Why learn to engage your bandhas?

By January 7, 2018Uncategorized

Why learn to engage your bandhas?

You may have been in a yoga class and heard the teacher give the instruction to ‘engage your bandhas’, and been a bit unsure as to what they’re really talking about. So what are the bandhas and how can they help us in our yoga practice?

Put simply, the bandhas are internal muscular ‘locks’, which you can voluntarily engage to control the flow of energy within the body, and enhance your yoga practice.

Named Mula Bandha (or sometimes Moola Bandha), Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha, the main locks run along the sushumna of the subtle body. This might be easier to visualise if you imagine the spinal column of the physical body. The sushumna connects the chakras, or energy centres, from the perineum to the throat.

There are also two minor bandhas, called Hasta (hands) Bandha and Pada (feet) Bandha. They relate to proper placement of the hands and feet while practicing yoga. You may recall being instructed to spread out the soles of your feet and ‘ground down through all four corners’? Sound familiar? That’s Pada Bandha. Likewise, Hasta Bandha relates to proper placement of the hands. Think pressing down with the thumbs and forefingers while in adho mukha svanasana (more commonly known as downward dog).

Practicing the three main bandhas helps you to elongate the spine, become stronger in your yoga postures, and feel more energetic after your practice. When engaged, Mula Bandha blocks apana (descending energy) from escaping downwards and Jalandhara Bandha blocks prana (ascending energy) from escaping upwards. Uddiyana Bandha, in the middle, intensifies the ‘heat’ created within the torso, by locking these two types of energy in together. Maha Bandha, known as the ‘Great Lock’, is said to be engaged when all the main bandhas are activated at once.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the three main bandhas individually.

 

Mula Bandha

Where is it?

Mula Bandha can be found between the anus and genitals, sealing off the lower end of the spinal column. Think of that instruction to ‘root down through the tail bone’.

 How do you activate it?

Tighten and lift the pubo-coccygeal muscle. The what? This roughly translates as engaging your pelvic floor. Some people liken the sensation to contracting the same muscles you use to stop the flow of urine. It’s not so much a strong gripping sensation as an active awareness.

 What are the benefits?

Engaging Mula Bandha strengthens the pelvic floor and helps you achieve a calm state of mind. It increases blood flow to the muscles and the nerves involved in contraction so they work more efficiently. The breathing involved helps to increase circulation of the blood pooling at the waist.

 Which postures are best?

Siddhasana is great for practicing this bandha, but it can take a while to achieve the posture. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘accomplished pose’. To get into position, place the left heel under your genitals to generate pressure on the area. The right heel then folds in on top. Alternatively, you can sit in padmasana (lotus pose) or (sukhasana) easy pose.

 When shouldn’t you practice it?

Anyone new to the practice should always seek out guidance from an expert. If you get the technique wrong, you can seriously upset your digestive system. It may seem obvious, but definitely avoid Mula Bandha if you have piles or a hernia.

 

Uddiyana Bandha

Where is it?

Uddiyana Bandha is the middle of the three bandhas, found at the transverse abdominis. The muscles of the lower abdomen, stomach and diaphragm are involved in engaging this bandha.

 How do you activate it?

Activate Uddiyana Bandha by drawing the navel in towards the base of the spine. The diaphragm then moves upwards.

 What are the benefits?

Engaging Uddiyana Bandha and exercising the diaphragm improves your breathing and pranayama practice. The negative pressure increases blood flow to the abdominal organs, such as the stomach, liver and small intestine. It gets the digestive juices flowing. Activating Uddiyana Bandha also improves heart function and, therefore, the general circulation.

 Which postures are best?

If you’re new to the bandhas, try this out in a standing pose first. Place your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees slightly, placing your hands on your thighs. Lean your shoulders forward so that your weight is over your knees and hands. Breathe out, relax the stomach muscles and lift the ribs. Then pull the stomach muscles inwards and upwards.

 When shouldn’t you practice it?

Avoid practicing this bandha if you have stomach or intestinal ulcers, hernia, hypertension, heart disease, glaucoma or raised intracranial pressure.

 

Jalandhara Bandha

 Where is it?

Jalandhara Bandha is located at the throat. It seals off energy within the torso, at the upper end of the spinal column.

 How do you activate it?

Contract the neck muscles by pressing the chin towards the chest or the jugular notch.

 What are the benefits?

Positioning your neck in this way lifts the spinal cord upwards, which increases circulation. When Jalandhara Bandha is activated, the pressure on the carotid nerve sends a signal to the brain telling it to lower the blood pressure. This makes the heart muscle work slower. As the heart rate reduces, the blood pumped into the brain via the carotid arteries reduces. This slows down the body’s functions, which gives you a sense of stillness in the mind and the body. Practicing Jalandhara Bandha can also help to alleviate throat disorders.

 Which postures are best?

Padmasana (lotus pose) or siddhasana (accomplished pose) are good postures for practicing Jalandhara Bandha.

 When shouldn’t you practice it?

Talk to an expert before you attempt Jalandhara Bandha if you suffer with breathing-related problems, high blood pressure or low blood pressure.

 

The end goal of bandha work, for experienced yogis and yoginis, is to achieve enlightened self-awareness. Some of us are probably a little farther away from that end goal than others. And that’s ok. Yoga is a work in progress for all of us who take to the mat, no matter how long we’ve been at it. In the words of Sri K Pattabhi Jois, ‘Do your practice and all is coming.’

If you’re new to the bandhas, or if you’re pregnant or post-natal, always seek guidance from an expert.

Want to talk some more about the bandhas, or another aspect of yoga? You can catch me after my Monday lunchtime class at Studio iO.

 

Namste, yogis,

Lauren