I’m sure most of you’ve heard your yoga teacher asking you to “hold or engage your bandhas”. What are these mysterious internal locks and how can they take off your yoga practice?
I am going to explain it in an easy words for you.
In Sanskrit Bandha means to lock, hold, or to stop. In the practice of a Bandha, the energy flow to a particular area of the body is blocked. When the Bandha is released, this causes the energy to flood more strongly through the body with an increased pressure.
The ancient yogi philosophers said that when you master the locks, your master the yoga practice, the practice on the outside – floating in and out of asanas, holding for long periods of time, and managing new positions – and the practice on the inside – consistent single pointed concentration, steady and long breath, and a calm, clear mind. And in a straight-up modern, western sense, the bandhas help you regulate and control all your internal systems, hormonal, sexual, metabolic, digestive, and more.
As the Bandhas momentarily stop the flow of blood, there is an increased flow of fresh blood with the release of the Bandha, which flushes away old, dead cells. In this way all the organs are strengthened, renewed and rejuvenated and circulation is improved.
Bandhas are also beneficial for the brain centres, the Nadis and the Chakras. The energy channels are purified, blockages released and the exchange of energy is improved. Bandhas alleviate stress and mental restlessness and bring about inner harmony and balance.
There are four types of Bandhas:
In Sanskrit mula means root, and thus Mula Bandha is the root lock. To find it, sit, stand, or even be in an asana, and if you are a man, contract the area between the anus and the testes. If you are a woman, contract the muscles at the bottom of the pelvic floor, behind the cervix. Initially the anal sphincter will also contract, but with time and practice you will be able to hone in on the Mula Bandha region and leave the rest aside.
Uddiyana Bandha: Moving up from mula bandha we have the second bandha, Uddiyana. In Sanskrit uddiyana means to fly up, or to rise up. This ‘flying up lock’ is thus all about your insides flying upwards, intangibly meaning your energy, tangibly meaning your diaphragm, stomach, and abdominal organs.
To find Uddiyana Bandha start standing up tall, feet about a meter apart. Inhale through your nose and reach your arms up alongside your ears. Exhale out of your mouth and fold forward placing your hands just above your knees. Without inhaling close your lips, straighten your elbows, and feel your abdominal wall and organs push up and back towards your back. It should feel somewhat like a suctioning back and up of everything on the inside. Retain as such for as long as possible, and exit the bandha via inhaling through your nose and standing up straight, raising your arms up along side your ears, then exhaling through your nose again as you move your arms down.
Uddiyana Bandha can be one of the most transformative aspects of your yoga practice, especially as you get more advanced. It moves the energy upwards with much more force than Mula Bandha, thus allowing you to invert and jump more easily, as well as float forward and back more lightly, and twist more deeply. Because the abdominal wall is pressing the organs and tissues of the abdominal cavity backwards, Uddiyana Bandha creates a soft massage for the deeper internal muscles of the lower back.
In a more day-to-day sense, Uddiyana Bandha is the ultimate remedy for abdominal and stomach ailments, from constipation to indigestion. It stimulates your digestive juices, thus increasing your metabolism, and tones your overworked abdominal organs. It also balances the adrenal system, relieving stress, lethargy and tension.
In Sanskrit jal means throat, jalan means net, and dharan means stream or flow. Thus in the most basic sense, Jalandhara Bandha can be considered the throat lock that controls the flow of energy in the nerves and blood vessels of the neck.
To find Jalandhara Bandha sit up tall, either in a comfortable cross legged position or on your shins with your butt on your heals. Place the palm of your hands on your knees. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, then bring your chin towards your neck and lift your sternum ever so slightly. Press down on your hands and straighten your elbows, pull your chin back further, and retain as long as possible. To exit lift your chin, inhale the remainder of capacity into your lungs, and exhale.
Unlike the first two, Jalandhara Bandha is normally performed in combination with specific breathing practices, and rarely done on its own. That said, it is immensely powerful, as it compresses the sinuses on the main arteries of the neck and in doing so helps regulate the circulatory and respiratory systems. The pressure on the throat helps to balance the thyroid and metabolism.
Maha Bandha: This the big Kahuna. Maha in Sanskrit means great, and Maha Bandha is the combination of all three aforementioned bandhas.
Sit in a comfortable seat, on your shins or cross legged, palms of the hands on the thighs or knees. Inhale fully through your nose, and exhale completely through your nose. Squeeze squeeze squeeze until every last drop is out. Without inhaling engage Mula Bandha, then find Uddiyana Bandha. Inhale a tiny bit and lift your chest, and from there engage Jalandhara Bandha. Retain, pressing your palms down, as long as possible. When you have had enough, lift your head, inhale fully, and release all the bandhas.
Maha Bandha gives the benefits of all three bandhas and regulates the entire endocrine system.
So it’s pretty simple – just lock them up, hold and fly!