How to Use Bandhas in Yoga – An Actionable Guide for Beginners
Wondering how to practice bandha techniques in pranayama? Read our Yoga Bandha guide to understand the benefits and significance of regulating prana through body locks.
Prana or life-energy currents flow through our body in energy pathways called Nadis. Certain yoga techniques allow you to manipulate or regulate the flow of these energy current. One of these techniques is called bandhas.
The yogic term ‘bandha’ is a Sanskrit word that translates to ‘lock or bind.’ In English, it is called an energy lock or body lock. However, a yoga bandha, at heart, is the act of applying neuro-muscular locks to specific areas of the body, typically at junctions called sphincters.
Bandhas have seemingly lost favor in modern yoga because they are nuanced. However, they enjoy favor in Kundalini, Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Hatha yoga. Some yoga schools advocate the use of bandhas with yoga poses and flows. Others insist they must be combined with pranayama.
We belong to the latter school of thought. We highly recommend the use of bandhas to deepen your pranayama practice. You can practice pranayama without energy locks. But adding bandhas will elevate it to a whole new level.
Four Types of Bandhas in Yoga
There are four main bandhas in yoga:
Root Lock or Mula bandha – Contracting the Perineum
Abdominal Lock or Uddiyana bandha – Lifting and tuck the Diaphragm
Throat Lock or Jalandhara bandha (throat lock) – Chin-to-Chest Maneuver
The Great Lock or Maha bandha – a combination of all three bandhas
1. Throat Lock or Jalandhara bandha
Jalandhara bandha, also called the throat lock or chin lock, is a yoga technique of resting the chin on the chest to compress the upper esophageal sphincter. It is first bandha you should learn. It must always be applied during pranayama while sitting in a cross-legged meditation posture.
Jalandhara bandhas is only applied during internal breath retention or antara kumbhaka. To apply the throat lock, a yogi must learn to drop their chin and raise the sternum (breastbone) until they can rest the chin on the chest while holding the breath inside the body.
The bandha, due to forward flexion, closes the sphincter, preventing prana energy from escaping from the upper body. It generates heat that massages the organs and muscles in the throat region. This has a positive effect on the Throat energy center, thymus, thyroid, and parathyroid glands.
In yoga theory, Jalandhara bandh is said to cause a temporary bind that stops the flow of sensation and sensory inputs to the brain. For this reason, it is used to achieve pratyahara or turning the senses inward. Check out the benefits of Jalandhara bandha to know more.
Also Read: Jalandhara Bandha or Throat Lock in Yoga – How to, Benefits, and Precautions
2. Abdomen Lock or Uddiyana bandha
Uddiyana translates to ‘flying up.’ It is the only yoga bandhas that can be practiced in a standing and sitting position. Typically, beginners learn the abdomen lock in a standing position and then advance to applying it in a cross-legged meditation posture.
Uddiyana bandha is often explained as “pulling the navel in and up, towards the spine.” The general idea is to lift the diaphragm into the thoracic cavity. You suck the stomach muscles in while holding the breath outside the body. These muscles are located 4 inches below the navel.
Uddiyana bandha is activated during external breath retention or bahya kumbhaka. It expands the breath, allowing you to fill up the rib cage. It improves core strength and strengthens the metabolic and digestive fire called Jatharagni.
Regularly practice of Uddiyana bandhas has many benefits. It has a positive effect on the adrenals, Solar Plexus energy center, and organs located in navel region. While many pursue Uddiyana bandha for a toned stomach, it also tones the sympathetic nervous system.
Also Read: Uddiyana Bandha in Yoga Abdomen Lock – How to, Benefits, and Precautions
3. Root Lock or Mula Bandha
Mula bandha, also called the Root Lock, is a yoga technique of contracting the cervix or perineum during yoga breathing while sitting in Siddhasana (Accomplished Pose). It contracts the anal sphincter, not allow prana to escape from the pelvic floor.
To apply the root lock, a yogi must learn to contract and lift muscles between the genitals and anus (perineum) during breath retention. It is activated during internal breath retention or antara kumbhaka. Although uncommon, the root lock can be applied during external breath retention.
