Bandhas is a Sanskrit word that means ‘lock’ or ‘bind’. The process of holding a bandha involves the contraction or squeezing of muscles, to allow the vital energy to flow to certain parts of the body.
They are an important element of asana practice, performed in order to regulate the flow of prana (vital energy) in the body.
Bandhas promote the upward movement of energy & relax the organs & muscles that are continuously pulled down by gravity.
Engaging anyone or all the bandhas leads to massaging effect of the muscles and purification of internal organs.
The increased flow of fresh blood supply to these areas & unlocking energies.
Often learnt during kriya & pranayama practices bandhas once mastered can support you through asana practices & lend lightness to the body.
There are four main bandhas:
1) Mula bandha (root lock) – situated in the perineum (area between anus & genitals)
2) Uddiyana bandha (upward flying lock) – situated in the abdomen
3) Jalandhara bandha (throat lock) – situated in the throat
4) Maha bandha – it is a combination of the above three bandhas
Read: Know Your Chakras
A short glimpse of each bandha will give you a basic understanding.
1. Mula Bandha
Mula Bandha can be performed both after inhalation & exhalation. It involves the intentional contraction and lifting of the perineum & lower abdomen area (between anus & navel), thus pulling the spine backwards & lifting the diaphragm. As you contract, you direct the energy & breath lifting up towards your navel.
This gives you an instant lift & lightness; allowing you to float through your asana practice without getting tired.
In a more physiological sense, Mula Bandha stimulates the pelvic nerves, the genital system, the endocrine system, and the excretory system.
It also helps relieve constipation and depression.
2. Uddiyana Bandha
Uddiyana Bandha is the muscular contraction four inches below the navel. This bandha is engaged during external breath retention (Bahya Kumbhaka). It’s almost like you are pulling your belly button up and in towards your spine.
This helps you to bring the breath all the way up into your rib cage, above your navel. As you breathe, you keep your belly still and expand and contract through your chest instead. It gives you core strength and stability.
It should be only performed between a complete exhalation and a fresh inhalation. Engaging these muscles helps build an internal fire, which warms the whole body, making the muscles more pliable.
Uddiyana Bandha creates a soft massage for the deeper internal muscles of the lower back. Uddiyana Bandha is the answer to abdominal and stomach ailments, from constipation to indigestion.
It stimulates the digestive juices; increases metabolism, and tones the abdominal organs. It also balances the adrenal system, relieving stress, lethargy and tension.
3. Jalandhara Bandha
Jala means a web or a mesh. Like Mula Bandha, it can be performed both after inhalation & exhalation. It involves the contraction where you drop your chin towards your chest.
This is supposed to prevent energy from escaping out of the upper body. This bandha can be adapted in certain poses. Eg: Sarvangasana
It clears the nasal passage and regulates the flow of blood & prana to the heart, head and endocrine glands. Jalandhara Bandha relaxes the brain & keeps stress & anger at bay.
Unlike the first two, Jalandhara Bandha is normally performed in combination with specific breathing practices and rarely done on its own.
It supports the regulation of the circulatory and respiratory systems. The pressure on the throat helps balance thyroid and metabolism.
4. Maha Bandha
It is the combination of all the above three bandhas; so when you practice all the 3 bandhas together it is Maha Bandha.
Like in Uddiyana Bandha; Maha Bandha is only engaged in Bahya Kumbhka (external breath retention). For beginners sit in a cross-legged position, place your palms on the knees & take a few conscious, steady breaths.
Inhale & exhale fully through the nose. 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.
Another way to access Maha Bandha is during the practice of Vyaghra Shwasa ( Cat & Cow).
Maha Bandha gives the benefits of all three bandhas and regulates the entire endocrine system.
It activates the throat, solar plexus & root chakras; promoting a sense of balance & mental clarity.
In conclusion to this topic, I encourage you to intentionally apply & experience each bandha during pranayama & kriya. Eventually, start with applying Bandhas into your asana practice & see where it evolves from there.
In the upcoming blogs, we will soon discuss two other Bandhas – Pada Bandha (Foot Lock) & Hasta Bandha (Hand Lock) that brings immense stability to the legs & upper body.