Yoga Bandha simplified:
Bandha is a word that you will often hear your yoga teacher using in class, to explain how to enhance your yoga practice. Like a mysterious key to unlocking the techniques and the benefits.
But, for many yoga students, Bandhas remain just some distant, illusionary idea. In order to truly take your understanding of yoga and your physical yoga practice to a new level; a deep and practical understanding of Bhanda is essential.
So, what is Bandha?
In Sanskrit bandha means to lock, to contain or to tighten. In Hatha Yoga principles a Bandha refers to an energetical body lock. Specifically, a subtle location and action of the body that contains or locks in the energy created during yoga practice.
What are the Benefits of mastering Bandha?
Yogis place great emphasis on mastering the Bandha locks. By achieving the ability to engage these locks, a yogi can master their yoga practice.
Externally or superficially we can observe a master practitioner by the way they are able to float gracefully in and out of the asana (pose), hold steady a pose for an extended period of time and generally make advanced physical asana look like child’s play.
However, mastering Bandha is not just about aesthetics. What we might not see visually is the internal practice. A master of Bandha will feel stillness of both the mind and the body, they will have found that steady, comfortable, meditative space within themselves. The breath will be steady, calm and full. This is in essence the point of yoga. To prepare for a meditative state of mind where all manner of connection to the higher consciousness and limitless possibilities lie.
From a scientific perspective, the effects of mastering Bandha will help the yogi access the parasympathetic nervous system and feel the benefits. Having gained control of the physical body, breath and accessed the inner workings and functions of the nervous system. The practitioner can influence other body systems. Regulating the hormonal, digestive and other systems.
How many Bandhas?
There are actually a great many Bandhas in the body:
- Pada Bandha(Foot Lock)
- Hasta Bandha(Hand Lock)
- Mula Bandha(Root Lock)
- Uddiyana Bandha(Upward Abdominal Lock)
- Jalandhara Bandha(Chin Lock)
- Maha Bandha(Great Lock)
How do I access my Bandhas?
To begin with let us look at the 3 principle bandhas most commonly used in Yoga practice:
In Sanskrit mula means root. So, Mula Bandha means root lock.
An easy way to locate your Mula Bandha, is to sit cross legged on the floor or even sit on a chair.
Now, focus on the area between the genitals and anus. To begin with this action will cause the anal sphincter to contract, as if you were trying to stop yourself from going to the toilet. The action is actually much subtler and much more energetical. With time and practice you will be able to engage your Mula Bandha with no external action of the body. It will feel as if there has been a drawing in and containing of the bottom of the body. Effectively sealing the bottom of your container (your torso).
When practicing active yoga practice, Mula Bandha should be held for the majority of the time. This can be very difficult to begin with. A good tip for starting with Mula Bandha is to start by focusing on the engagement, beginning your yoga practice, then trying to become aware of the moment you lose your root lock. With awareness of when, which poses and what moments of distraction cause you to lose your bhanda; you can begin to increase engagement awareness.
The reason yogis hold the Mula Bandha continuously during practice, is the concept that they are building energy and lifting it up through the body. Not dropping it out of their container.
Holding this bandha alone can help a yogi to feel lighter, float more easily and increase general energy and awareness. It can help prevent over exertion and injury due to lack of control on the body as well as prevent you tiring.
At Mahi Yoga School we teach that a yoga practice should not be exhausting even though you are working hard. It should be balancing and you should leave with energy and a calm mind. Mula Bandha plays an important role in this theory.
There are times and yoga poses or practices when Mula Bandha is not to be used. Such as in Pregnancy, menstruation, certain medical conditions etc.
Always check this with an expert before practicing.
The second bandha, Uddiyana means upward. To rise up or fly up. This Bandha is often called ‘Upward Flying Lock.
This lock is located at the top of your container. The top of your abdomen, the diaphragm. It involves the upward flying action of the entire stomach/abs area energetically and physically.
Sometimes an easy confusion to make here is that this bandha means engaging or squeezing in the abdominal muscles. This is only a superficial action.
To locate the upward flying action of Uddiyana Bandha. Try this exaggerated version. Start standing up, in mountain pose. With your feet a little wider than hip distance. Inhale through your nose and reach your arms up alongside your ears. Exhale forcefully whilst you bend your knees and fold forward placing your hands just above your knees. Without inhaling or breathing at all close your lips, straighten your elbows, and feel your abdominal wall and organs push up and back towards your back. This vacuum effect has created an upward flying lock.
Again, be careful with this technique it should be practiced with a teacher present. If you are doing this correctly your stomach will have sucked in and your ribs will protrude. To release, let go of your belly and then gently inhale through your nose and standing up straight, exhaling gently.
This is an exaggerated form of the Bandha. When a yoga practitioner uses Uddiyana Bandha, the action will be subtle. The abdominals will be engaged to stop the ribs popping out, but the energetical and internal upward flying lift will be active. You will be breathing as normal. Your posture will be incredibly beautiful and you will feel light, poised and energised.
Uddiyana Bandha takes time to perfect and understand. But when you achieve this practice it can take your yoga practice to a new level. This Bandha helps draw the energy upwards even more actively than mula bandha. The effect is one of flying, floating and moving with the upmost grace. It also enhances the twisting potential of the body.
Physically this bandha can help relieve constipation or indigestion. By massaging the internal organs. It also helps to tone the area and reduce stress retention.
In Sanskrit jal means throat and dharan means stream. So, Jalandhara Bandha means the throat lock.
To locate Jalandhara Bandha sit cross legged on the floor or even sit on a chair. Make sure your back is straight and tall. Place your hands on your knees. Inhale deeply through your nose, then bring your chin down towards your neck. Next lift your sternum up so slightly. Make sure you are lengthening the back of the neck and not curving it. To release lift your chin.
This Bandha has effectively closed the top of the container fully. Jalandhara bandha is incredibly powerful, it controls the flow of energy in the nerves and blood vessels of the neck on the way to your control centre (your brain). As you compress this area you are regulating the circulation, respiration and compressing the thyroid which helps with metabolism and self confidence in speaking clearly.
Finally, in addition to these 3 main Bandhas lets explain their combined effect:
The 4th Bandha Maha Bandha:
Maha in Sanskrit means great, and Maha Bandha is the combined effect and powerhouse of the first 3 bandhas.
Maha Bandha gives the combined benefits of all three bandhas and regulates the entire endocrine system. It will allow for your yoga practice to be otherworldly. Truly dedicated and aware practitioners can master this practice.
To find this mega bandha, sit cross legged on the floor or even sit on a chair. Make sure your back is straight and tall. Place your hands on your knees. Inhale deeply through your nose then exhale everything out again through your nose. As you feel the end of the exhale engage your mula bandha. Inhale gently and engage uddhiyana and lock the top by engaging Jalandhara Bandha. Retain Maha bandha for a moment. Lift your head and release all the bandhas.
So, that is a quick Bandha breakdown.
If you are looking to deepen your practice and understand fully the technique and philosophy behind bandha and yoga in general. Check out the Mahi Yoga School website for courses and workshops.