Learn what a bandha is and how to use them throughout your yoga practice.
Is your yoga practice feeling stale or stuck? Are you starting to wonder if you’ll ever get strong enough to find your balance as you wobble on one foot, or to lift up into an arm balance or inversion?
If you really want to change up your yoga practice and go deeper into your postures you will have to dive into learning how to use the bandhas (or energetic locks in the body).
Every yogi that stays on the path of a yoga practice eventually comes face to face with this work. It’s an inevitable lesson and within the timeline of your practice there is usually a benchmark: Before I Started Using Bandhas/After I Started Using Bandhas.
And, you may have understood the bandhas at some point, but then forgot all about them along the way, so it’s always good to get a refresher course every once in a while.
When I first learned about the bandhas I kept thinking, “Why didn’t someone tell me this before?” It was as if my whole practice evolved overnight and I found I was gaining a crazy amount of strength at a super quick pace. It was the best!
It was also a boat load of work, but it was worth it. My alignment was better, my low back pain faded away, and I could hold onto balancing postures way longer.
So, what are the bandhas exactly? I’m going to tell you all about it.
The goal of working with the bandhas is to gain control of your practice and to seal prana (the energetic life energy that runs along the spine). Each bandha works as an energetic lock, or valve. The three main bandhas, when used together, direct the energy towards the center of your body, at the navel, to keep it from “leaking” out.
Let’s take a look at the three main bandhas:
Mula Bandha (Root Lock):
This bandha is associated with the pelvic floor, drawing the energy up toward your navel. To find it, most instructors will tell you to act as if you are “holding your pee.” But, what you are actually working for is to pull in towards the perineum. Now, most of us have no idea where that is, so let me explain.
The pelvic floor is a diamond-shaped area with the anus and the genitals on opposite ends and the perineum is the space in between. So, to find Mula Bandha, pull in towards the perineum and notice how differently that feels through the entire lower half of your torso than when you relax and let it go.
*Pro-tip: When you are access Mula Bandha the pelvis moves into a position where the tailbone points down – it’s not pointing to the back corner of the room, but it is also not tucked.
Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock):
This bandha helps energy rise up to the center of your core. To find it, put your hands on your ribs and push them a little closer together. Let go and see if you can maintain “closed” ribs. Your abdominal wall must be engaged and stomach pulled in as if you are trying to push the belly button to the spine.
I find when teaching this, that if I can get you into Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha naturally follows. And, please remember that you don’t need to be forceful with yourself to find these locks. Aggression never gets you anywhere in a yoga practice.
Jalahandra Bandha (Chin Lock):
This bandha restricts the upward flow of energy and sends it back down towards the center of your body, with the chin pulled into our chest.
When do you use the bandhas?
Bandhas actually are used primarily during pranayama (breathing) exercises. When you work to access these locks in pranayama you become aware of the subtle muscles you are using. Through this, you understand where you are not accessing those muscles within your asana practice.
Some yogis claim it is not possible to truly practice the bandhas during asana, as proper bandha technique would cause you to hold your breath. But, when you incorporate teh bandhas into your practice you become aware of how to work with your body for strength and balance. I often call on my students to access the locks during their practice, as they then know what muscles to call into action.
What postures benefit from using the thought of the bandhas?
If it’s a standing posture or a forward bend, access what locks you can. You might not always need Jalahandra Bandha, but Mula and Uddiyana Bandhas can be accessed often throughout a regular yoga practice.
*Pro-tip: Release the thought of locks in back bends, though for good back bending technique you should begin the back bend with the tailbone pointing down and then work from the top of the spine column and work your way down to the low spine.
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Tori Hicks-Glogowski is an online yoga instructor and yoga business coach and mentor for yoga teachers. She is the author of the book, "Views from the Podium: The Life & Times of a Hot Yogi," and has been writing and sharing her yoga experience for the past seven years. Find out more about Tori now.