In Sanskit bandha means to lock, tighten or hold and using these as an integral part of your yoga practise will not only improve your practise, in terms of achieving asanas more easily and holding them for longer by giving your mind a focal point, but they also help to regulate your internal bodily systems.
The theory is that when Bandhas are locked, it stops the flow of energy (and momentarily blood flow too) to parts of the body and upon release allows both to flow more strongly than before flushing away old cells and rejuvenating the body. The benefits extend to the brain centres, Nadis and Chakras by helping to purify energy channels and improving energy flow.
There are three bandhas; the Mula Bandha, or root lock; the Uddiyana Bandha, or flying up lock, and the Jalandhara Bandha, or throat lock and a fourth to bind them all, the Maha Bandha, which is simply a combination of the three above being engaged simultaneously.
The Mula Bandha is located between the anus and testes in men and in women it’s located at the bottom of the pelvic floor, behind the cervix. For ladies, these and surrounding muscles are often engaged when needing to pee, in men it’s the area that you feel when you’ve just been in a fearful or “close call” situation.
The Mula Bandha is associated with the Muladhara Chakra and by engaging this lock throughout your practise you will allow energy to flow up through your body, instead of down and out, trapping it inside and giving you wings, so to speak, allowing you to float through your practise. Physiologically, Mula Bandha stimulates the genital, endocrine and excretory systems as well as the pelvic nerves.
The Uddiyana Bandha is in the stomach region and is engaged by ‘sucking’ your belly in and then up into your rib cage by using your abdominal muscles and your diaphragm. This helps to massage your digestive system and organs, improving digestion, increasing metabolism and toning your abdominal muscles and can be done standing with feet apart and hands on knees or seated cross-legged with hands on knees.
The Uddiyana Bandha is associated with the Anahata Chakra and has the effect of lifting energy within the body. It is also much more effective than Mula Bandha and can transform your inversion practise and will allow you to begin floating through transitions from down dog to forward bend and vice versa.
The Jalandhara Bandha is located in the throat and is engaged by forming a double chin and pressing your chin down into your chest whilst lifting your sternum. It is associated with the Ajna Chakra and is performed in a seated position usually in conjunction with other breathing or Bandha exercises. Physiologically, the thyroid is massaged which improves metabolism and helps with de-stressing and mental relaxation.
The Maha Bandha is a combination of the above three and in Sanskrit means great. Either in a standing or seated position, inhale deeply and then exhale everything out and, working from the ground up, engage the Mula Bandha followed by Uddiyana and Jalandhara Bandhas. Release in reverse, starting at the top as you begin to inhale. The benefits of all three are realised simultaneously and helps the entire endocrine system.
Bandhas are useful tools that all yoga practitioners should use throughout their practise, not only to improve the physicality of their asana practise, but also to further enhance the benefits to the body over a regular asana practise without Bandhas.
Jean-Paul Lassale (200hr Jan-May 2014)