What is a bandha – how do you engage it, and why should you care?
Ever hear your yoga teacher tell you to "engage your bandhas"—and wonder what on earth that instructor was talking about? Bandhas in yoga are energetic locks that, when utilised properly, are believed to keep your energy inside your body – and encourage a more stable base from which to build strength. There are three main bandhas: moola bandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha.
1. Moola bandha is the "root lock" and aids in grounding. Generally located in the perineum, this lock is often recommended to be held throughout an entire asana practice. It’s a similar movement to engaging your pelvic floor, or a kegel exercise.
Moola bandha stimulates digestion, the endocrine system, and the pelvic nerves. It is said to relieve mild depression and promote rapid energy growth. To access this lock, kneel with your eyes closed. Focus your attention on your perineum. Take a big inhale, and at the top, retain your breath, lengthen your tailbone down, contract the muscles of the perineum, those that you would use if you had to pee, and the lower belly. Hold this for 5 seconds, and then gently release. Practice moola bandha at the breath retention at the top of the inhale.
2. Uddiyana bandha is the upward flying lock. Located in the lower abdomen, this bandha is said to stimulate, retain, and lift your prana. Commonly used in inversions and standing poses, this lock gives you more lift, making "taking flight" in inversions and arm balances easier. Uddiyana bandha improves digestion, increases circulation, and massages internal organs.
To practice engaging this lock, and to really feel the amazing effect it can have, stand with your feet just wider than hip-width apart. Bend your knees and allow your palms to rest on your thighs. Take a big inhale, opening your chest. Exhale out your mouth and arch your spine like cow pose and release all of the air out. Close your mouth, and instead of inhaling, retain your breath, round your spine like cat, and engage your navel to your spine. Flare your ribs out in the action of "mock inhaling" (without actually taking air in) and hollow the belly. Retain your breath here for 10 to 15 seconds and then release.
3. Jalandhara bandha is known as the destroyer of old age, a yoga fountain of youth, and translated as "net bearer bond," but is more commonly referred to as the throat lock, and is unsurprisingly found in the neck.
Jalandhara bandha protects the neck. It is also thought to protect the inner ear, brain, and eyes from the pressure created by breath retention. To access this lock, sit comfortably and close your eyes. Lift your sternum and drop your chin lightly, lifting through the top back of your skull as if someone had a string on the back of your neck and was lifting you up. Lengthen through the back of your neck and keep your shoulders down your back.
After practicing for quite some time and getting comfortable with them, for maximum bandha benefit and prana retention try taking all three, referred to as maha bandha, the Great Lock: first mula, then uddiyana, then jalandhara. To release, reverse the order.
As with any other yogic technique, it is highly advisable not to start the practise without an experienced teacher. With a teacher you can clear your mind from any doubt and have someone to watch over the practise. So if you have never ever tried bandhas, bring the topic up with your teacher in your next asana class and feel the change! By focusing in on these sometimes small and seemingly insignificant muscle contractions, not only can they bring you incredible benefits for your physical asana practice, but also help you to feel more connected to your body and mind.