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Maha Bandha in Yoga: Meaning, Benefits, and Precautions 

Prana regulation is an indispensable part of yoga, and Maha Bandha is the culmination of the yoga practices used to control energy channels to direct and regulate life-energy in the body.

FEBRUARY 27, 2020

VINEET KAUL

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 yoga, bandhas are treated as a distinct category of techniques. They are nuanced and challenging, demanding utmost attention and high-quality instruction. When done correctly, bandhas have a remarkable effect on brain connectivity[1], core stability [2], and much more. 

So far, we have covered the three primary energy locks in yoga –

  • Throat Lock or Jalandhara Bandha

  • Root Lock or Mula Bandha

  • Abdomen Lock or Uddiyana Bandha

Simply put, Maha Bandha is the other three bandhas rolled into one. You integrate the three energy locks with breathing and perform them simultaneously. That means there is a lot that will happen in a controlled manner in a short duration of time.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that practicing Maha Bandha regularly makes you “free of disease, tender as the stalk of a lotus, and live a very long life.” Those who practice maha bandha, combine the benefits of the three energy locks to awaken Kundalini (creative energy).

“It is neither necessary nor obligatory to practice Maha bandhas as it is one of many yogic 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 unrivalled clarity when done right and that helps me transition to deep meditation,” says Yogi Hansraj, a Kundalini yoga teacher from Haridwar, India.

Maha Bandha: Meaning and Purpose

Maha (great) and bandha (to hold or lock) is a yoga technique that involves applying three yoga body locks simultaneously – Mula, Uddiyana, and Jalandhara bandha. To do this, a yogi must sit in Lotus Pose (Padmasana) and contract three sets of muscles: the throat compartment, abdomen (or diaphragm), and the muscles between the navel point and pelvic floor.

Each bandha or energy lock is revitalizing. It allows you to direct the flow of prana without dissipation. When applied together, the three bandhas lead to inner harmony and enhanced receptivity, and awareness of the Self. The positively impact the endocrine system and biorhythms.

 

The practice of bandhas are shrouded in mystery in classic yoga texts. They are said to be 'secret sadhanas' that should only be passed on from a teacher (guru) to a student (sadhaka) when he/she is ready and deserving.  Another key thing to note is that all yoga texts say bandhas are advanced practices. They are only for qualified students who are well-trained in yoga asana and pranayama. 

Maha Bandha in Kundalini Yoga

 

If you look at our anatomy, the throat is at the upper end of the spine, the abdomen is at the center, and the root (mula) is located at the base of the spine. The root (Mula) and throat (Jalandhara) bandhas’ function is to seal the upper and lower end of the spinal column.

The energy locks (and breath retention) trap prana or life-energy in the body. The pranic currents have no way to exit or escape and are forced into the Sushumna (Central Channel located in the spinal cord). They move up the seven energy centers and energize Ajna Chakra.

 

"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.” What that means is, it activates the Ajna Chakra – the third-eye or eyebrow energy center," adds Yogi Hansraj.

In other words, the seat of Shiva is alludes to the highest level of consciousness.

Step-by-Step: How to practice Maha Bandha

 

Base Pose: Siddhasana (Accomplished Pose or Lotus Pose

Difficulty: Advanced

Guidance: Recommended

Prepare with: Dirgha Pranayama (Three part breathing)

Rounds: 1 to 3 with rest between rounds

Post-bandha: Follow up with meditation

 

  1. To practice Maha bandha, get on your yoga mat and assume the Lotus Pose or Accomplished Pose.

  2. Close your eyes and place your palms on your knees. Raise the shoulders and tilt the body slightly forward. 

  3. The hands may form mudras i.e., Gyan or Chin mudra. Mudras are optional and can be included once you are fully familiar with the practice. .

  4. Take a moment to become calm with a few deep breaths. Exhale when ready and empty your lungs. You can now begin Maha Bandha.  

  5. 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.

  6. Hold for as long as you can comfortably retain the breath. Concentrate on any one chakra or rotate your focus between three chakras - Throat, Solar Plexus, and Root chakra.

  7. 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. 

  8. Breathe steady after releasing the final lock and rest with a few rounds of slow, deep breathing. You have completed one round of Maha Bandha in yoga.

  9. Do not attempt more than one round initially. Practicing maha bandha moves energy or prana around the body. It can be intense. Do not over-do it. Continue with one round for at least five sessions before you increase to two and so on.

  10. Rest in Corpse Pose to allow energies to return to normal afterward.

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Maha Bandha Benefits

  1. Maha bandha purifies the subtle body (Pranamaya Kosha).

  2. It balances the three glands and endocrine system.

  3. Maha bandha promotes mental clarity and a sense of balance

  4. It leads to sense withdrawal and elevates one's level of consciousness.

  5. Maha bandha revitalizes the internal organs and autonomic nervous system.

  6. It activates the Root, Solar Plexus, and Throat energy centers.

  7. 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. This technique is not for beginners or intermediate yoga practitioners.
 

Acquaint yourself with the precautions of the three basic bandhas as they will apply to the great lock as well. If you are uncertain about your condition, consult a yoga teacher and healthcare practitioner to discuss what is safe and permissible.

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. It cab be used to transition from yoga breathing to deep meditation. However, it is not obligatory as there are other ways to prepare for deep meditative states.

Do some yoga asana to warm up the muscle grounds involved in Maha Bandha. Your yoga flow should have some inversions like Legs up the wall or Headstand. Start with moderate intensity yoga poses to warm up the muscle groups involved. Here are a few asanas you can include in your routine:

  • Butterfly Pose (Titliasana)

  • Plow Pose (Halasana),

  • Boat Pose (Navasana)

  • Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani),

  • Wind Relieving Pose (Pawanmuktasana)

  • Headstand (Sirsasana),

  • 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 (asana) and can comfortably perform yoga poses while maintaining the breath. The progression of your yoga practice should be – yoga asana ->  pranayama -> three primary bandhas -> Maha Bandha.

Master yoga poses ushc as Downward facing dog, Seated Forward Fold, and Halasana before you attempt Maha Bandha. Before you attempt the great lock in your yoga routine, you should be proficient in Ujjayi, Kapalabhati, Bhrastrika, and Kumbhaka pranayama. 

 

Lastly, you should be proficient enough to apply Jaladhara, Uddiyana, and Mula bandha (3 rounds with 4 to 8 counts) before attempting Maha Bandha. ​Once you are adept at the three body locks, it is time to attempt the “great lock” in yoga. Clearly, the Great Lock is an advanced yoga practice.

 

Do not attempt it for bragging rights. It must be done gradually and built up over time, possibly under the guidance of an experienced yogi.Lastly, attempt Maha Bandha only when you possess the ability to hold your breath for a considerable amount of time.

 

If you have never performed a bandha before, start here and go through our extensive guides of all the primary bandhas in yoga.

Parting Thoughts

 

Despite being such a powerful practice, maha bandha gets a hard pass in most yoga classes. It’s glossed over by a vast majority of the yoga population. As mentioned earlier, it is not mandatory to master this bandhas, but doing so can lead to some great effects and experiences.

One of the key maha bandhas benefits is to enter deep states of meditation. Nevertheless, 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.  

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