Literally translated bandha means to lock or tighten. There are 3 major bandhas – the chin lock (Jalandhara), the abdominal lock (Uddiyana) & the pelvic floor lock (Mula).
By using the bandhas we are able to gain control of our energy systems and direct this energy to different parts of our bodies – creating a multitude of benefits for both body & mind.
Effective use of the bandhas enable us to make our bodies lighter while preventing injury. This is essential as we progress through asanas. That require not just strength and flexibility; but an intuitive understanding of our breath and the bandhas – their place and their power.
Wanting to go deeper with your practise and progress into inversions and transitions? Start exploring and engaging the Bandhas below…
*Work directly with a yoga teacher or guru where possible – see cautions below.
Benefits of Engaging the Bandhas…
“Bandhas allow the body to work holistically with its own inherent energies providing strength, stability and foundation whilst allowing the body to open and the breath to deepen” (Kirsty Jackson, The Bandhas – developing strength from the inside out)
Top 7 Reasons to get Practising…
1. Strengthening of the surrounding muscles & fascia
2. Regulate internal systems – hormonal, sexual, metabolic, digestive. 3. Improve digestion
4. Tone visceral organs
5. Improve concentration
6. Energy is able to flow upwards & be contained throughout body rather than flowing out.
7. Purify energy channels & remove blockages.
How to Locate & Activate Bandhas
All 3 Bandha’s run along our Shushumna Nadi which is our central energy channel that runs from the base of the spine to the crown of the head – connecting all 7 chakras. By employing the Bandha’s correctly we are able to support the drawing up of Shakti Kundalini energy within our bodies.
BKS Iyengar in ‘Light on Yoga’ describes them as a posture where certain organs or body parts are contracted or controlled.
Try practising each bandha individually during pranayama, before adding it into your asana practise. Explore softening the bandha’s rather than holding tension & clenching.
Instead of aiming for greater depth of contraction, look for that place where you can hold the navel in and up (Udddiyana) while still being able to breath fully, deeply and with ease. Finding this balance between bandha and breath helps to bring a feeling of lightness to the body.
Ester Eckhart speaks of taking a softer approach:
“My approach to the bandhas is to release any tension held around the edges of each bandha area so that I feel a gentle, spontaneous rise of prana.” aswell as using the bandha as “a safeguard against poor alignment and injury” (Ester Eckhart, yoga journel)
This bandha corresponds with the Vishuddhi chakra – aiding more efficient expression of emotions and feelings.
- sit tall and cross-legged. With your palms pressing into knees.
- inhale through your nose and bring your chin towards your neck/chest.
- Straighten your arms, pull your chin back, engage the muscles there & hold – making the best double chin you can.
- Do not tense any part of the neck or strain to force the chin to the chest – use a flannel rolled up to support chin if needed.
- Breathe evenly for five breaths, then raise the head slowly.
Corresponding to Manipura, the third chakra which is fiery and powerful – the seat of our personal will and motivation.
1. Try standing feet shoulder distance apart, bend forward straight back and place hands on knees or shins (like you would in halfway lift)
2. Do a false inhale by mimicking the action of inhaling without actually breathing, it should create an upward movement, with abdominal wall and organs pushing up and back towards the spine – as if you’re trying to make your waist smaller.
3.Try a couple of breaths here, ensuring you can still breathe fully and deeply, try on full lock and then ease the control to find a level that works without compromising the breath.
Mula Bandha is said to cut through brahma granthi – the energetic knot of our resistance to change.
1. Develop the ability to contract and relax the perineal muscles. Start by sitting in any upright posture—preferably a cross-legged (Sukhasana) seated pose. Close your eyes; rest your body; and relax your breath.
2. Women – think kegel exercises – contract the muscles at the bottom of the pelvic floor behind the cervix.
Men – contract the area between the anus and the testes.
3. Explore contracting these muscles and how they feel before incorporating them into asanas.
On The Yoga Mat
According to BKS Iyengar, this should be the bandha to master first. This is normally practised seated after asana and before meditation. once you are comfortable seated try performing the bandha while in plough pose or shoulder stand.
Core strengthening poses are perfect for activating this bandha,
Try giving it a go in cobblers pose or a seated 1 legged forward bend where you can incorporate both jalandhara and uddiyana together.
Try first in a seated position while practising ujjayi breathing- seeing if you can maintain the lift throughout the inhale and exhale while not holding tension in the belly. Once you have mastered it seated, try it out in standing asanas like warrior 2
Maha Bandha | The Great Bandha
The Maha Bandha is known as the great bandha and is a combination of all 3 locks together at the same time. The great bandha is usually performed during breath retention in pranayama as it concentrates energy or life force internally.
To do: First engage Mula bandha, then fully exhale and activate Jalandhara. Next, bend forward and ‘suck up’ to hold Uddiyana. To release, do so in the reverse order (Ekhart Yoga, The 4 Main Bandhas)
Cautions with Bandhas
Take great care when practising Bandhas – ensuring you understand the actions and intent. Do not over exert or cause any discomfort within the body, particularly taking care with Uddiyana & mula bandhas. Work directly with a yoga teacer or guru where possible. It is not suitable to perform bandhas during pregnancy, if you have blood pressure problems, heart conditions, at risk of stroke or thrombosis, glaucoma, internal ulcer or any condition that may be aggravated by breath retention.If you have any known medical conditions – seek advice from your doctor & yoga teacher before bandha practice.