Understanding The Bandhas
What are the bandhas in Yoga?
A Bandha is a seal or a lock. The Sanskrit word Bandha means to harness or to tighten.
Bandhas are known as energy locks because they lock lifeforce energy, known as prana, in the body. The prana then flows through the body, energising and balancing the internal systems and organs.
The bandhas act as valves to block and unblock, direct and redirect the flow of prana through the body.
Bandhas move and shift energy through channels of the body (known as the nadis in the Indian tradition or meridians in the Chinese tradition). They also change the flow of nerve currents in the nervous system and direct the flow of blood through the blood vessels.
These energetic locks are closely linked to mudras. A mudra is yogic seal or gesture. Both Bandhas and Mudras change the energy pattern in the body and help raise our awareness. They can and are often practised together.
Using energy locks are typically considered to be a more ‘advanced’ form of practice in yoga as they require a lot of body awareness. Usually they can be learnt as part of mastering Asana (yogic postures) and Pranayama (yogic breathing techniques). They are usually practiced with retention of breath either inside or outside.
Three Main Bandhas and Two Minor Bandhas
There are 3 main Bandhas or yogic locks that are practiced and 2 minor.
- Mula Bandha (The Perineum Lock or the Root Lock)
- Uddiyana Bandha (The Abdominal Lock)
- Jalandhara Bandha (the Chin Lock)
In addition, there are also two secondary, lesser known bandhas.
- Hasta Bandha (the Hand Lock)
- Pada Bandha (the Foot Lock)
Maha Bandha (the Great Lock) is a combination of all the three locks.
To engage Mula Bandha or the Root Lock, contract your perineum muscles (for males). For females, the contraction is closer to the region at the neck of the womb. Mula Bandha can be practiced with either the breath held inside or outside. Engaging Mula Bandha tones all the organs in the pelvic region. It can bring out lot of repressed emotions during the practice so one needs to watch the thought patterns with a sense of detachment. It is said that constant consistent practice can help to relieve depression.
Mula Bandha awakens the Muladhara chakra below the base of the spine. It pulls up the Apana vayu (the downward moving energy) and merges it with the Prana vayu (upward moving energy). This can release a lot of energy and eventually awaken the Kundalini Shakti situated below the base of the spine.
Uddiyana Bandha or the Abdominal Lock is performed by pulling in the abdomen muscles INwards and Upwards. The organs in the belly are pushed against the back side of the spine towards the rib cage. The breath is held outside. Uddiyana Bandha massages all the organs in the abdomen. It improves the functioning of the adrenal glands. Generally it is practiced along with Jalandhara Bandha or the chin lock. This enables the Prana vayu (upward moving energy) and Apana vayu (the downward moving energy) to merge at the solar plexus thereby improving digestive power. Uddiyana Bandha can awaken the Manipura Chakra, the energy centre at the navel region. Performing this Bandha, the practitioner is able to move the prana into the Sushuma Nadi, the central pranic channel.
Jalandhara Bandha or the Chin Lock is performed by bending the neck forward and pressing the chin against the chest between the collar bones. This can be practiced with either the breath held inside or outside. This Bandha forces the Prana Vayu to move downwards to meet the Apana vayu. Jalandhara Bandha massages the thyroid and para-thyroid glands and helps to regulate the body metabolism. It activates the Vishuddha Chakra in the throat region.
Yogic texts claim that Jalandhara Bandha can overcome the aging and decay of the body and gives victory over death to the yogi.
Hasta Bandha or the Hand Lock is done by drawing up through the centre of the palm with the fingers and pads of the fingers tented on the ground. Hasta bandha draws energy up the arms and towards the heart allowing for more rotation in the shoulder joints and length in the arms. It can relieve some of the constant pressure that yoga puts on our wrists.
Pada bandha is a yoga technique in which the soles of the feet are placed on the ground so the weight is evenly distributed. A triangle is formed by the big toe, little toe and ankle, thus connecting the body with the earth through the feet. The term comes from the Sanskrit pada, meaning “foot”. Pada bandha builds the arches of the feet, engages and tones the muscles in the lower body. It helps with support and stability.
Finally, there is Maha Bandha or the Great Lock. This is done by performing Mula, Uddiyana and Jalandhara bandhas together.
It is practiced by performing the Mula Bandha first, then engaging Uddiyana Bandha and lastly the Jalandhara Bandha, – in that order. The breath is held outside when all the 3 locks are applied.
Maha Banda activates the Ajna Brow Chakra also known as our third eye and regulates all the endocrinal glands. It helps to rejuvenate the cells in the entire body and is a good anti-aging exercise. It can awaken the Prana Shakti and also the sleeping Kundalini Shakti bringing about heightened levels of awareness.
Yogic texts call Maha Bandha the conqueror of old age and death
Do take care not to overdo the practice of Bandha work. You should release the ‘locks’ if you feel any discomfort while holding your breath.
Anyone suffering from blood pressure problems, heart diseases and ulcers should avoid the practice of Bandhas. Pregnant women should not overdo Bandhas.