Mula bandha is similar but not identical to doing the Kegel exercise. This action is often described as “holding your pee mid-stream.” Many studies suggest that mula bandha can help alleviate incontinence. It also helps strength the pelvic muscles in women after childbirth.
The purpose of mula bandhas is manifold. Some of these include a) to prevent prana from dissipating, b) to force prana energy back and upward, and c) to stimulate the pelvic region. It’s primary impact is on parasympathetic activities and organ/glands in the pelvic region.
The Biological Mechanism of Bandhas in Yoga
A bandhas equates to squeezing and/or contracting a specific set of muscles to direct/regulate the flow of energy currents in the body. When you squeezing certain muscles, it has a corresponding effect on the circulation within that region.
In yoga theory, these regions are important nervous centers in the physical body and energy centers (Chakras) in the astral body. In biology, these regions are called sphincters. A sphincter refers to a ring of muscles located at the entry point of tubes in our body.
Jalandhara bandha refers to the contraction of the upper esophageal sphincter (Throat). Uddiyana bandha relates to gripping and controlling the sphincter of oddi (Solar Plexus). Lastly, Mula bandha (Root Lock) is the contraction of the anal sphincter (Pelvic floor).
The controlled contraction and redirecting the flow impacts the organs and glands located in the region. It is also used to strengthen, balance, or reset the endocrine and digestive systems. At a physical level, it positively impacts health and at a spiritual level it leads to better self-awareness, among other things.
Spiritual Mechanism of Bandha in Yoga:
Yoga Bandhas allow you to distribute prana to important organs and glands and prevent the dissipation of energy. Body locks have a far reaching effect on Sushumna Nadi (the central channel). They activate mechanisms that arouse energy centers located in the spine.
“They (bandhas) help distribute energy and prevent its waste through hyper-ventilation of the body. They are practiced to arouse sleeping Kundalini and direct its energy up the susumna channel during pranayama. Their use is essential for experiencing the state of Samadhi,” BKS Iyengar, Chapter 13, Light on Pranayama
How to Add Yoga Bandha to Your Practice
Pranayama is a pre-requisites to bandhas. Learn the yoga breathing techniquesand practice them for an extended period of time. After that, study the theory and mechanism of bandhas off the mat. Take time to identify and locate the exact muscles you need to engage before you start.
Step One: Practice the bandhas in the following order – Jalandhara bandha, Uddiyana Bandha (standing), Uddiyana Bandha (seated), and Mula Bandha.
Step Two: Learn Jalandhara bandha first. Practice the bandha after doing a yoga asana routine with poses that support the bandhas. At this point, practice it separately, without worrying about breathing exercises. Get familiar with the method and mechanism.
Step Three: Add Jalandha bandha to your pranayama routine. Again, start slow and increase the count gradually. Don’t add a second bandha until you have mastered the first one.
Step Four: Take up Uddiyana bandhas (as mentioned in Step Two). Repeat the steps and progress to Step Three. Once you are comfortable with the Abdomen lock, try the same thing with Mula bandhas.
Step Five: When you master the three energy locks and practice them for a long period, you can attempt Maha Bandha.
Benefits of Yoga Bandha
Yoga body locks are a way to momentarily cut-off the flow (of energy and blood) to a certain area. Then, when you release the bandhas, new energy and blood flows into and flushes out all the toxins (ama) and dead or useless matter.
This mechanism of flushing the region with energy associated with renewal and rejuvenation. It improves circulation within the specific region. Additionally, each bandha has a corresponding impact on Chakras or energy center that is nearest to the sphincter that is contracted.
The benefits of bandhas are manifold. At a physiological level, they impact the endocrine system and help restore hormonal balance. They also directly impact biorhythms and promote alpha brain wave production, resulting in a feeling of deep relaxation, inner harmony, and balance.
Energy locks, independently or applied together, have some level of impact on various glands. For instance, the throat lock impacts the thalamus, thyroid and parathyroid glands. Abdomen lock impacts adrenals and pancreas, and the Root lock influences the perineal glands.
Bandhas are not for beginners. Use them only after you are well-versed in yoga asanas and pranayama. Moreover, they are best learnt once you can hold your breath for a while. It takes skillful instruction and patience to understand, implement, and master this yoga technique.