In yoga class you may have heard your teacher instruct you to engage one or several “Bandhas”. So what is a bandha? It is what is know in yoga as an energy lock. A form of mudra, a posture intended to effect the organs to which it connects, the sanskrit term bandha translates to “lock”. When engaged, locking the vital energy in the body. In my classes, we focus primarily on the major 3 bandhas taught in the Ashtanga practice. We explore these more below:
- Mula Bandha, contraction of the perineum. Lift or squeeze the pelvic floor (like a kegel exercise) and squeeze the anus. Your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder, bowels, and womb. Associated with the Muladhara chakra, the lowest of the energy along the spine. This bandha directs the energy flow to the rectum to stimulate the pelvic floor muscles and urogenital organs. Practicing Mula Bandha helps strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, improves core stability, assists with bladder control, enhances our powers of concentration, and brings in a state of greater calm and equanimity to the practitioner.
- Uddiyana bandha, contraction of the abdomen into the spine and upward into the rib cage. It spans the connection between the chest and abdomen, and attaches to the base of the rib cage and lumbar spine. Internally it stretches the diaphragm, stomach, and abdomen up and back. he abdomen is the seat of power in the body and the locus for the third chakra, Manipura, located at the navel. The abdominal lift transmits this power to higher centres – the heart and upper extremities. Uddiyana Bhanda tones, massages and cleanses the abdominal organs and deep interior muscles, while improving core stability and consentration.
- Jalandhara Bandha, tucking the chin close to the chest. Positioned in the throat region, this bandha inhibits the flow of Prana in the subtle body, and is believed to control the stream of energy through the nerves and energy channels of the neck. Jalandhara bandha is a subtle process that works on the internal energy systems. It activates and energizes the Vishuddha (throat) chakra), which is believed to aid in communication, freedom, and self-expression. This powerful energy lock is said to compress and stimulate the sinuses. This helps regulate and balance both the circulatory and respiratory systems. The throat pressure gently balances the thyroid gland, helping to regulate the metabolism.
When we activate all 3 of these at the same time, we are activating Maha Bandha, “The Great Lock”. Overall, when practicing yoga, one should also engage these primary bandhas throughout out practice to stimulate the organs, improve internal stability, and create space for prana to flow!