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The Bandhas: Learn the Technique and Transform Your Yoga Practice

Joanne Moules
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We yogis know that our wonderful practice strengthens the body, mind and heart, so it comes as no surprise that much of the practice itself is not seen with the naked eye. The deeper, internal work we do during our yoga practice yields the greater benefits to our body and system as a whole.
 
There are ancient yogic techniques that have been used for thousands of years to empower the yoga practice and in turn empower our lives. One of these practices is the bandhas. The word “bandha” means lock, bond, or to capture. In the yogic sense, locks are what we place in the body during our practice to deepen our internal energy (prana) flow.
 
Think of the bandhas as mechanisms we can activate for containing and directing the flow of prana.
 

So what are the bandhas, anyway?

Now we are ready to delve a little deeper! There are three main bandhas: the Mula Bandha (root lock), Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal lock) and Jalandhara Bandha (chin/neck lock).
 
Physically the bandhas constrict, contain and direct energy upwards and through our bodies. They also provide an awareness and extra muscular support to vital areas of the muscular/skeletal frame preventing injuries (such as Mula Bandha protecting the lower back and Jalandhara protecting the neck).
 
As an example, by engaging Mula Bandha in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), the pelvis drops into alignment and the awareness of the energy force grounding us to the earth becomes more prevalent, and a greater sense of the ‘inner world’ of the posture is discovered.
 
All three energetic locks are seated along our main central axis of energy movement – the spine – and alongside other health benefits, work to contain and direct our pranic flow.
 
Without guidance, the energy flowing within our body wishes to travel down toward Mother Earth. However, to reach a state of consciousness and deepen the connection with ourselves and the universe, we want to direct our energies up through the chakra system and outward.
 

Think of the bandhas as mechanisms we can activate for containing and directing the flow of prana.

 
But don’t be fooled into thinking that the bandhas are merely for those who desire a spiritual growth and connection. The physical benefits of mastering the bandhas are equally wondrous.
 

Let’s take a look at each individual bandha, how it works, and how to apply it in a physical yoga pose:

 

Mula Bandha (Root Lock)

This bandha at the center of the pelvic floor and is a slight ‘lifting’ of the muscles. I like to imagine the pelvic floor as a hammock-like structure suspended from the coccyx, front pubis and two sit bones.
 
Seated at the perineum, Mula Bandha is possibly the most difficult bandha to master, but is enormously powerful. Mula Bandha connects us with Mother Earth, grounding us to the earth’s energies. It restricts our prana’s natural downward flow, encouraging and pushing the energy up toward the solar plexus.
 
Our nervous, circulatory, respiratory and endocrine systems are all strengthened, as is our internal energy system when we practice Mula Bandha. The breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure are all reduced, and it will also help improve digestion. In a physical sense, this root lock helps you gain a sense of stability and strength during specific poses in your yoga practice.
 

Practice activating the Mula Bandha:

Sit, lie or stand – as long as you are comfortable and relaxed. The best position is cross-legged but this is your yoga, so if a chair is more comfortable then go for it. Ensure shoulders are relaxed, spine tall and eyes lightly closed.

  • Step 1: The first step is knowing which muscles are lifting, or being activated. For men, this is the central perineum, and for women it is the cervix. Imagine you are looking at the pelvis from above. It is a beautiful bowl shape with a diamond shape at the center. The top of the diamond is the front pubic bone, the bottom of the diamond is the anus, and the sides of the diamond are the two sit bones.
  • Step 2: The center of the diamond is the muscle that you are activating, called the levator ani, which is part of the pelvic floor. Contract the center of the diamond and explore how it feels. Take your awareness around the diamond shape. Notice which other muscles have also contracted. When you first start, it is virtually impossible to hold Mula Bandha without squeezing the anus, but with practice you will be able to isolate it more easily.
  • Step 3: Begin to contract Mula Bandha in time with your breathing pattern. As you inhale, slowly lift and squeeze the muscles and release as you exhale. Gradually you will be able to hold the bandha continuously.

Eventually you will be able to engage Mula Bandha during meditation and pranayama with ease. It is especially useful during many yoga poses, so practice a posture with and without Mula Bandha and observe the sensations.
 
Practice activating the Mula Bandha in Tadasana, Downward Dog, and Warrior II.
 
