Yoga is for everyone!
A special installment on this subject, because it is probably the single most important alignment technique that will keep you safe in your poses and allow you to reap the most benefit from them. Jalandhara Bandha, or chin lock, is one of the very few alignment instructions passed down to us from the ancient Yogis. There are no instructions on where to put your feet, how to line up your knee with the second toe, etc. But neck alignment and Jalandhara Bandha get a lot of attention, and for good reason.
For one, I am dismayed by the neck alignment I see in Yoga journals, Youtube, and other sources. The way the ancient Yogis practiced their poses may not necessarily be appropriate for the Western practitioner today. Alignment without consideration of function is rather useless, if not harmful. Our Western modern necks are very stressed by hours of sitting in front of the computer and driving. Our heads are often displaced too far forward, which places excess strain and stress on the neck - for every inch your head is forward from the plum line, your neck muscles have to support 30 pounds of extra weight.
The cervical curve, like the lumbar curve, is there for a reason - to distribute the loads of gravity efficiently. The cervical and the lumbar curves are "sympathetic" in the sense that tension in one quickly communicates to the other. Practitioners who allow their necks to hyper-extend, who lead with the chin and drop their heads back deeply risk stressing not only their necks, but their low back as well, because proper neck alignment ensures proper core engagement.
To feel this in action lie on your belly with your arms propped up in the Sphinx Pose. Shrug your shoulders up to your ears and hunch your upper back, jutting the chin forward and feel how your belly responds and assess the sensations in your low back. To compare, draw the shoulder blades down the back, move the top of the throat (hyoid bone) back and up, extending through the crown of the head while at the same time tucking the chin slightly towards the chest. Relax the jaw. Notice how the tone in your abdomen changes, how the core muscles firm up, how your low back feels supported.
This alignment is just a hint of Jalandhara Bandha, which itself is a much deeper tuck of the chin towards the lifted chest, and is used to affect the energy flows in the body. It is a strong action with powerful energetic effects. In our Asana practice it is enough to do only 10-20 percent of it. In every Yoga pose it can be a great boon to engage your chin lock, because not only are you keeping your neck free of tension and strain, you are communicating a sense of ease and support to your low back as well.
There is more to this than just pure mechanics. Ancient Yogis had such fine-tuned body awareness (there were no distractions of modern life), that it is possible they could feel very subtle processes inside them. Like, glands secreting hormones, for example. They did not have the medical knowledge that we do today, they did not have medical equipment such as the MRI to get a glimpse inside the body, but maybe they could feel the glands in the brain, Pineal, Pituitary, and Hypothalamus, secreting important stuff. They certainly gave that stuff a name: Amrit, or nectar of immortality, because they could tell that these secretions played an important role in aging. They noticed that poor posture restricted blood flow to these glands, and good posture improved it, and their function. They talked about "cheating death" with proper neck alignment, and it could very well have been the reason why - proper hormonal balance keeps us younger longer.
In addition to this, breathing and Pranayama are greatly improved with proper neck alignment when the back palate is left open for Ujjayi breathing, and the vibrations of the air as it passes in and out stimulate additional blood flow to these important glands.
Nowhere is this more important than in poses that are potentially weight-bearing for the neck, such as Bridge, Plow, Shoulder Stand, and Head Stand. I no longer teach Head Stand because it is too much stress on the neck in my view, and I modify Shoulder Stand to make sure the neck maintains its natural neck curve. In Bridge Pose it is important to maintain a neutral neck curve to encourage circulation to the brain, which is one of the main functions of the pose. Latest scientific discoveries also indicate that there are lymphatic channels in the brain, although so small that until recently nobody could see them. And lymph, as we know, flows upwards, so inversions may benefit our immune system, especially if they are gentle on the neck.
For a more visual and detailed account, watch my Youtube video on the subject, which is actually two parts, that's how important I think this alignment is.
Hope this helps!
Hi, and thank you for this very useful session. I liked a a lot your smooth and slow clarifications. and would love to learn more about yoga therapy through you.