Bandhas are an indispensable part of our yoga practice. If we have been attending yoga classes, we would surely have experienced holding a bandha during an asana or pranayama and harnessing the energy within. The word “bandha” is a Sanskrit word that means a lock or a seal.
In a bandha, the flow of energy is blocked to a particular part of the body. Basically, a bandha is an energetic lock which is executed by muscular contractions.The relevant muscles are gently but powerfully squeezed and held.
Once a bandha is released, it sends the energy rushing through the body with greater pressure. Bandhas can be likened to energy valves that control and balance the flow of prana or life energy through the body or one-way valves in the venous system of the body which sends the deoxygenated blood back to the heart in a controlled manner.
Bandhas, through their ability to control energy flow, enable us to experience a feeling of lightness as we glide through yoga postures. Bandhas curtail waste in the body, build energy, and hone concentration and clarity of the mind.
Bandhas go a long way in purifying the Energy Centres of The Body. They help release blockages and allow free flow of energy. This helps to curb stress and anxiety which further facilitates inner harmony.
Bandhas have a pivotal role to play in both the physical and spiritual dimensions. Integrating bandhas during the Practice of Yoga Postures Deepens The Asana Practice. Putting bandhas into practice is quite simple. It can be as simple as pulling the chin inwards or pulling the belly button in.
The three major bandhas are the Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Jalandhara Bandha. They can be clubbed with asana, kriya, pranayama, mudra, or meditation.
We now explore the three bandhas in more detail
The word “Mula” means root and so “Mula Bandha” literally means root lock. Physiologically, the Mula Bandha forms the dock of muscles that lies between the bones of the pubis in the front, the two sitting bones on the sides and the tailbone at the back. All of these muscles between these three areas form the pelvic floor.
In the Mula Bandha, we contract these muscles of the pelvic floor, toning the muscles. For men, this bandha is practised by contracting the muscles between the anus and the genitals and in the case of women, work on the muscles at the bottom of the pelvic floor behind the cervix.
Engaging the pelvic floor muscles strengthens the internal organs of the lower abdominal cavity. Mula Bandha keeps the pelvic area strong and healthy. It helps rejuvenate the nerves of the pelvic area, the genital system, the excretory and endocrine system. It also helps curb ailments of the digestive system. On the spiritual dimension, Mula Bandha purifies the Muladhara Chakra.
Another perspective is to consider that this “root“lock” permits the energy to flow upwards, to higher energy centers. As the flow of energy moves up to our heart center, the emotional center, and our mind center, we leave our yoga class with an amazing feeling of lightness.
How to do it:
- Sit comfortably in a meditative posture with your spine upright.
- Inhale. Then on an exhale, contract the pelvic floor pulling it upwards.
- Hold the breath a few seconds.
- Then inhaling, release the contraction slowly. Repeat this process a few times.
- We repeat this again, with our focus on the perineum, the area between the anus and genitals. Exhaling, contract this region inwards and upwards and inhaling , release it.
- Repeat this for a number of practice sessions till the time you are able to isolate the perineum on contraction.
It can happen that in the initial stages of your practice, you might not be able to isolate the perineum. If this is happening to you, just squeeze up the entire general area. Go easy in case of constipation or tightness of the lower abdomen. Also, Mula Bandha should not be practised during pregnancy or menstruation.
As we move up the Mula Bandha, we encounter the Uddiyana Bandha. The term “Uddiyana” in Sanskrit means to rise up. So, the Uddiyana Bandha is our upward flying lock. It is so called as it allows Prana to flow upwards. Uddiyana is considered the best bandha as it brings a sense of liberation to the individual.
Physiologically, this bandha actively involves the abdominal muscles. Simply put – the Uddiyana Bandha is performed by drawing the navel in closer to the spine and then up towards the rib cage. This is done on the exhalation. It is best practised on an empty stomach. It creates a vacuum in the chest that encourages blood circulation to the abdominal organs.
Uddiyana Bandha is the only method in Hatha Yoga that leads to the stretching of the respiratory diaphragm, as it is drawn under the ribcage. This bandha will help you exhale more fully and let you breathe comfortably. In addition, the toning of the diaphragm gives it better efficiency and productivity. The digestive organs are also deeply massaged and stimulated. The Uddiyana Bandha also helps to release “dukkha” or stagnant, stale energy.
How to do it:
- Acquire a comfortable position in sukhasana or cross-legged seated position with palms placed softly on top of the knees.
- Gently close your eyes and take deep and slow breaths.
- Exhaling nice and long, pull your belly inwards and upwards to the bottom of the rib cage by using the abdominal muscles, creating a “hollow” in the abdominal area.
- Next, press your chin into your chest as well and stretch the arms fully, hunching your shoulders into your ears and pressing down firmly with the hands. Also, turn your fingers inwards, to point into the body. Try and keep the arms fully stretched, the elbows straight.
- Hold your breath until the time you are holding the abdominal lock as per your comfort.
- Once you are ready to release the position, relax your abdominal muscles, bend your elbows, raise your chin up and slowly breathe in.
- Breathe in and out slowly and allow your breathing to come back to normal before you start the next round.
- As a beginner, start by practising 3 times and you can gradually increase a few more.
Uddiyana Bandha proves to be a cure for abdominal and stomach problems like constipation and indigestion. It activates the digestive juices to enhance metabolism. It also harmonizes the adrenaline system, thus bringing calmness to a tense person and stimulating a dull and lethargic person.
This bandha should not be practised during menstruation or pregnancy. Also, people suffering from intestinal ulcers, hernia, high BP or heart diseases should avoid this.
The word “jal” means throat and “dhara ” means stream or flow. So, the Jalandhara Bandha can be understood to be a throat lock. It helps in regulating the energy flow in the nerves and blood vessels of the neck.
It is practised by dropping the chin towards the chest locking the neck in such a way that the energy cannot escape out of the upper body. It forms a connection between the head and the heart.
The Mula Bandha stimulates the lower three chakras and the Uddiyana Bandha activates the fourth and fifth chakra that corresponds to the heart and throat. Once the energy flows through this path, the Jalandhara Bandha directs it to the last two chakras, the Ajna, and the Sahasrara. The practice of this Bandha encourages blood flow to the heart and brain and also the endocrine glands in the throat.
How to do it:
- Bring yourself to a comfortable position preferably Sukhasana, the cross-legged seated position with palms gently on the knees.
- Keep your spine erect and relax your shoulders and sternum (breastbone).
- Gently close your eyes and breathe slow and deep.
- Next, breathe in and fill up your lungs to two-thirds of its capacity. Hold the breath in.
- Drop the chin to the chest and rest your neck at a position so that the back of your neck stays long.
- Gently roll the shoulders forward to deepen the throat lock but keep it gentle. Hold the lock for as long as comfortable.
- Release gently by first bringing the chin up and then release with a deep breath out through the nostrils.
- Take deep and slow breaths and gradually allow your breath to come back to a normal pace.
- This bandha can be practiced both ways – with the breath inhaled into the lungs or with the breath exhaled out of the lungs.
- You can proceed to further rounds. Begin with 3 rounds and you can slowly increase it with practice.
While practising Jalandhara Bandha, keep in mind lifting the chest instead of lowering the chin too much. Focus on keeping the back of your neck as long as possible and releasing the shoulders. Do not force the chin on the sternum.
Engaging in bandhas keeps us fit and free of diseases by alternately locking and relaxing the “Nadis” and “Chakras” or energy channels and regulating the progression of prana. A smooth relationship with your bandhas will help you master your yoga practice and stay connected with your inner self.