Bandha translates to lock, to hold, or to tighten. I was first introduced to the concept in a Forrest yoga class, where the teacher instructed us to engage the uddiyana bandha, a lock located in the abdominals and extending to the diaphragm. As a fairly novice yogi, I interpreted this action as simply “sucking in” my belly- not a bad start. But I missed the concept of what a bandha really is doing, and how it should feel. The best definition of a bandha I have come across was described by Jennilee Toner as “The activation and engagement of muscle fibers, in strategic areas in the body, that support in the toning and lifting of the systems of the body against the natural laws of gravity,”. Bandhas help you create energetic lifts in the body, and can be beneficial in inversions as well as add power to standing poses. They also help to develop awareness and turn your sense inward.
Understand & Explore
To explore the bandhas, we must understand the concept of prana and gravity. Gravity is a force that pulls us downward, and defines a pull between all objects in the universe. Think about it: things go up, and must come down. Bandhas help us acknowledge this force, and work against it by pulling upward against gravitational pull. Prana is known as the life force, and has both physical and subtle qualities. When we breathe in, we are activating the flow of prana in the body. This breath brings life into the entire body, and connects the physical body to the mental body. The way in which we utilize our prana affects us physically and mentally. Bandhas help you harness and control the movement of prana by “locking specific areas, allowing prana to build up, and releasing it to flush throughout the body.
There are 6 types of bandhas: three primary bandhas, one combination of the three primary bandhas, and 2 minor bandhas.
The Mula Bandha
Also called the “root lock”, this bandha is a group of muscles located between the pubic, coccyx and sitting (ischium) bones. The muscles form part of the pelvic floor muscles. Activating this bandha helps to bring awareness to the pelvis area and can release tension in the low back.
The Uddiyana Bandha
This bandha is often interpreted as “sucking in the stomach” and engages your abdominals. The bandhas ii located in the abdominals and extends up to the diaphragm, and is entered after exhaling, allowing space to engage the abdominal muscles upward. This bandha tones the abdominal muscles, as well as the diaphragm. In balance postures such as bakasana, it can help you lift upward, finding lightness and balance.
The Jalandhara Bandha
This bandha involves the tucking of the chin in toward the chest, creating a lock in the throat. The lock stimulates muscles in the neck and the thyroid. This bandha is seen is some yoga poses like shoulder stand, but it mainly activated in pranayama practices.
The Maha Bandha
Maha translates to “great”, and this bandha is the combination of all three of the previous bandhas. It is done after an exhalation, and stimulates each of the three body systems activated by the three bandhas. Maha bandha also helps you bring your senses inward, usually accessed through the seated Easy Pose and relaxing the nervous system.
The Minor Bandhas: Pada & Hasta
“Pada” translates to foot, and “hasta” translates to hands, describing the two areas of the body the minor bandhas are located. In pada bandha, our feet should be engaged into the ground, pressing through the big mounds and lifting the arch of the foot. A good way to explore this is in tadasana, pressing through the feet and feeling the way this bandha adds more energy to the pose. In hasta bandha, our fingers and palms are activated, pressing through the mounds of the fingers and thumbs, creating a suction in the palm. This bandha is especially good for protecting your wrists in plank pose. Like the primary bandhas, the minor bandhas help us to add an energetic element that energizes the pose and helps stabilize and protect us as well.
Bandhas bring awareness to your body in every yoga pose, and can help you harness the energy needed to lift up, root down, and ultimately feel stable and keep the body safe. They take time and patience to practice and develop the necessary awareness to master. Try them out and notice how they provide tools to empower you on and off the mat.