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Maha Bandha (Great Lock) in Yoga - Steps, Benefits, and Precautions
Read to know more aboutthis advanced yoga technique that combines the three primary bandhas.
By PS EDITORS | Reviewed by NOAH BROWN
Last Update: Sept 15, 2022
This Great Lock Technique is the pinnacle of yoga mudras.
We created this guide to understand it's procedure and benefits.
Read about the steps, benefits, and precautions of Maha Bandha.
See also our beginner's guide to Kaya Mudras.
In modern yoga, bandha are treated as a distinct category of techniques. They are nuanced and demand skillful practice and instruction. But when done correctly, yoga body locks can yield remarkable spiritual and health benefits.
We've covered the steps, benefits, and contraindication of the three primary bandhas in yoga –
Maha Bandha is the other three bandhas rolled into one. In simple words, you get into a cross-legged yoga posture, retain the breath (kumbhaka), and apply/release the three primary body locks in a specific order.
As you can note, a lot happens in a controlled manner and short duration, which is why we created this comprehensive guide to Maha Bandha. However, please learn and master the three main bandhas before attempting this yoga technique.
What's Covered In This Article:
So, what exactly is Maha Bandha?
Maha bandha is a yoga technique that combines Mula bandha, Jalandhara bandha, and Uddiyana bandha. It involves sitting in Padmasana and applying these three body locks simultaneously and in a controlled manner.
In simple terms, you contract three sets of muscles - the throat compartment, abdomen, and anal sphincter in conjuction with breath retention while sitting in a cross-legged yoga posture. .
Maha Bandha is described in ancient yoga texts like Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and Siva Samhita. Back then, bandhas were called mudras (body gestures). So, some yoga texts refer to it as Maha Mudra.
Maha is the Sanskrit word for 'great' or 'supreme,' and bandha means to bind or lock, which is how we get the name 'Great Lock Technique' in yoga. It is also called Tri-bandha, the Great Lock technique, or Maha Mudra.
“Maha bandha is one of many yoga tools to deepen your practice. Many yoga practitioners forgo it because there is so much to unpack. I find it worth the effort to pursue mastery as it yields unrivaled mental clarity and helps me prepare to deep meditation,” says Yogi Hansraj, a yoga teacher from Haridwar, India.
Purpose and Significance
Yogis practice bandhas to control and expand the life-energy within them. There are a three reason to practice Maha Bandha in particular - a) it unites Prana Vayu with Apana Vayu, b) it balances Ida and Pingala nadis, and c) it leads an individual to higher states of consciousness.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika claims yogis who practice Maha Bandha will be “free of disease, tender as the stalk of a lotus, and live a very long life.” Regular practice combines the benefits of the three main bandhas to awaken Kundalini energy.
In Kundalini Yoga, yoga body locks (and breath retention) are a means to trap prana in the body. The pranic currents, having no way to exit or escape, are forced to move up the Sushumna Channel and activate the seven chakras.
"Maha bandha forces prana into Sushumna Nadi – the central energy channel. Kundalini texts say Maha Bandha helps an individual attain the 'seat of Shiva,' the highest level of consciousness. What that means is, maha bandha activates the Ajna Chakra – the third-eye or eyebrow energy center," adds Yogi Hansraj.
Besides this, Maha bandha also has many health benefits including enhanced receptivity, restoring balance in biorhythms, and efficient functioning of the endocrine system. We'll get into those aspects and benefits in a later section.
Base Pose: Accomplished Pose or Lotus Pose
Prepare with: Dirgha Pranayama (Three-part breathing)
Rounds: 1 to 3 with rest between rounds
Post-bandha: Follow up with meditation
To practice Maha bandha, get on your yoga mat and assume the Lotus Pose or Accomplished Pose.
Close your eyes and place your palms on your knees. Raise the shoulders and tilt the body slightly forward.
The hands may form yoga mudras or they can be added later when you are familiar with the practice.
Calm your mind with a few deep breaths. Exhale when ready and empty your lungs. You can now begin Maha Bandha.
