What are Bandhas? Bandhas are locks that we create within our own bodies. The Sanskrit word for bandha means to “hold”, “tighten” or “lock.” These locks gather up energy which would otherwise be dispersed. Bandhas have an effect on the physical and psychic body. It is said that by locking or contracting certain muscles on the physical level a subtle process of unlocking goes on simultaneously on the mental and pranic level. They are associated with energy centers in the spine and brain. Using these locks helps the endocrine and nervous systems to function more efficiently, stimulating positive responses throughout the whole body. The root of the nervous system begins in the pelvic floor and ends in the crown, and by using bandhas the nervous system is stimulated and influences and modifies the way the brain receives information by balancing out mental and physical function. According to the Bihar School of Yoga, “The bandhas also lock the pranas in particular areas and redirect their flow into sushumna nadi for the purpose of spiritual awakening. “
By engaging these locks, we are able to move energy in and up and flowing back into our system through the nadis to be locked or sealed within our physical and physic bodies. The body becomes more grounded, we become more focused within, the mind becomes clearer, and our balancing poses become more stabilized. Stagnant energy begins to transform and creates heat, and this energy is intensified and re-circulated back to tone, strengthen and nourish the physical and psychic body. Changes start to transpire on a cellular level and holistically creating a stronger immune system.
Bandhas involve the contraction or squeezing of muscles in the pelvis floor, abdominal muscles and the cervical (neck) muscles. When you contract a muscle a nerve impulse is relayed to the brain, triggering other neuronal circuits and nervous centers. In turn this affects our state of consciousness, and the brain adjusts its firing patterns. By contracting certain muscles on the physical level a subtle process of unlocking goes on simultaneously on mental and pranic levels. It is a fact that systematic contraction and relaxation of muscles all over the body help you regain complete physical and mental relaxation. To relax a muscle you must first exaggerate the tension already existing in the muscle, and using bandhas works in a similar way. They have significant reaching effects because they are associated with energy centers in the spine and brain.
There are four bandhas:
Jalandhara, moola, uddiyana and maha. Maha is a combination of the first three.
Moola bandha is the root or perineum lock, and for women it is located between the anus and cervix and for men between the anus and scrotum. You can find this root lock by stopping the flow of urine when going to the toilet. The muscles are both frontal and dorsal and used to practice moola bandha, and your perineum is located between these muscles. You are lifting the pelvic floor into the core of your body extending from your anus through the crown of your head. This encompasses all organs, blood vessels, glands and nerves. All organs, blood vessels, gland and nerves are stimulated by using moola bandha and the whole skeletal structure is realigned by redistributing weight through your joints and over your feet.
Uddiyana Bandha is located in the abdominal region. Uddiyana means flying up-ward. This bandha requires you to pull your whole abdominal area up and under the ribcage on exhale. This bandha can be performed in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down-ward-facing-dog), and used to help you jump back into plank pose. By gently firming up the abdominal area between your hips helps to stimulate the inter agni (fire), and also maximizes your breathing mechanism. It also helps to tone the digestive system and massage and revitalize the internal organs. By using uddiyana bandha you are able to empty your lungs out and in return you are able to inhale a deeper breath. This brings in more pranic energy to the body and purifies the nadis. Using moola and uddiyana with ujjayi breath, gives benefits to the mind, body and spirit.
Jalandhara Bandha is sometimes called the chin lock. Using this bandha you press your chin forward, drawing it in towards the suprasternal notch in your throat. Jalandhara bandha compresses the carotid sinuses, which are located on the carotid arteries. These are the main arteries in the neck. The carotid sinuses help to regulate the circulatory and respiratory systems. This bandha can be done with breath retention or in certain yoga asanas such as Sarvanganasana (Shoulder stand).
Using this bandha produces mental relaxation, releases stress, anxiety and anger. With practice it helps you to develop meditative inwardness and one-pointedness. It helps to balance the thyroid gland and regulate the metabolism.
The bandhas infuse different areas of the body with fresh, vital force capable of checking imbalances in the body systems. All the bandhas have an indirect effect on the pituitary, pineal glands and the brain. Certain biorhythms in the body are also regulated by the direct effect that the bandhas have on the endocrine glands. They are not only locks, but removers of blockages, in the form of physical and mental impurities. Using bandhas is a practice within itself; bringing both physical and mental harmony to the practitioner.
The Physical Effects Of Bandhas
• They help to harmonize the endocrine system to function efficiently. Jalandhara has a direct effect on the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus glands; uddiyana bandha has a direct effect on the adrenals and pancreas; moola bandha has a direct effect on the gonads and perineal body/cervix, which is said to be vestigial endocrine glands. All the bandhas have a indirect effect on the pituitary, pineal glands, and the brain.
• Certain biorhythms in the body are regulated by the direct effects that the bandhas have on the endocrine glands. Both moola bandha and uddiyana bandha are extremely important in stabilizing menstrual periods.
• When performed correctly all of the bandhas will lower respiration rate, inducing calmness and relaxation.
• Blood pressure is reduced.
• Heart rate is lowered.
• Profound relaxation is increased, indicating a slowing of nervous activity.
• Sympathetic activity of the nervous system is decreased, a further index of relaxation.
• Retraining of the brain takes place by reorder of confused and/or crossed neuronal circuits.
• By pressure on the internal organ the digestive system is toned, massaged and revitalized.
• Contraction at the physical level activates and awakens dormant facilities in the brain and mind.
Many of the esoteric philosophies say that the downward flow of prana (apana) represents the part of consciousness that leads us to the lower more earthly elements. This encompasses satisfaction of instinctual desires, overindulgence, lethargy, apathy, laziness etc. It is believed that our true nature is godlike and that in order to reunite or realize the first cause we must redirect our consciousness. Here moola bandha blocks the descending movement of consciousness and redirects it upwards.
The bandhas are not only locks, but also removers of locks or blockages, in the form of physical and mental impurities. There are three major blockages within the human body. They are called granthis or psychic knots, located in mooladhara, anahata and ajna chakras. In the yoga practice traditionally, bandhas were prescribed as one of the most effective means to untie theses knots or blockages. The knots or blockages exist as tension, anxieties, repression and unresolved conflicts.
With practice the bandhas will become a natural part of your practice. At first is may be difficult, but in time you gain the strength and control you need to engage the bandhas.