Mapping the Synergy of Bandhas and Chakras in Yoga Practice
By VINEET KAUL | Reviewed by SONIA JUNKOVA
How do bandhas (yoga energy locks) correspond to chakras?
An overview of the chakra system and pranic sheath of the body.
We'll explore the subtle energetic effects of each bandha.
Also, check out our guide to Maha Bandha, the Great Lock.
In modern yoga, bandhas (energy locks) are often presented as dynamic muscular engagements with various physical effects. Clinical studies also affirm that engaging can benefit multiple bodily functions, from the respiratory and endocrine to the digestive and reproductive processes. While this explanation serves a practical purpose, it’s crucial to recognize that bandhas are energy modalities in yoga. They help us develop a connection between the physical and subtle layers of our body, and understanding the synergy between bandhas and chakras can deepen your yoga practice.
In Brief: Mulabandha targets the Root (Muladhara) and Sacral (Svadisthana) chakra, Uddiyana Bandha activates the Solar Plexus (Manipura) and Heart (Anahata) chakra, and Jalandhara Bandha influences the Throat (Vishuddhi) and Third-eye (Ajna) chakra.
According to traditional yoga texts, the three primary bandhas target the energy centers located between the base of the torso and the crown of the head. Through muscular contraction, breath control, and awareness, bandhas flush the target region with life energy, release blockages in the subtle energy channels called nadis, and promote the smooth flow of prana within the body.
In this article, we explore the symbiotic relationship between bandhas and chakras. However, readers may benefit from reading our articles on nadis, prana, and each bandha practice for a proper background context to understand how prana flows and functions within our body.
What are Chakras in Yoga?
In the yogic tradition, our body is believed to have an etheric double or an energetic duplicate composed of prana energy. This energy sheath, better known as Pranamaya Kosha, contains our bioenergy systems and has two key components: Nadis (energy channels) and Chakras (energy centers).
Nadis form an intricate network of energy channels that carry prana throughout the subtle body. Although there are thousands of nadis, three primary nadis – Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna – are particularly important in yoga, and you can find detailed information about them in our guide.
In yoga theory, chakras are energy centers – depicted as swirling wheels – positioned along the spine. There are seven primary chakras extending from the base of the torso and ending at the crown of the head. Each chakra is associated with distinct qualities, characteristics, and aspects of human life:
Muladhara (Root Chakra) – Physical body, stability, and security.
Svadhishthana (Sacral Chakra) – Emotions, sexuality, and creativity.
Manipura (Solar Plexus Chakra) – Willpower, confidence, and inner strength.
Anahata (Heart Chakra) – Love, compassion, and emotional healing.
Vishuddha (Throat Chakra) – Communication, creativity, and self-expression.
Ajna (Third Eye Chakra) – Intuition, insight, and inner wisdom.
Sahasrara (Crown Chakra) – Spiritual awakening and universal consciousness.
In yogic traditions, it is believed that maintaining an unobstructed energy flow through the nadis and chakras is fundamental for physical and mental well-being. As a result, all yogic practices – Neti, Naukasana, or Nadi Shuddhi – aim to cleanse and balance the energy systems.
The rationale behind this approach is that blockages or disruptions in the bioenergy systems can lead to a wide range of physical, emotional, or psychological issues. Such disturbances hinder mental clarity and energetic harmony and become obstacles in your spiritual growth journey.
How Yoga Bandhas Influence Chakras
Engaging bandhas entails creating energy locks through deliberate muscle contractions within the body. Conceptually, it is akin to manipulating internal gates to channel or restrain the flow of energy, much like how the operation of a river dam regulates the flow of water.
Simply put, these energy modulation techniques optimize the flow of life energy within the body, activating and harmonizing the chakras. Below, we’ll explore the interplay between the three primary bandhas and seven energy centers.
1. Mula Bandha and Muladhara Chakra
Engaging Mula Bandha involves contracting and lifting the perineum muscles located at the base of our torso. This area is also the location of the Muladhara Chakra, the root energy center. Therefore, practicing the root lock technique influences the flow of prana energy in the Muladhara Chakra.
This primal energy center – Muladhara – is the foundation of the chakra system in yogic philosophy.
It governs all the downward and outward processes of the body, such as urination, menstruation, ejaculation, bowel movements, and even childbirth. On a subtle level, Muladhara chakra is linked to the earth element, our sense of smell, inherent survival instincts, and our need for stability and security.
In yoga traditions, activating the Muladhara chakra is the first crucial step to spiritual growth, as it builds a solid foundation to explore higher realms of spirituality. While several yogic practices can activate it, practicing Mula Bandha is considered one of the most effective ways to do so.
2. Uddiyana Bandha and Manipura Chakra
Uddiyana bandha entails engaging the abdominal muscles and elevating the dome-shaped diaphragm into the chest cavity. This strong upward lift of energy aligns with the Manipura (Solar Plexus) chakra, the source of our determination, self-worth, and confidence.
Manipura Chakra is called the “seat of power” in yogic philosophy, as it stores our personal power and inner strength that brings about growth and transformation. It is linked to the fire element and governs the processes that generate heat within the body, both physical and metaphysical. Physiologically, this energy center is primarily associated with digestion, including absorption, assimilation, and food and energy distribution.
The strong abdominal contraction of Uddiyana Bandha is believed to activate and balance the Manipura Chakra. Doing so promotes self-assuredness and willpower and improves the overall functioning of the muscles, tissues, and organs in the abdominal region.
3. Jalandhara Bandha and Vishuddhi Chakra
Jalandhara Bandha, executed through the chin-to-chest maneuver, establishes an “energy lock” at the pit of the throat. This area corresponds to the Vishuddhi (Throat) Chakra, the wellspring of akasha (ether element) and the source of our creativity, communication, and authenticity.
The neck flexion during Jalandhara Bandha causes our mind to direct awareness to the throat chakra.
On the other hand, neck compression slows the exchange of fluids and energy between the head and the rest of the body. This process significantly reduces the flow of sensory inputs to the brain, resulting in calmness and introspection. Since the external distractions have been blocked out, intuition and insight take precedence over the reactive thoughts emerging from our unconscious mind.
It's also worth noting that the Vishuddhi energy plexus is called the “purification center” in ancient Tantra scriptures, as its balanced state opens up the faculty of higher discrimination. It is linked to the ether element and governs our self-expression and ability to connect with others on a deeper level.
Harmonizing Chakras using Yoga Bandhas
In yogic philosophy, chakra energy centers are associated with different aspects of human experience, including emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The opening and alignment of the chakra system signifies different stages of spiritual development, starting with awakening and leading to self-realization.
As seven chakras are interconnected, imbalances or activation in one can influence the other. Therefore, adopting a holistic approach to working on the entire system is crucial. This can be done by using a multitude of yoga practices, like asanas, pranayama, mudras, and mantras. Moreover, it's best to learn the correct technique for each bandha from a qualified yoga teacher to ensure safety. Your practice should also include directing awareness to the target area to amplify the chakra-bandha synergy.
Now, bandhas are taught in nearly all branches of yoga, but chakra activation is more prevalent in Kriya Yoga, Tantra, Raja Yoga, and Kundalini Yoga. Some energy healing traditions also work on chakras to release energetic blockages. Still, the root causes of stagnant energy flow can have multiple contributing factors, including the physical, emotional, or mental aspects of our lives.
As with any yoga practice, it's essential to approach bandhas with respect, mindfulness, and dedication. For those who want to expand their knowledge about bandhas, we highly recommend reading the written works of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga.