Maha Bandha (Great Lock) in Yoga: Steps, Benefits, and Precautions
An advanced yoga practice to regulate life-energy and awaken Kundalini.
FEBRUARY 27, 2020
Maha Bandha is also called Tri-bandha, the Great Lock technique, or Maha Mudra. It can be traced back to many seminal texts of yoga such as Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and Siva Samhita.
Back then, all bandhas or energy locks were called mudras (body gestures).
In modern practice, bandha or body locks are treated as a distinct category of yoga techniques. They are nuanced and challenging, demanding skillful practice and high-quality instruction. When done correctly, bandhas have a remarkable effect on brain connectivity, core stability , and much more.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states practicing Maha Bandha regularly will “be free of disease, tender as the stalk of a lotus, and live a very long life.” Those who practice it, combine the benefits of the three energy locks to awaken Kundalini energy.
Speaking of which, we have covered the three primary bandha practices in yoga –
Maha Bandha is the other three bandhas rolled into one. In simple words, you apply three body locks simultaneously to do the Great Lock Technique. But that also means a lot happens in a controlled manner and short duration.
So, you need to be thorough with all primary bandhas before attempting it.
“It is neither necessary nor obligatory to practice Maha bandhas as it 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 over the Great Lock Technique. It creates unrivaled clarity when done right and that helps me transition to deep meditation,” says Yogi Hansraj, a yoga teacher from Haridwar, India.
Maha Bandha: Meaning and Purpose
Maha bandha or the 'Great Lock' is a yoga technique of applying three body locks simultaneously during breath retention in a controlled manner. To do the bandha, a yogi must sit in Lotus Pose and contract three sets of muscles - the throat compartment, abdomen, and anal sphincter.
When applied together, the three bandhas lead to inner harmony and enhanced receptivity, and awareness of the Self. The maha bandha benefits range from positively impacting the endocrine system to restoring balance in biorhythms.
If you look at our anatomy, the throat is at the upper end of the spine, the abdomen is at the center, and the pelvic floor is located at the base of the spine. The root (Mula) and throat (Jalandhara) bandha to seal the upper and lower end of the spinal column, leaving no exit for prana to escape.
In Kundalini theory, it is believed that yoga body locks (and breath retention) trap prana in the body. The pranic currents, having no way to exit or escape, are forced into the Sushumna Channel (located in the spinal cord).
"When you practice Maha bandha, it ushers prana into Sushumna Nadi – the central channel. The Kundalini texts state that Maha Bandha helps an individual attain the 'seat of Shiva.' The 'seat of Shiva' is 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.
Step-by-Step: How to practice Maha Bandha
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.
You can release the bandhas in the exact same order - Throat Lock, Abdomen lock, and root lock. Conversely, you can release them in the reverse order – Root, Abdomen, and Throat lock. Both methods are acceptable and are derived from different schools of yoga. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika also states (Chapter 3, Verse 22) that you do not need to do the Jalandhara Bandha if you keep the tongue against the front teeth. Either way, release the breathe slowly, not quickly.
You have completed one round of Maha Bandha in yoga.
Do not attempt more than one round initially. Practicing maha bandha moves energy and can be intense. Continue with one round for at least five sessions before you increase to two and so on.
Rest in Corpse Pose to allow energies to return to normal afterward.
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.
Each of the three locks in Maha Bandha correspond to a chakra. The throat lock influences the Vishuddhi or Throat Chakra, the abdomen lock influences the Manipura or Solar Plexus Chakra, and the root lock influences the Muladhara or Root Chakra.
Thereby, this body lock activates three energy centers that equates to the Maha bandha benefits. The main benefit is a positive influence on the mind, a sense of balance, and mental clarity.
Maha bandha: Contraindications and Precautions
Maha bandha is contraindicated in pregnancy, hypertension, stomach disorders, glaucoma, and cardiovascular diseases. Do not practice Maha bandha if you have any disorders in the upper body.
Note that the Maha Bandha technique is not for beginners or intermediate yogis.
Acquaint yourself with the precautions and contraindications of the three yoga techniques inolved as they will apply to the great lock technique 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.
How to Practice Maha Bandha with Pranayama
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. However, it is not obligatory to do so as there are other ways to prepare for deep meditative states.
Do some yoga poses to warm up the muscle groups involved in Maha Bandha. Here are a few yoga asanas you can include in your routine to prepare:
Butterfly Pose (Titliasana)
Plow Pose (Halasana),
Boat Pose (Navasana)
Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani),
Wind Relieving Pose (Pawanmuktasana)
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana)
"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. More rounds are usually performed if you doing it to attain the health benefits," says Yogi Hansraj.
Are you ready for Maha Bandha?
Bandhas should not be attempted until you have practiced postural yoga and can comfortably perform yoga poses while maintaining the breath. The progression of your yoga 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, adbomen, 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 fo each of the three body locks used in yoga.
Clearly, the Great Lock is an advanced yoga technique. Do not attempt it for bragging rights. As with all advanced yoga techniques, it must be done gradually and built up over time, preferably under the guidance of an experienced yoga instructor.
Despite being such a powerful technique, maha bandha gets a hard pass in most yoga classes. In fact, it’s glossed over by a vast majority of the yoga population. But those who choose to practice Maha bandha are rewarded with some great effects and experiences.
If you choose to do it, build your practice methodically and gradually. Over doing it can lead to fatigue or dizziness. If you feel any discomfort, rest in the Corpse Pose (Savasana) after breath normally.
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.