoulder adductors will automatically switch off, however, if we know that the muscles responsible for adduction of the shoulder are also responsible for shoulder depression we can trick the muscles into working in their capacity as shoulder depressors in order to create the bandha.
This same principle applies around all joint complexes in the body. Interested? Great! More on this to come…