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The Four Bandhas in Yoga: Meaning, Purpose, and Benefits

Wondering how to practice bandha techniques in pranayama? Read our Yoga Bandha guide to understand the purpose and benefits of regulating prana through body locks.

FEBRUARY17, 2021

VINEET KAUL

BANDHA

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 a yoga bandha - also known as a mudra, energy lock, or body lock.

You can practice pranayama without energy locks. But adding bandhas will add depth to pranayama and meditation. It's an excellent resource to enhance your pranayama practice.  

So, what is a bandha in yoga?

A yoga bandha is the act of applying neuro-muscular locks to specific areas of the body, typically at junctions in the body called sphincters. Yoga body locks momentarily cut-off the flow (of energy and blood) to a certain area. When you release the bandha, new energy and blood flows in to flush out toxins and dead/useless matter.

This mechanism of flushing the region with energy is associated with renewal and rejuvenation. It improves circulation and efficiency of the organs and glands within the specific region of the body. Additionally, each bandha has a corresponding impact on Chakras or energy centers nearest to the sphincter that is contracted.

The Sanskrit word ‘bandha’ translates to ‘lock' or 'bind.’ Thereby, in English, this yoga technique is called an energy lock or body lock. Bandhas are used as a part of kriyas or pranayama in Kundalini, Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Hatha yoga. Some yoga schools advocate the use of bandhas with yoga poses and flows. 

Bandhas or Body Locks in Yoga

A bandha is a yoga technique of contracting muscles to accumulate and lock pranic energy at particular chakras (an energy center or plexus). It creates gentle heat and affects the organs and glands connected to that particular plexus i.e., the throat lock stimulates organs and glands in the throat and upper body region. 

But bandhas are not just contracting muscles and holding them. Tuck and lift, remember? Thereby, you also lift the muscles, forcing them to work against gravity. Gravity is constantly pulling down on us, grounding us to the earth. When we use yoga bandhas, we fight this natural force and its effect on locations in the body.

In that sense, ‘upliftment’ is a literal concept. We also defy gravity during yoga poses and inversions like the shoulder stand, headstand, and legs against the wall. But yoga bandhas are a more advanced technique with an internal component due to the muscle contractions. 

Four Types of Yoga Bandhas: 

There are four major and 2 minor bandhas in yoga. The four major yoga bandhas are:

 

  1. Root Lock or Mula bandha – Contracting the Perineum

  2. Abdominal Lock or Uddiyana bandha – Lifting and tuck the Diaphragm

  3. Throat Lock or Jalandhara bandha (throat lock) – Chin-to-Chest Maneuver

  4. The Great Lock or Maha bandha – a combination of all three bandhas

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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 must always be applied during pranayama while sitting in a cross-legged meditation posture. Jalandhara bandhas is only applied while retaining the breath inside the body. 


"Being the simplest of the three, Jalandhara bandha is the first body lock we teach yoga students," says Yogi Hansraj. "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."

Jalandhara bandha, due to forward flexion, closes the throat 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 bandha 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. We won't get into the details as we've covered them in the 8 Jalandhara Bandha Benefits Supported by Science. 

 

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’ and bandha means 'lock.' Uddiyana bandha is a yoga technique of “pulling the navel in and up, towards the spine.” The general idea is to lift the diaphragm into the thoracic cavity. Generally, beginners learn the abdomen lock in a standing position and then advance to applying it in a cross-legged meditation posture.

"Learning the correct form of the abdominal lock requires patience." say Hansraj. "To activate Uddiyana bandha, suck the stomach muscles in while holding the breath outside the body. These muscles are located 4 inches below the navel. Students should first learn it in a standing position and then in a seated posture like Easy Pose." 

The abdominal lock 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. Uddiyana bandha is the only yoga body lock that can be practiced in a standing and sitting position

Regularly practice of Uddiyana bandha has many physiological and energetic benefits. Primarily, it has a positive effect on the adrenals, Solar Plexus energy center, and organs/glands 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 is done in conjunction with pranayama, activated during internal breath retention. Although uncommon, the root lock can be applied during external breath retention.

In Mula bandha, we contract the anal sphincter, preventing the dissipation of prana energy from the pelvic floor.

"Mula bandha is often described as holding your pee mid-stream,” say Yogi Hansraj. "It is similar but not identical to doing the Kegel exercise. To apply the root lock, a yogi must learn to contract and lift  muscles between the genitals and anus (perineum) during breath retention. 

 

Benefits

The purpose of mula bandha 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. The root lock's primary impact is on parasympathetic activities. It's physiological benefits include improved efficiency in the function of organs/glands in the pelvic region.

There are a handful of scientific studies on the root lock. Many of them indicate that mula bandha can alleviate incontinence. It also helps strength the pelvic muscles in women after childbirth.

  

Also Read: Mula Bandha in Yoga (Root Lock) – Steps, Benefits, and More

Minor Bandhas in Yoga: Hasta Bandha and Pada Bandha

The minor bandhas strengthen the external body and the major bandhas support the internal aspects of the body. Hasta and Pada are the two minor bandhas, primarily covered in postural yoga. They prepare the body by strengthening the muscles, connective tissues, bones, and joints.

So, what is pada bandha in yoga?

In Sanskrit, Pada means ‘foot’ and bandhas translates to ‘seal’ or ‘lock. Thereby, pada bandha is called a foot lock or seal in English. In simple words, pada bandha is any yoga pose wherein the sole of the foot has a connection to the earth to provide stability and centeredness.

Pada bandhas improve balance, tone the lower body, and strengthen the arches of the feet. Stability and grounding is achieved when there is equal weight distribution between the front arch and heel of the feet. Bring awareness to the feet as you transition and lift the inner and outer muscles of the feet.

What is hasta bandha in yoga?

In Sanskrit, Hasta means ‘hand’ and bandhas translates to ‘lock’ or ‘seal.’ Hasta bandha or hand lock refers to a yoga pose in which the pads of the fingers, the palm’s natural arch, or the entire hands are firmly placed against the ground.

 

Hasta bandha use the natural arch of the palm to improve balance and hold the weight of the body. Good posture tones the wrists, arms and upper body. Hasta bandhas is a great way to feel the calming/grounding energy drawn through the fingers and palm. Try to harness this energy as you lift or hold the body with the wrists, forearms and upper arms.

Benefits of Yoga Bandha

The benefits of yoga bandha are manifold. At a physiological level, they have a positive affect on the autonomic nervous system, endocrine system, and may help restore hormonal balance. Yoga body locks also regulate biorhythms and promote alpha brain wave production, resulting in a feeling of deep relaxation, inner harmony, and balance.

Simply put, bandhas or body locks tone the muscles externally and enhance biological systems internally.

All yoga bandhas, independent or applied together, have some level of impact on various glands in our body. For instance, the throat lock impacts the thalamus, thyroid and parathyroid glands. Abdomen lock impacts adrenals and pancreas, and the Root lock influences the reproductive organs and perineal glands.

 

Parting Thoughts

We hope this comprehensive overview helps you understand the 3 major and two minor yoga bandhas. Allow us to emphasize that bandhas are not for beginners. It takes skillful instruction and patience to understand and master this yoga technique.Moreover, bandhas are best learnt once you can hold your breath for a considerable amount of time.

We strongly insist that yoga bandhas should only be approached after a few months of doing asana and at least a few weeks of pranayama. Additionally, bandhas or body locks should be practiced patiently, with intimate awareness of the movement of prana and/or the breath.