Ladies: Do not practice Mula Bandha in the first 3 days (or heaviest part) of your period.
 

Uddiyana Bandha (Abdominal Lock)

To encourage the flow of energy from our solar plexus up to our hearts, we use Uddiyana Bandha, an abdominal lock.
 
This lock strengthens our abdominal muscles and diaphragm, massages our heart, lungs and solar plexus, benefits our digestive system by cleaning the tract of toxins, assists in elimination and increases blood flow to the lungs, chest and brain.
 
In a physical sense, this abdominal lock helps stabilize and strengthen the body during specific poses in our yoga practice.
 
Some traditions and instructors teach varying methods of attaining Uddiyana Bandha, so I suggest following the points below and then experimenting and seeing how it feels for yourself.
 

Practice activating the Uddiyana Bandha:

Find yourself in an easy position. For beginners I would advise standing, but you can also be seated. Eyes are open. Some teachers instruct for the torso to be rounded to begin and then straighten, others advise staying rounded, and some begin with the torso upright. Experiment and find what works best for you.

  • Step 1: Rest the heel of your hands at the top of your thighs and apply a little pressure onto the thighs, ‘bracing’ the upper body to your legs. This creates a downward and forward motion with the upper body which is then going to be beautifully counter-acted with the lock.
  • Step 2: Inhale deeply through the nose and exhale forcefully.
  • Step 3: Perform a ‘mock’ inhale. To do this, inhale but close off the back of the throat to prevent air from actually entering the lungs. The diaphragm and chest will both lift and the ribs will widen.
  • Step 4: Pull all the abdominal region in and up towards the spine to completely hollow out the belly. All abdominal muscles and internal organs are held and underneath the rib cage.

Hold the lock for as long as you can comfortably hold the breath out. Once ready to inhale, release the lock slowly and take a nice big inhale.
 
Practice activating Uddiyana Bandha on its own first before attempting to incorporate it into yoga poses.
 
This bandha should not be practiced during pregnancy. Uddiyana Bandha must always be practiced on an empty stomach.
 

Jalandhara Bandha (Chin/Neck Lock)

The chin/neck lock is used to direct our energy up from the throat towards our third eye, creating that awesome connection with universe.
 
It is fantastic for regulating our circulatory and respiratory system and stimulating our thyroid, which in turn regulates our metabolism and cures diseases of the throat.
 
In a physical sense, this lock helps lengthen the spine during specific poses in our yoga practice.
 

Practice activating the Jalandhara Bandha:

Sit in a comfortable position.

  • Step 1: Inhale through your nose until your lungs are two thirds full and hold the breath in.
  • Step 2: Drop your chin towards your chest whilst keeping the back of the neck long.
  • Step 3: Allow shoulders to drop away from the ears and be heavy.
  • Step 4: Focus on the throat and hold the breath for as long as is comfortable.

When you are ready to release the throat lock, lift the chin slowly and take a long, smooth exhale.
 
Practice activating Jalandhara Bandha in Sukhasana or Lotus Pose. The Jalandhara Bandha can be combined with Uddiyana Bandha and Mula Bandha to create the Great Lock, or Maha Bandha.
 

 
Bandhas have been practiced for thousands of years and contain an element of control that otherwise goes unnoticed in your physical yoga practice. Playing around with our internal energies should not be taken lightly, but I do encourage you to experience how these bandhas alter your yoga practice.
 
Try doing a Downward Dog, first of all with no bandhas, and then engage Mula Bandha. What do you notice? For me, when I practice this, I become more aware of the ground underneath my hands and feet, and I feel a rush of energy into my head.
 
What about you? Practice engaging the bandhas and let us know in the comments below what changes you experienced in your yoga practice.
 
Namaste xx
 

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Joanne Moules

Inspired by her love of life and community, Jo specializes in teaching yoga to children with special needs and teens under 18. Also an online business coach, she mentors and supports other like-minded goddesses to achieve their goals. She will gladly admit that she is a Kundalini yoga chick but also enjoys and teaches a 'fusion' of different traditions - it's all yoga! When not teaching, coaching or writing, you'll find Jo at home in rural Lincolnshire, UK with her son playing at amateur dramatics and eating Indian food.

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