Yoga is a process of continuous practice and evolution, and mindfully incorporating new elements into your practice – whether at home or in the studio – is how you progress.
We are all familiar with asanas, the physical postures, and pranayama, the breath. There is another element I’d like to introduce: bandhas.
Bandha is a Sanskrit word that means “bond” or “lock”. In Hatha yoga it refers to focusing on and locking specific regions of the body to strengthen, stimulate and elevate the practice. There are three bandhas: Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha. The fourth, Maha Bandha, is done by performing all three together.
Here is a brief explanation of each:
Mula Bandha means “root lock” and it is done by tightening the muscles of the perineum. This channels the flow of energy within the postures (asanas) and specifically benefits the pelvic nerves, the reproductive and endocrine system, and the excretory system.
Uddiyana Bandha means “flying up lock” and refers to the lifting and compression of your internal organs. In class I regularly remind students to tighten their abdominals — performing uddiyana bandha is a deeper, more intense version. You tighten and compress your muscles, drawing your abdomen towards your spine thus compressing your organs. This lifts your energy in postures and is excellent for digestion, metabolism, balancing the adrenal system and relieving stress.
Jalandhara Bandha is the “throat lock” and is performed in conjunction with specific breathing exercises (pranayama). You can do it by sitting comfortably cross-legged, or Japanese style, with your hands on your knees like in kapalbhatti. Inhale deeply through your nose then draw your chin back and up into your throat to create a double chin. Hold the posture while you can then lift the chin and exhale to finish. Jalandhara helps regulate the circulatory and respiratory systems, and balances your thyroid and metabolism.
You should practice these three bandhas separately to begin with. Later, when you are able are confident in your “locks” you can perform all three together to do Maha Bandha.
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