Yoga Bandhas are neuromuscular locks that are an integral part of Hatha Yoga. Learn how to do four main Bandhas: Mula, Jalandhara, Uddiyana, and Maha Bandha.
What Are Bandhas?
The Sanskrit word Bandha means to 'hold', 'tighten' or 'lock'. These definitions describe the physical action involved in the Bandha practices and how they help channel the life force energy or Prana through the body. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, there was little to no distinction between Mudras and Bandhas. Bandhas are a part of Mudras. They were taught by word of mouth from the guru to the pupil. Bandhas combined with Mudras play a crucial role in Pranayama and the enhancement of Pranayama benefits. The locking action performed during Bandhas helps us control the flow of energy or the flow of Prana voluntarily to various parts of the body. This maximizes the positive effects of every part of the Yoga practice - pranayama, meditation, and asana practice.
There are four major Bandhas - Jalandhara Bandha, Uddiyana Bandhas, Mula Bandha, and Maha Bandha the culmination of all three Bandhas. Each of these Bandhas are associated with a Granthi. The Granthis act as obstructions or blockages that prevent the free flow of Prana along the various Chakras and Nadis of the body. The Bandhas help pierce this Granthis ensuring the flow of Prana to various parts of the body.
Jalandhara Bandha: The Chin Lock
The Sanskrit word "Jalan" means 'net' and "Dhara" means 'stream'. One interpretation of Jalandhara Bandha is the net or lock which controls the network of Nadis in the neck. The physical manifestations of these Nadis are the blood vessels and nerves of the neck. An alternative meaning of Jalan is 'water' and "Dhara" refers to a tubular vessel in the body. Jalandhara bandha is therefore the throat lock or Chin Lock.
How to do Jalandara Bandha?
Step 1 - Sit in padmasana with your spine straight. Place the palms of the hands-on the knees. The knees should be in firm contact with the floor. Those who cannot manage this may perform Jalandhara Bandha in a standing position. Close your eyes and relax.
Step 2 - Inhale and retain the breath inside. Holding your breath, bend the head forward and press the chin tightly against the chest. Straighten your arms and lock your elbows, pressing the knees down with your hands.
Step 3 - Hunch the shoulders upward and forward intensifying the pressure applied to the neck. Stay in the final position for as long as the breath can be held comfortably. Do not strain.
Step 4 - Relax the shoulders, bend the arms, slowly release the lock, raise the head and then exhale. Repeat 3-5 times when the respiration has returned to normal.
Note - Do not inhale or exhale until the chin lock and armlock have been released and your head is fully upright. If any sensation of suffocation is felt, immediately stop and rest. You can resume the practice after any feeling of discomfort is gone.
Jalandhara bandha compresses the carotid arteries. They help us regulate the circulatory and respiratory systems. Carotid sinuses increase our heart rate and initiate heavier breathing when the body oxygen levels are low and carbon dioxide levels are high. By artificially exerting pressure on these sinuses, this tendency is prevented, allowing for decreased heart rate and increased breath retention. This helps control our heart rate and blood pressure. The stimulus on the throat also helps to balance thyroid function and regulate our metabolism. This practice facilitates mental relaxation, stress reduction, and a decrease in anxiety and anger.
People suffering from cervical spondylosis, high intracranial pressure, vertigo, high blood pressure, or heart disease should not practice Jalandhara Bandha. Although it reduces blood pressure initially, long retention of the breath brings about some strain on the heart.
Uddiyana Bandha: The Abdominal Lock
The Sanskrit word "Uddiyana" means 'to fly upwards'. This practice involves a physical lock applied to the body causing the diaphragm to rise towards the chest. This is where its name comes from. Uddiyana is therefore often translated as the Stomach lift or the Abdominal lock.
How to do Uddiyana Bandha?
Step 1 - Stand erect with the feet a little more than just shoulder-width apart. Inhale deeply through the nostrils. Bend forward from the waist and exhale through the mouth, emptying the lungs as much as possible.
Step 2 - Keep the spine horizontal and bend the knees slightly. Place the palms of your hands on the thighs, so that the knees are supporting the weight of the upper body. Make sure the arms are straight.
Step 3 - Bend your head forward without pressing your chin against the chest. Make a false inhalation, keeping the glottis closed and expanding the chest, as though breathing in but not actually taking in air.
