What are bandhas?
The word bandha means to “hold,” “tighten,” or “lock.” Bandhas are energy locks that are created in the body through minor movements made externally and internally. Bandhas are meant to facilitate energy, stability and strength in the body. Bandhas prevent the release of prana (vital energy) through points at each end of, and in, the body by the blocking the flow, redirecting it, and forcing it to flow or accumulate in the body.
There are 3 major bandhas that are used in regular yogic practices like asana and pranayama, and if you have taken a yoga class you have probably heard them described or maybe even mentioned.
1. Mula Bandha
Mula bandha is the lower most bandha located at the perineum and is coined the “anal lock” or “root lock.” To create the feeling of mula bandha sit down in a comfortable seated position, tuck the tailbone towards the pelvic bone, tuck the pelvic bone towards the tailbone (opposing the tailbone but still tucking the tailbone,) and begin to feel the sits bones draw towards one another. This should draw all your attention and muscles towards a center point and create your mula bandha. This bandha is most beneficial when trying to accomplish the more challenging balance postures like headstands and handstands. Mula bandha is beneficial in facilitating and “locking” prana in the body because it is the very base of the body
2. Uddiyana Bandha
Uddiyana bandha is located right below the belly button, and for this reason is coined the “abdominal lock.” Uddiyana bandha has also been coined “upward lifting lock” and the reason for this is that it is activated by pulling that space right below the belly button up and in, almost as if you could draw your belly button up between your lungs and into your diaphragm, creating that upward lift. This bandha is particularly beneficial when hopping forward from downward facing dog into a forward fold, and is responsible for the “float” that happens in this movement that you may have experienced or seen happen. Benefits from this bandha include massaging the internal organs, assisting in digestion and circulation of blood, and assisting in deepening of the breath.
3. Jalandhara Bandha
Jalandhara bandha is the higher most bandha and is located and the base of the neck and for this reason it is coined the “throat lock.” To create the feeling of jalandhara bandha tilt the head forward slightly as if you are holding an apple in between your chin and your clavicle and begin constricting the throat. Sometimes it is hard to tell if you are activating this bandha, but you will know you have got it when you can feel yourself swallow quite a bit more intensely. This bandha is most beneficial when working with various breathing exercises, or pranyamas, by opening up the circulatory and respiratory systems, and for opening up the throat chakra. Much like Mula bandha, Jalandhara bandha is beneficial in facilitating and “locking” prana in the body because it is the very top of the body.
Maha Bandha: The “great lock” is the activation of all three of these bandhas together.