The bandhas are energetic locks in the body. In Sanskrit, “bandha” means to ‘hold,’ ‘tighten’ or ‘lock.’ It is a physical action that affects our pranic body (or life force). You’ll hear this magical Sanskrit term mentioned in yoga classes all the time, so it’s important to know the meaning and understand how to do it.
Traditionally in India, bandhas were part of mudras, and in ancient texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the two are almost indistinguishable.
Bandhas and mudras are like old friends, but you will find that bandhas are more incorporated into mudras and pranayama techniques.
The four main bandhas are the Mula Bandha (Root Lock), Uddiyana Bandha (connected to your core) and Jalandhara Bandha (related to the throat) and the Maha bandha (a combination of all three).
The purpose of using bandhas in your yoga practice is to redirect the flow of your prana, through locking different parts of your body.
As a beginner this practice may seem difficult if you hear your yoga instructor telling you to “lock your pelvic floor and hold your breath as you squeeze your Muladhara chakra,” but practicing them individually will help you strengthen and understand these new techniques.
After, moola bandha can be incorporated into your practice with breathing to awaken your kundalini energy in your spine.
1. Mula Bandha (Root Lock)
The moola bandha (or mula bandha) is connected to the Muladhara chakra and is connected to survival instinct, creativity, and desires. It is close to the pelvis and works with subtle energies that strengthen the pelvic floor and can lead to a kundalini awakening. This bandha helps with depression and health. You can also use it to sublimate your sexual energy and activate your kundalini.
How to do it: To do it you must sit in a comfortable meditative posture, and focus on the muscles of your perineal region. Then, you contract by engaging the muscles of your pelvic floor then relaxing. You do this as many times as you can while focusing on the physical movement.
2. Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock)
You might have seen this bandha in weird yoga propoganda with a skinny old man sucking in so far that you can see his ribcage. As it turns out, there’s a lot of benefit to doing that! The benefits of this bandha is that it strengthens your internal organs and stimulates your digestive system by drawing blood flow from your abdominal cavity to the back of your chest and your heart.
How to do it: To practice this bandha, you have to stand up tall with your feet apart. You inhale deeply through the nostrils, the bend forward at the waist and exhale all of the air from your mouth. As you empty your lungs, you will feel your belly button get sucked in and engage the organs while lifting in your stomach.
Place your hands on your knees with straight arms, and create an inhalation without actually breathing in any air. Once you finish holding, you can release and slowly exhale to release the lock and in half through the nose. Stand up slowly and be gentle with yourself! You may feel dizzy, especially if you hold your breath for long periods of time.
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3. Jalandhara Bandha (Chin Lock)
The Jalandhara bandha is also known as the “throat lock” because involves bending your head forward so your chin presses into your neck. Understandably, it’s associated with Vishuddhi Chakra, or Throat Chakra. In kriya practice, this lock is often used with pranayama. It helps you to concentrate and to relax your mind while sitting, bringing your attention to the breath.
The benefits of this bandha is that it allows your mind to relax, and relieves stress, anxiety and anger. In a way, lowering your head humbles you and allows you to tune into your inner senses. It also balances the thyroid and regulates your metabolism.
How to do it: Sit in a meditative position and place your hands on your knees. Slowly inhale and hold your breath. Slowly move your chin toward your chest as you contract your throat muscles. Straighten your arms and gently push your hands into your knees. Hold this position for as long as is comfortable. To release, slowly let out your breath and lift your chin.
4. Maha Bandha (The Great Lock)
The last bandha is a combination of all three, and known as the ‘Great Lock.’ To perform it correctly you engage the jalandhara bandha, uddiyana bandha and then mooladhara bandha. You hold the breath for as long as it is comfortable for you. Then to release you let go of the moola, uddiyana and jalandhara bandhas in this order. The Maha bandha gives benefits to all the chakras and rejuvenates the cells of the body. You can use this bandha to awaken the prana in your body.
How to do it: Inhale slowly and lift your head up, with your ‘Drishti’ or gaze focused inward and your eyes closed.
You can practice these bandhas individually as many times as it takes to really to them properly. Know that they are working on subtle energy levels as well as physical and can have a great positive impact on your mind and body as you advance your yoga practice.