Types of bandhas and how to use them…
Your Shades of Yoga RYT 200 or RYT 300 hour yoga teacher training course will take you beyond the basic principles of Hatha Yoga; teaching you how to take your own (and your students’) yoga practice to the next level by, among other things, engaging the bandhas to improve your physical form while simultaneously controlling the flow of prana (energy) in your body.
What is a bandha?
In our previous blog, we addressed mudras, specifically the Hasta (hand) Mudras, sacred gestures that help us direct the flow of energy in our bodies, according to our needs. We also mentioned that other mudras involve bodily gestures. Bandhas fall into this latter category of mudras.
The word bandha comes from Sanskrit, meaning “lock”, and according to the fifteenth-century hatha yoga manual, Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā by Svātmārāma, is a “force posture”. In the course of your yoga teacher training at Shades of Yoga, you’ll learn how engaging a bandha creates both a physical and an energetic lock.
How and why do we activate bandhas?
We activate bandhas by simultaneously contracting the opposing muscles around a joint to create a lock which stabilizes that joint as we move through our asanas, supporting and protecting the body even as it deepens the workout. At the same time, that lock creates a high-pressure system in the contracted area, locking out energy and causing it to flow to other parts of the body – areas with lower pressure – where it improves balance and helps to control bodily systems including the digestive, sexual, hormonal and other systems.
In Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā, Swami Svātmārāma describes the mudras and bandhas and their manifold benefits, including their ability to enable the practitioner to cheat death and aging. For now though, let’s satisfy ourselves with using them to perfect our asanas and increase our body awareness and mental focus during practice.
The five commonly used bandhas
In a typical yoga practice we emphasise five bandhas, the Hasta (hand); Pada (foot); Mula (perineum); Jalandhara (throat); and Uddiyana (core) bandhas. Svātmārāma had this to say about the the Mula, Jalandhara and Uddiyana bandhas: “These three Bandhas are the best of all and have been practised by the masters. Of all the means of success in the Haṭha Yoga, they are known to the Yogîs as the chief ones” – from the 1914 English translation of Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Pancham Sinh.
How to activate the bandhas
The Hasta Bandas are activated by placing your hands on the mat and spreading your fingers wide, pressing each finger into the mat to enhance the natural arches in the palm. In so doing, the arches allow the body’s weight to be evenly distributed across the hands, avoiding strain and preventing wrist injury.
Activate the Pada Bandhas by placing your feet on the mat and spreading your toes as wide as possible, pressing the entirety of each foot equally, including the toes, into the mat to distribute the weight evenly among the three arches of each foot. These arches are located from the big toe to the little toe, the big toe to the ankle and the ankle to the little toe, creating a triangle.
The Mula Bandha is activated by engaging the perineum – tuck your tailbone and slightly tilt your pelvis forward, while contracting the perineum. This bandha will add stability and balance to most poses, while exponentially increasing body awareness. Mula Bandha also locks energy in the torso and thus regulates and stimulates the internal organs.
To engage the Jalandhara Bandha, tuck the chin into the body to creating a double chin to feel the breath flowing through the sinus cavity (use ujjayi breath) as well as lock energy into the upper torso. This bandha brings your awareness to your breath and calms the mind, and by locking the throat, prana can be directed downward to the parts of the body that need special attention.
The Uddiyana Bandha becomes activated by engaging the core, which is achieved by contracting the core muscles, preferably at all times during practice. This will help to create body awareness, reduce the risk of back injury and increase overall strength, while promoting better digestive health.
The One Bandha to Rule Them All
The crown jewel of bandhas is believed to be the Maha Bandha. Svātmārāma himself described the Maha Bandha as “the giver of great Siddhis (enlightenment)”. The Maha Bandha is created by exhaling, then engaging first the Jalandhara Bandha, then the Mula Bandha and finally the Uddiyana Bandha. To deactivate this bandha, the practitioner must first release the Uddiyana, then the Mula and then the Jalandhara bandhas.
The key to a profound and rewarding yoga practice is to perform the asanas with complete awareness of the body, focusing on the ideal placement of the body for each posture, then engaging the bandhas to support, protect and perfect that posture, all the while linking breath to movement and becoming aware of (and even directing) the subtle ebb and flow of prana throughout your body.