How to Practice Yoga Bandhas or Body Locks Safely
Do you share our clap-your-hands enthusiasm for body locks in yoga? Here's how you can practice yoga bandhas safer, better, and stronger.
In Light on Pranayama, BKS Iyengar states that bandhas "distribute energy and prevent its waste through hyperventilation of the body." Iyenger also explains how they are integral to attaining samadhi as they awaken and direct Kundalini energy up the central channel during pranayama.
Yoga is a multi-faceted practice that allows a student to dive as deep as they are willing. One of its greatest gems is the practice of bandhas or yoga body locks. We have talked a great deal about the physiological, spiritual, and energetic qualities of yoga bandhas.
In this article, we discuss how to approach yoga body locks and tips to prevent injuries or exertion. We present an actionable guide to mastering this advanced yoga technique
How many bandhas are there in Yoga?
Most schools of yoga recognize six types of bandha - three major, two minor, and the Great Lock or Maha Bandha, a technique of applying all three major locks simultaneously. To recap, here is a list of yoga body locks with their locations:
Mula Bandha – the pelvic floor or anal sphincter
Uddiyana Bandha – the abdominal muscles or sphincter of oddi
Jalandhara Bandha – the throat or upper esophageal sphincter
Hasta Bandha – the fingertips and palms of the hands
Pada Bandha – the toes and soles of the feet
Lay the Groundwork with Theory, Poses, and Pranayama
Let's assume you have been doing yoga asana for a few weeks to months. Now, you've decided to use body locks in your daily routine. So, what’s the next step?
People often ask us why it’s necessary to learn yoga poses and pranayama bandhas. Postural yoga helps in toning the body, injury prevention, and preparing your lungs and muscles for advanced yoga techniques like pranayama and body locks.
Pranayama is important because breath retention is an important part of bandhas. Plus, you need to develop the ability to connect awareness to the breath to notice how prana moves in the body. That means sitting on the mat for a good ten minutes of breath observation for a week.
In terms of theory, understand the theory of the five sub-types of prana. It is called the Five Prana Vayus or Pancha Prana. Knowing the role/function of the five sub-types will give you a better understanding of the mechanism and benefits of yoga bandhas.
Lastly, learn about the breathing apparatus and anatomy in yoga. Read about the parts of the breath such as puraka, rechaka, and kumbhaka (inhalation, exhalation, and breath retention). Also, start learning different types of pranayams and practice them for a few weeks.
Attempt bandhas once you achieve the prerequisite proficiency in asana and pranayama. This can take anything between a few weeks to a few months, but it is well worth the effort.
How to use bandhas in yoga:
Start with the five steps mentioned below. But don't forget that each bandha is the act of activating a group of muscles or sphincters. We don't use these muscles often, at least not consciously. So, start by getting a sense of where these muscles are located in your body.
Here is our 5-step actionable guide to mastering yoga bandhas from scratch:
Step One: Learn and practice yoga bandhas in the following order – Jalandhara bandha, Uddiyana Bandha (standing), Uddiyana Bandha (seated), Mula Bandha, and Maha bandha. This order goes from easiest to hardest and should be followed for safety.
Step Two: Start with the Throat Lock or Jalandhara bandha, the easiest of all body locks. Before you roll out your mat, get familiar with the theory, method, and physiological mechanisms involved in the throat lock. A few books will go a long way.
Pick any book you like from our top five picks to learn pranayama. There are a handful of instructional videos in the Amazon Prime catalog as well. We have a detailed article on the theory, contraindications, and Jalandhara bandha benefits.
Step Three: After you have a good grasp of the method, take it to the yoga mat! But first, warm up with a yoga asana routine with poses that stretch muscles of the throat and upper body. After that, practice Jalandhara bandha without the pranayama component.
Why without pranayama, you may ask. The reason for that is we don't want to overwhelm ourselves. At this point, we only want to understand the form before using it in conjunction with yoga breathing. Do everything slowly and Use a mirror or ask
Step Three: Have you mastered the form? Excellent! Now slowly add Jalandhara bandha to your pranayama routine. Start by doing one round of Jalandhara bandha during the internal breath retention component of deep breathing. Add it to pranayama like Chandra or Surya Bhedana.
Do one round for a few days before you add another round. Slow and steady is best for safety. Plus, you don’t need to do more than three rounds of yoga body locks.
Step Four: Don’t add another bandha until you master the first one. As much as we all want to race to Samadhi, it’s not something you can rush. It is critically important to respect your body’s limits and stay within the range of comfort, especially when it comes to retaining your breath.
With diligence and discipline, you will be able to activate Jalandhara bandha effortlessly within a few days. When you hit that point, it’s time to add another body lock to your yoga routine.
Step Four: Take up Mula bandha after the Throat Lock. You could learn Uddiyana bandha but we feel it’s slightly difficult compared to the root lock. Regardless of your decision, repeat the same steps as above but with the new practice instead of the throat lock.
Once you are proficient, move on to the last of the three major bandhas and repeat the same steps to learn it. This way, within a few weeks, you will master all the yoga bandhas safely.
Step Five: You should attempt the Great Lock technique only after you master the three energy locks – Jalandhara, Uddiyana, and Mula bandha. Mastery means you can activate each body lock perfectly, with ease, and while holding your breath for at least eight to ten seconds.
By this point, you will start experiencing the mental, physical and spiritual health benefits of yoga body locks. Use them after your pranayama routine to relax or enter deeper states of meditation. Experiment with different combinations to understand what works for you!
Allow us to reiterate - bandhas are not for beginners. Use them only after you are well-versed in yoga poses and the basic pranayama in Hatha yoga. Moreover, they are best learned once you can hold your breath for a while.
It takes skillful instruction and patience to understand, implement, and master these yoga techniques. But they will, we promise you, become second nature and bring new life to your daily yoga routine. Hopefully, this article has brought you one step closer to that end.