Inhale deeply and hold your breath inside the body. As you hold your breath, apply the three bandhas in the following order: Throat lock, abdomen lock, and root lock.
Concentrate on any one chakra or rotate your focus between three chakras - Throat, Solar Plexus, and Root chakra. Hold the bandha for as long as you can comfortably retain the breath.
To get out, release the bandhas in the exact same order (Throat, Abdomen, Root) or in the reverse order (Root, Abdomen, Throat). Both methods are acceptable and are derived from different schools of yoga. Additionally, as per Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Ch3, Verse 22), you can omit Jalandhara Bandha if you keep the tongue against the front teeth.
You have completed one round of Maha Bandha in yoga.
Practicing maha bandha moves energy and can be intense, so do not attempt more than one round. Rest in Corpse Pose to allow energies to return to normal afterward. Add another round after 5 or more sessions, depending on your skill level.
Maha Bandha Benefits
Maha bandha purifies the subtle body (Pranamaya Kosha).
It balances the three glands and endocrine system.
Maha bandha promotes mental clarity and a sense of balance
It leads to sense withdrawal and elevates one's level of consciousness.
Maha bandha revitalizes the internal organs and autonomic nervous system.
It activates the Root, Solar Plexus, and Throat energy centers.
It also comprises of the benefits of the three bandhas involved.
Additionally, each of the three body locks in Maha Bandha correspond to a chakra. The throat lock influences the Throat Chakra, the abdomen lock influences the Solar Plexus Chakra, and the root lock influences the Root Chakra.
Safety and Contraindications
Maha bandha is contraindicated in pregnancy, hypertension, stomach disorders, glaucoma, and cardiovascular diseases. Do not practice Maha bandha if you have any injury in the upper body. Acquaint yourself with the contraindications of the three yoga bandhas involved as they apply to Maha bandha as well.
If you are uncertain about what is permissible for your health condition, consult a yoga teacher and physician before you attempt the bandha. Lastly, please note that the Maha Bandha technique is not for beginners or intermediate yogis.
Tips to Practice Maha Bandha
Time and Duration
Practice Maha bandha early in the morning on a empty stomach at the end of your pranayama routine. This yoga technique can be used to transition from pranayama to meditation. Beginners should only attempt one round. Add an additional round each week until you can perform 3 to 5 rounds. Three rounds are enough if you want to prepare for meditation.
Warm up Yoga Poses
Yoga poses stretch and warm up the muscle groups and body parts involved in Maha Bandha. Here are a few poses you can use to warm up and/or prepare your body for this technique - i
Butterfly Pose (Titliasana)
Boat Pose (Navasana)
Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani),
Wind Relieving Pose (Pawanmuktasana)
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana)
Bandhas should not be attempted until you have practiced postural yoga and can comfortably perform yoga poses while maintaining control over the breath. The progression of your practice should be as follows –
Yoga asana -> Pranayama -> Three primary bandha -> Maha Bandha.
Master yoga poses such as Downward facing dog, Seated Forward Fold, and Halasana before you attempt pranayama. Secondly, be proficient in Ujjayi, Kapalabhati, Bhrastrika, and Kumbhaka pranayama before attempting bandhas. Attempt bandhas only when you possess the ability to hold your breath for a considerable amount of time.
You must be at a stage where you can perform the throat, abdomen, and root lock (3 rounds with 4 to 8 counts) before attempting Maha Bandha. If you have never performed a bandha before, start here and go through our extensive guides for each body lock used in yoga.
Despite being such a powerful technique, maha bandha gets a hard pass in most yoga routines. But those who choose to practice Maha bandha are rewarded with some great effects and experiences. We've put forward the steps, benefits, and precautiosn, hoping this guide will encourage your to explore the technique.
This post is informed by our personal practice, a close reading of yoga literature, and inputs from experienced instructors. We are determined to provide accurate information. For that reason, each instructional post is edited and approved by a certified yoga teacher. Still, we advise discretion and in-person guidance for all advanced yoga practices.