Unlocking the Meaning of the Bandhas

Unlocking the Meaning of the Bandhas

Allow the asana to create bandhas in the four part breathing cycle, the intelligent cooperation of muscle groups in the polarity of above/ below, inhale/exhale, strength/receptivity”
~Teachings of Mark Whitwell


An important component of yoga, the bandhas are primarily meant to serve our yogic practice. They are often misunderstood.

If you have been coming to my yoga classes, you have probably been using them perhaps without realizing it. I often cue them in class to guide my students into better alignment and help prevent injuries. Indeed, the physical practice of the bandhas utilizes co-activation of muscles and physical movements that ensure better alignment in postures and protect us from strain and injury.

But more importantly the bandhas, also known as energy locks , serve as valves that control energy, irrigate the channels of energy, and activate, replenish and balance the flow of prana throughout the body. While practicing, we observe energetic patterns beyond our physical form in the energy body.

How does it work? When you activate a bandha, the energy flow in a specific part of the body is blocked. When the bandha is released, this allows the energy to flow powerfully through the body and increases pressure. Asana creates bandha and bandha serves the breath and the breath is the vehicle for prana.

There are three classic bandhas: mulabandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha. They can be practiced together or individually during kriya, asana, pranayama, mudra, visualization, and meditation. When practiced together they are called tri-bandha.

1. Mulabandha or root lock

Mulabandha is located at the perineum between the anus and the reproductive organs – at the cervix, in females. Mulabandha arises at the bottom central axis of the body.

a) Take a sitting position with your spine upright.
b) Isolate the perineum.
c) Exhale and contract the perineum and draw it up towards the pubic bones.
d) As you contract the pelvic floor up, engage and pull the lower deep abdominal muscles up towards the spine.
e) Maintain this contraction with the breath in for about six seconds, and then out for another six seconds.
f) Breathe with calm. Slowly and smoothly.
g) Repeat this exercise five times.

Mulabandha balances the energy in the frontal and spinal passages as well as in ida and pingala nadies. It protects the low back muscles and forms the stable support of the entire torso and spine. It helps build core body strength and hold the postures longer. Mulabandha also increases energy and vitality, and improves concentration and mental clarity. It tones, purifies, balances, and energizes the pelvic and urogenital region.

Initially you will need to contract the anus and the genitals, but with times you will be able to relax these areas and isolate the perineum. Do not strain while holding. In some cases of constipation, constriction, tightness of the lower abdomen, the perineal region might be too tight and it is recommended to relax the area instead.

2. Uddiyana bandha
Uddiyana means flying upward. It is practiced by contracting the navel in and up towards the spine.

a) Practice with your torso upright.
b) Inhale deeply.
c) As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles fully and slowly lift the navel towards the spine in and up.
d) Hold the uddiyana bandha for 5 to 15 seconds.
e) Then slowly release your abdominal muscle and inhale normally.
f) Perform 3 to 10 rounds with one or more breaths between each round.

This bandha moves the energy up the central channel from the earth, water, and fire centers into the heart chakra which element is air. It tones the abdomen, strengthens the diaphragm, and increases the gastric fire. As a result, it improves the powers of digestion, assimilation and elimination, and purifies the digestive tract of toxins. It opens up blockages in the manipura chakra, as it massages the solar plexus, as well as the heart and lungs. It prevents accumulated tensions, toxins, or stagnation from developing or accumulating in the navel region, stimulating and lifting the energy of the lower belly (apana vayu), to unite it with the energies localized in the navel (samana vayu) and heart (prana vayu).

Women who are menstruating or pregnant should not practice uddiyana bandha, as well as people suffering from the following conditions: stomach or intestinal ulcers, hernia, high blood pressure, heart disease, and glaucoma.

3. Jalandhara bandha

Jalandhara bandha is the action of simultaneously lowering the chin and lifting the sternum.

a) Sit in a comfortable sitting position.
b) Extend your spine and lift your sternum slightly.
c) Begin your inhalation with your head upright.
d) As you near the end of the inhalation, gently lower your chin down and draw simultaneously the top of the sternum upward.
e) Hold during the retention. The chin to rest comfortably on the sternum.
f) Exhale and raise your head slowly to a neutral position.

The practice of Jalandhara bandha connects the head with the heart, and opens up the throat chakra. The bandha presses the ida and pingala channels and allows the prana to pass through sumshumna. The jalandhara bandha regulates the flow of blood and prana (energy) to the heart, head and the endocrine glands in the neck (thyroid and para-thyroid).

Those with stiff necks should keep their head as far down as possible or roll a piece of cloth and place it on the top of the collarbones. Hold jalandhara bandha by lifting the chest rather than by pressing down with the chin. This releases tension in the throat and breathing becomes relaxed. Work on lengthening the back of your neck, releasing your shoulders, and opening your chest. Never force your chin to your sternum.

So finally, remember that engaging the bandhas not only help us with our alignment and prevention of injuries but they are essential in our yogic practice as they prevent disease by sealing the nadis and mastering unruly movements of prana and ultimately, when ready,  help us raising kundalini up our sushumna nadi.

So… next time you hear me say, draw your navel in and up, lower your chin down as you lift your sternum slightly… you will understand that I am inviting you to engage your bandhas.

If you want more clarifications about the bandhas, do not hesitate to come to me after class and ask for guidance. I’ll be more than happy to help.

In the meantime,

Be blessed,