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The Bandhas - Gathering & Unlocking The Energy Within Us

Updated: Jun 3

In the It's Yoga system, the bandhas are considered to be the intelligence of the asana (pose) practice: the activation of mula bandha (the root lock) generates energy, gives stability and strength to the pelvis and lower body while uddiyana bandha (upward-flying lock) helps the practitioner move from pose to pose from his/her centre with grace and lightness, finally, jalandhara bandha (the throat lock) plays an active role in landing in the final expression of any given pose by directing the drishti (gaze) where we intend to move. They are one of the three main tools used in the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga sequences – along with the breath (ujjayï) and the gaze (drishti) – to generate vitality, inner strength and concentration.

When they are practised seated during pranayama or meditation, the bandhas gather, accumulate and circulate energy in and around the body. Each serves a different purpose in where and how the energy moves and is contained, and can be applied separately or all at the same time.

Although I will be looking at the three main bandhas – mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, jalandhara bandha – and maha bandha, all three previously mentioned bandhas applied together – there are more than 4 bandhas. Hasta and Pada bandhas refer, respectively, to the energy locks in the hands and feet; and essentially, any intentional contraction of a group of muscles to contain and circulate energy could potentially be considered an energy lock.


The Energy Body



BANDHAS - ENERGETIC LOCKS


1.Mula Bandha: The Root Lock


Sanskrit root: Mula meaning root, base, source

                          Bandha meaning lock


Benefits:


  • Impulses upward energy (prana) along the spine and upper body, while simultaneously prevents the downward energy (apana) to escape from below.

  • Strengthens the pelvic floor muscles, supporting sexual and digestive health

  • Creates stability in the pelvis and lower body

  • Awakens kundalini (dormant energy at the base of the spine)


Contra-indications, precautions:


Pregnancy, hernia, high blood pressure and heart conditions, recent surgery to the lower abdomen or pelvis. It is important to keep in mind that mula bandha activation has a strong impact on the nervous and endocrine system.



2. Uddiyana Bandha: The Upward-flying Abdominal Lock


Sanskrit root: Ud meaning upward, above

                          Yana meaning going

Bandha meaning lock


Benefits:


  • Stimulates the energy in and around our core, and continues elevating prana

  • Strengthens the muscles of the abdominal wall, sides and back

  • Massages the internal organs and builds internal fire

  • Generates inner strength and self-confidence


Contra-indications, precautions:


People with abdominal issues, hernia, herniated discs may need to practise uddiyana bandha with more vigilance. If unsure, consult the relevant specialist beforehand. Pregnant women should stay away from uddiyana bandha practice.



3. Jalandhara Bandha: The Throat Lock


Sanskrit root: Jala meaning net, web

                          Bandha meaning lock


Benefits:


  • Maintains the energy accumulated in the body while simultaneous prevents prana from escaping above

  • Stimulates and balances the thyroid gland and the metabolism

  • Extends the back muscles and lengthens the spine

  • The bowing of the head has a humbling quality, generates a meditative state as the awareness is taken within, and the third eye is pointed to the heart centre.


Contra-indications, precautions:


Hyperthyroidism.



4. Maha Bandha: The Great Lock


Sanskrit root: Maha meaning great, supreme

                          Bandha meaning lock


Benefits:


  • All bandhas are engaged, and the entire nervous system is active while soothed

  • Supports an open and steady posture

  • Prana and apana harmonise, creating a sense of stability and lightness all at once

  • All chakras are stimulated


Contra-indications, precautions:


Bandhas should be approached mindfully, because they can generate string and intense physical reactions and states of being. It is important to stay aware of the onset of any physical or emotional discomfort/pain while applying them – especially with maha bandha.



THE BANDHAS IN PRACTICE


Mula Bandha:


The following practice is a gentle introduction to the root lock, to begin to connect with its energy and understand its function.


  • To begin, find a comfortable seated pose – cross-legged or kneeling down – and close your eyes. I always recommend using a pillow or block underneath the sitting bones to elevate the hips, and, in this practice, a form of surface under the hips may help with the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. Once settled in the pose, bring your inner gaze down into the base of your spine and visualise the pelvic floor area, begin to connect with that part of the body.

  • Contract and relax the muscles of the perineum, let your breath flow without control, concentrate only on the movement of the muscles. Repeat a few times, then take a few moments to notice any sensations, as subtle as they may be.

  • Do the same as above, this time contracting the perineum for as long as comfortable before releasing. Again, let the breath be as natural as possible. While holding the contraction a little longer, pay attention to where you are felling the contraction the most: near to the back or the front of the perineum? Or in the centre? Repeat a few times, then sit in stillness and observe.

  • Finally, connect the breath to the movement: inhale with each contraction and exhale to release. See if you can lengthen your inhalations and slow down your exhalations, and synchronise each contraction and release of the muscles with the breath. Give yourself the time to feel all the muscles that make up the pelvic floor. After a few rounds, let go of the breath and the contraction. Observe.


Be very patient with yourself, it may take some time to get comfortable with this practice and/or to notice anything at all there. It will come with time and consistency.



NOTES


There are many schools of thought within the practice of yoga and its philosophy, everyone will have their own way of practising and preferences as to what and how it should be done. I am simply sharing from my own practice, which I love to explore; therefore, I am not super rigid nor very attached to any particular way of doing things as long as it resonates with me and I maintain a safe environment for myself and the people I guide. I encourage practitioners to continuously explore their own practice: the options are many and our bodies change all the time. I enjoy keeping things as light-hearted as possible.

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