Bandhas are energetic body locks that help flow blocked energy throughout the body. They are another tool used to consciously harness, increase, and direct prana in the body to help the yoga practitioner gain a physical lightness in the body. Because of this, it is a great tool to help students with body awareness leading to Self awareness. It is also good for calming the mind and nerves.
Since the bandhas help with the flow of prana, it is best to practice them with an empty stomach, as this will help you to distinguish the locks and perceive energy movement along the spine.
6 Types of Bandhas
MULA BANDHA: the Mulbhand or Root Lock. It is the most frequently applied and is performed by first contracting perineum. To do this, first contract the anal sphincter, drawing it in and up (as if trying to hold back a bowel movement), then drawing up the sex organ (so that the urethral tract is contracted). This is similar to doing Kegels. Lastly, pull the navel point by drawing the lower abdomen back towards the spine. This is applied with breath held (in or out), and helps unite the two major energy flows, prana and apana, generating psychic heat which triggers the release of Kundalini energy, and often ends an asana or exercise. This bandha is great if you have pain or tension in the pelvis area.
UDDIYANA BANDHA: the Diaphragm or Abdominal Lock. It is applied by lifting the diaphragm high up into the thorax while pulling the upper abdominal muscles back towards the spine, creating a cavity, and giving a gentle massage to the heart muscles. It helps to move and transform pranic energy up to the neck region, stimulates the hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the brain and develops a sense of compassion. It is normally applied with the breath held out. This posture is great to practice at the beginning of your class to build energy and heat in the body.
JALANDHARA BANDHA: the Neck Lock or Chin Lock. It is used during most chanting meditations and pranayams (breathing exercises) unless otherwise specified. It is also a great way to protect your neck during asana practice. It is done by lifting the chest and sternum upward and stretching the back of the neck straight by pulling the chin back towards the neck. You should feel some tension in the back and sides of the neck. This preserves the energy in the throat and chest instead of allowing it to dissipate through the top.
The chin rests in the notch between the collar bones and the head stays level without tilting forward, straightening the cervical vertebrae, and allowing the free flow of prana to the brain. This lock puts pressure on the thyroid and parathyroid to enable their secretions, and in turn, activate the pituitary.
Without this lock, pranayama can cause uncomfortable pressure in eyes, ears, and heart. It will also prevent dizziness caused by rapid changes in blood pressure which can occur when nadis (channels of pranic flow) are unblocked.
MAHA BANDHA: the Great Lock. This is the application of all 3 of the locks above at once. This rejuvenates nerves and glands. It also helps to regulate blood pressure by releasing stored prana from its associated energy center (or Chakra) and letting it flow freely throughout the body.
HASTA BANDHA: the Hand Lock. It is applied during Yoga practice by placing your hands on the mat and spreading the fingers as you press into your thumb and forefingers to enhance the natural arch in the palm. This allows you to evenly distribute the body’s weight throughout the hand and helps to prevent strain and wrist injury.
PADA BANDHA: the Foot Lock. It is applied during Yoga practice by placing your feet are on the mat by spread the toes and press down into the balls and heels of the feet and enhanced the 3 arches of the foot. The three arches are located from the big toe to the little toe, the big toe to the ankle and the ankle to the little toe, creating a triangle. This allows you to evenly distribute the body’s weight throughout the feet and helps to prevent strain and ankle injury.
A good bandha exercise that you can do to to fully understand & experience the bandhas, is to sit on your heels and spread your knees wide apart. Place your palms on your thighs. Then apply the bandhas in this order:
- Apply Mula Bandha and relax
- Apply Uddiyana Bandha and relax
- Apply Jalandhara Bandha and relax
Repeat in rhythmic alteration for 2-10 minutes