Step 4 - Straighten the legs slightly. This movement will automatically draw the abdomen upward and inward towards the spine to form Uddiyana Bandha. Hold this position for a comfortable length of time.
Step 5 - Release the abdominal lock and relax the chest. Straighten the knees and raise the head. Exhale slightly to release the lock on the lungs and finally breathe in slowly through the nose. Relax till your breath is back to normal.
People suffering from colitis, stomach or intestinal ulcer, diaphragmatic hernia, high blood pressure, heart disease, glaucoma, and raised intracranial pressure should not perform this practice. It should also be completely avoided by pregnant women.
Uddiyana bandha is the remedy for many digestive issues like - constipation, indigestion, etc, provided they are not chronic. This is because it stimulates the digestive fire and massages the abdominal organs. The adrenal glands are balanced, improving energy levels and soothing anxiety and tension. It improves blood circulation to the whole trunk area. It removes stagnated blood from in and around the abdominal organs improving their functioning.
Mula Bandha: The Root Lock
The Sanskrit word "Moola" in this context means the 'root' or rather the root of the spine or perineum where the Mooladhara Chakra, the seat of Kundalini, the primal energy, is located. It is very similar to kegel exercises.
How to do Mula Bandha?
Step 1 - Sit in Padmasana or Siddhasana so that some pressure is applied to the Perineal/ Vaginal region. Close the eyes and relax the whole body and focus on your regular breathing.
Step 2 - Shift your focus to your Perineal/ Vaginal region. Contract it by pulling up on the muscles of the pelvic floor and then relaxing them. Continue to do this rhythmically for a short while.
Step 3 - Now, slowly contract this region and hold the contraction. Continue to breathe normally. Be totally aware of the physical sensation. Contract a little more, keeping the rest of your body relaxed.
Step 4 - Contract only those muscles related to the Mooladhara Region. This might be tricky in the beginning but will get better with practice. Relax your muscles gently. Adjust the tension in the spine to help focus on the point of contraction.
Step 5 - Repeat 10 times with maximum contraction and total relaxation.
This practice should only be performed under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher. Mula Bandha raises the energies very fast and can precipitate symptoms of hyperactivity if wrongly prescribed.
Mula Bandha has many physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. It stimulates the pelvic nerves and tones the urogenital and excretory systems. It helps battle various excretory disorders and problems in the pelvic region. Because this practice releases energy, it is also effective in the treatment of psychosomatic and some degenerative illnesses. Its effects spread throughout the body via the brain and endocrine system making it very beneficial in cases of asthma, bronchitis, and arthritis. It also relieves depression. Mula Bandha helps attain sexual control and can also alleviate various sexual disorders. It helps relieve sexual frustration, suppression of sexual energy, and feelings of sexual guilt.
Maha Bandha: The Great Lock
The Sanskrit word maha means 'great'. Maha bandha is called the great lock as it a combination all the three bandhas in one practice. Here all the Bandhas are performed simultaneously.
How to do Maha Bandha?
Step 1 - Sit in Padmasana or Sukhasana with your hands on the knees. The spine and head should be straight. Close your eyes and relax the whole body. Take a deep breathe in through the nose. Exhale forcefully and completely through the mouth. Retain the breath outside.
Step 2 - Perform Jalandhara Bandha first, followed by Uddiyana Bandha and Mula Bandha. Hold the bandhas and the breath for as long as is comfortable without straining.
Step 3 - Release Mula Bandha first, followed by Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandhara Bandhas.
Step 4 - Inhale slowly when the head is upright. Keeping your eyes closed, relax the body and let the breath return to normal. This is one round. Note - Only attempt the Maha Bandha when you master each Bandha individually.
People suffering from high or low blood pressure, heart conditions, stroke, hernia, stomach or intestinal ulcer, and those recovering from any visceral ailment should completely avoid this practice. Pregnant women should also not do this.
Maha Bandha gives us the benefits of all three Bandhas. It influences the hormonal secretions of the pineal gland and regulates the entire endocrine system. It rejuvenates the body. It soothes anger and helps calm the mind in preparation for meditation. When perfected it can fully awaken Prana in the main Chakras. It leads to the merger of prana, apana and samana in agni mandala, which is the culmination of all pranayamas.
Bandhas when performed in tandem with Mudras and Pranayamas can take your Yoga practice several notches above average. The specific control of your body required to perform Bandhas can only be developed through practice. So, don't get disheartened if you get it wrong the first few times. Remember, practice makes one perfect!