You’ve probably heard the word “bandha” at some point in your yoga practice, but you may not be familiar with what it actually is. The word itself means “lock” or “bond”. Essentially, the bandhas are locks placed on the body during your yoga practice to deepen the upward flow of energy. The bandhas also provide extra muscular support to vital areas of your frame, thus preventing injury.
There are three main bandhas you need to know about. Read the article below for a detailed look at each bandha and how it works.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.