Bandhas, explained: An intro to your body locks

If you want to dive deeper into your yoga practice, it can be helpful to know about the bandhas. The belief is that when you master the bandhas, your practice improves right along with it (don’t work your bandhas if you’re pregnant or menstruating, though).

In Sanskrit, the world “bandha” translates to “lock,” “hold” or “tighten.” There are three main bandhas in your body, plus a fourth that ties them all together.

READ MORE: The 7 chakras, explained, and how to unblock them

Connecting to your bandhas allows you to grow your asana — holding the poses longer and more confidently, for instance. It also helps your inner practice by encouraging increased concentration and strong breath.

Bandhas also help regulate your internal systems: hormonal, sexual, metabolic and digestive to name a few. Bandhas temporarily stop the flow of blood and when released, encourage a rush of fresh blood through the body.

Now, there is a lot of theory behind the bandhas, including their connection to prana, apana and the nadis, but let’s try and keep it simple.

What are the bandhas?

Mula Bandha (the root lock)

To explain it as easily as possible, Mula Bandha involves raising the muscles at the bottom of your pelvic floor — think of the ones you instinctually contract when you have to go to the bathroom — and inwards at the perineum.

This area is obviously different for men and women, but the goal is to engage Mula Bandha throughout your entire asana practice. Why? Because it encourages your energy to flow up (not down) your body and seals the lower end of the spinal column.

Mula Bandha is believed to stimulate the pelvic nerves, as well as the genital, endocrine and excretory systems. It has been shown to relieve problems like constipation and depression. It is connected to muladhara chakra.

Uddiyana Bandha (stomach lock)

To engage your Uddiyana Bandha, think of your insides flying upwards through your diaphragm, stomach and abdomen. It massages your organs and moves the energy upwards. Uddiyana Bandha is situated between your pelvic floor and the diaphragm. It is connected to anahata chakra.

Practice Uddiyana Bandha by first standing tall. Inhale through the nose and reach your arms up. Exhale out the mouth, lean forward and place your hands on your knees.

Without taking a breath, close your lips and straighten your elbows. You should feel your abdominal wall and organs push up and back towards your back, sort of like they’ve been suction-cupped.

When you can’t hold your breath any longer, inhale through your nose as you stand, raising your arms up; exhale through the nose as you move your arms down.

Check out this yogi doing Nauli Kriya, an exercise that cleanses the internal organs. In order to do this, you have to understand Uddiyana Bandha.

Uddiyana Bandha is believed to help abdominal and stomach ailments, such as constipation and indigestion by stimulating digestive juices, increasing metabolism, balancing the adrenal system, as well as relieving stress, lethargy and tension.

Jalandhara Bandha (throat lock)

Picture what you look like when you have a triple chin. That kind of explains Jalandhara Bandha. It seals the upper end of the spinal column. It is connected to vishuddha chakra.

In Sanskrit, “jal” means “throat,” “jalan” means “net” and “dharan” means “stream” or “flow.” Jalandhara Bandha stops the flow of energy from escaping upwards, concentrating that energy — heat — in the body.

Jalandhara Bandha is normally performed while doing breath practices. It compresses the sinuses in the main arteries of the neck and regulates the circulatory and respiratory systems. The pressure on the throat helps to balance the thyroid and metabolism and, if you can get over how silly you may look, is believed to aid mental relaxation, as well as decrease stress and anger.

Maha Bandha (great lock)

Maha Bandha combines all three bandhas. While in a comfortable seated position, exhale all the air out through your nose. Hold that breath and slowly start engaging first Mula Bandha, then Uddiyana Bandha and finally Jalandhara Bandha. Keep that engagement as long as you can. To release, lift your head, inhale fully and let all the bandhas relax.

If you are going to try engaging your bandhas, just know that it’s a practice — not something that will be perfected on the first try. Be careful and if you feel any discomfort or tension, please stop.

Do you have any plans to try engaging any of your bandhas? I find it’s a great exercise to see how much (or little) muscular control you actually have and how willing your body is to engage and release these locks.

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