Yoga can be confusing, especially when you are starting out. Back in the day when I was still a beginner I would attend class, practice for a full hour and a half, then leave and forget everything the teacher had said. I would get so into my meditation/asana practice that I was in my own space, going with the flow and listening for queues, but never truly retaining any of the information I was being told.
I then changed direction and began practicing a lot by myself. Self practice was amazing for me at that time and totally transformed my view of what yoga was. I didn’t even know what any of the postures were called, I just did my own thing and it really worked for me.
Then after a few years I felt like I needed a bit more guidance, energy and motivation. I began attending classes. This time around making the decision to become an active listener, to really show up to class and take in everything my teacher said. This was when I realised I had no idea what the teacher was saying!
There were so many foreign words flying around that it made me feel like I was starting from the very beginning…
Now as a teacher there are certain aspects of the practice which I constantly come back to throughout class. One of the most important and most frequently to come up is the bandhas. I know how intimidating all the different sanskrit names can be and me repeating “engage your bhandas” without you knowing what it is could lead to you to feeling unresolved at the end of class.
Therefore this post is going to be solely on the bandhas. What they are, what their purpose is and how they can improve your personal yoga practice. So when you next get on your mat you know exactly what your teacher is going on about…
The bandhas defined:
Bandha means bondage, joining together or catching hold of. It also means a posture in which certain organs or parts of the body are contracted or controlled.
(B.k.s. Iyengar – The light on yoga)
Mastering these Bandhas or “locks” can be hugely powerful for the individual, but you must take great care when learning them correctly.
The three main bandhas are subtle internal muscular grips or holds that should remain gently engaged throughout your practice. These locks or holds are vital to your yoga practice. Helping you to keep in alignment and importantly to direct the prana (energy/life force) and to hold the prana in specific areas of the body.
The three main Bandhas : Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha.
Mula Bandha (the root lock)
Meaning root, source, origin, basis or foundation. Mula bandha is the hardest to locate and the least obvious physically. It can be found at the muscles of the perineum, in between the anus and the genitals. It is a very subtle engagement and it is important you are not gripping the whole region. You engage mula bandha by squeezing the muscles of the perineum and lifting the pelvic floor. The yogi when practising mula bandha attempts to the reach the true source or mula of all creation. If you think of this bandha logically it really makes sense, it is a lock that allows the flow of energy to flow up, not down, and keeps the energy inside of you! That energy will then expand and grow giving you lightness and vitality.
Uddiyana Bandha (the navel lock)
Translating to mean flying up. The process in uddiyana is to lift the navel high and pull the abdominal organs and muscles back towards the spine. It is said that the yogi which masters and constantly practices Uddiyana will become young again! By engaging uddiyana you are sending the prana/energy into the spinal column and the rest of the body.
Uddiyana helps you twist deeper, helps you to jump and lift more easily. It can also be a great holistic remedy for stomach problems. The upward implosion stimulates your digestion and can tone your abdominal organs!
Jalandhara Bandha (the chin lock)
The first Bandha which the yogi should master is jalandhara. In this lock the chin is drawn in (almost like a double chin). Allowing the back of the neck to lengthen, the upper back to broaden and the head and neck to become an integral part of the spine. Engaging Jalandhara allows the prana/energy to flow easily all the way up the spine. Jalandhara can also be used in pranayama (breathing techniques) to hold the prana/energy in the torso and stop it escaping out of the body!
Bandha Triyam (maha Bandha)
Engaging all three locks simultaneously is called bandha triyam or maha bandha, maha meaning great in Sanskrit. It is used in pranayama (breathing techqniues). Bandha triyum is energising, invigorating and cleansing. Engaging bandha triyum is supposed to awaken Kundalini Shakti.
Just going to put it out there and say it may take you a fair amount of time until you truly feel and understand what the bandhas are all about. However when you do, your practice will be transformed. As well as helping your asana practice physically the bandhas can also help you regulate your digestion, your hormones, your metabolism and more internal systems.
Hopefully this has helped you feel a little less confused about some of the different sanskrit names which are used in a yoga class. I wish I had read a blog post about the bandhas when I was starting out!
Next time you get on your mat remember these muscle locks and your practice will feel lighter, stronger and more integrated!