One of the benefits that come from practicing yoga is that what is learned and practiced on the mat can be taken off the mat and out into living daily life. One of the immediately available tools for off the mat is knowing about the bandhas. Bandhas are called energy locks because through engaging the bandhas you enable prana, or energy, to move into and through the body more efficiently. Knowing what the bandhas are, how to engage them, and when to engage them will help you to strengthen and stabilize your body as your move through your practice and through your life.
What They Are
A bandha is a group of muscles that, when engaged, cause energy to spread out into the body. Think of them as valves. When a valve is open then fluid can move through it to wherever the valve is connected to. But if the valve is closed, then fluid cannot get into the area beyond the valve. Engaging the bandhas is like opening valves for energy to move efficiently through your body.
The bandhas are located in the feet, pelvis, abdomen, hands and neck. There is another bandha that is only engaged when the bandhas of the pelvis, abdomen, and neck are engaged. Starting from the bottom and moving upwards, the bandhas are:
Pada Bandha - feet
Mula Bandha - pelvis
Udayana Bandha - abdomen
Jalandhara Bandha - neck
Hasta Bandha - hands
Maha Banda - The Great Lock
Pada Bandha - Pada Bandha contributes to grounding more firmly through the foundation of the feet and to stabilizing the body in standing poses. It also contributes to engaging Mula Bandha. Pada Bandha is engaged through lifting the arches of the feet.
Stand with the feet together. Lift the toes and gently spread them apart. Keeping the toes lifted feel the inner edges of the ball of the feet and press that point firmly into the mat. Play with lifting and lowering the toes to get a feel for how the ankles and inner ankles lift up. This engages the arches and awakens Pada Bandha. At first it will be challenging to keep Pada Bandha engaged when you lower your toes to the floor, but with practice you’ll get the feel of it.
Mula Bandha - Mula Bandha is also called the root lock because it is located at the base of the pelvis. Engaging Mula Bandha instantly helps to stabilize and balance the entire body.
To engage Mula Banda you contract the muscles of the pelvis. If you’ve ever done Kiegal exercises then you have have been engaging your Mula Banda. The muscles associated with this bandha are different in men and women and so the easiest way to visualize how to engage the Mula Bandha is to pretent that you are unrinating and must stop midflow. The muscles used to stop the flow are the muscles that make up the Mula Bandha, and contracting them like so is how to engage this bandha.
Udayana Bandha - This bandha calls for engaging the diapragm and the abdominal wall so it is not entirely recommended to engage Udayana Bandha while practicing asanas because of the need to be able to breathe fully through the diaphragm. Use Udayana Bandha for pranayama breathing exercises.
To engage this bandha simply pull the navel to the spine and then contract the diaphragm to lift the navel upwards. There are several different ways taught to engage this bandha and so you can explore and find the way that works best for you. Let these cues be a starting point for your journey into Udayana Bandha.
Jalandhara Bandha - This lock is also called the chin lock. Engaging Jalandhara Bandha helps to straighten and lengthen the spine and encourage the shoulder to drop down the back and away from the ears. Use Jalandhara Bandha to straighten your posture and relieve any tension in the neck and shoulders.
To engage Jalandhara Banda activate the muscles in the back of the neck to pull the chin back until the ears are over the shoulders. Then allow the chin to drop towards the chest.
Hasta Bandha - Activating the bandhas of the hands will actually help to stabilize balance when the hands are on the floor. The action of engaging the Hasta Bandhas gives support to the wrists and help to protect them from injury in postures where the wrists bear weight.
To engage the Hasta Bandhas spread the fingers wide while being careful not to over stretch the thumb away from the hand. Distribute your weight evenly through all parts of the hand and then contract the muscles of the palm to lift the palm upwards away from the floor. This will create a suction-cup action of the hands that will add support to the wrists and allow you to balance on your hands with energy and strength.
Maha Bandha - This bandha is the Bandha of Bandhas and is commonly referred to as the Great Lock. Enaging Maha Bandha will lengthen the spine, open the torso and create a very firm foundation in your body. To engage Maha Bandha simply engage the Mula, Udayana and Jalandhara bandhas at the same time. This bandha opens up the three major energy valves in your body and stimulates your endochrine system. Notice how you feel more alert and energized when you consciously engage Maha Bandha.
Bandhas All Around
The next time you come to your mat experiment with engaging the bandhas in your postures. Bringing mindful awareness and engagement of the bandhas will help to take effort out of getting into and holding postures. For example, if you’ve been struggling to get your toes off the ground in Bakasana (Crane Pose) try engaging your Mula Bandha to give lift to your hips and be prepared for a pleasant surprise when your toes lift easily off the floor.
Also try experimenting with engaging the bandhas while out and about in your daily life. If you start to feel pain in the neck or shoulders from hunching over a computer keyboard, then engage Jalandhara Bandha or even Mula Bandha tospread the effort away from your shoulders and out into the your upper body and pelvis.
Experiment, practice, and enjoy the benefits of the strong support that such subtle muscle contractions can bring to your body.
Namasté my friends!