In our last blog post, I talked about the importance of proper body and energy alignment, and the transformational effect it can have on health and well-being. In this article, I want to look at another key to health and longevity in Yoga, and that is the bandhas. Bandhas are locks within certain parts of the body that, when contracted in the correct way, can direct energy up through the spine, through the chakras and into the crown.
Here I’ll give you a simple overview of the bandhas, how to engage them, and how they can help you to enhance your Yoga practice, improve your health and mood, and increase longevity.
The above image illustrates the exact position of the three bandhas on the body. Image © Yoko Kayano.
The Root Lock
The first of the bandhas is known as ‘Mula bandha’ or the ‘Root Lock’. To activate this bandha, a simple way is to contract the pelvic floor muscles (the perineum) - as though you are stopping yourself from taking a wee. This technique, while a little crude, is close enough and will give you an indication of how it feels to activate this bandha. When it is held and active, you might notice that your lower spine will naturally begin to straighten, and you might also begin to feel that the energy from your root chakra is naturally directed upwards through the spine. It can help to visualise this, as well as focusing on any sensation.
There is a huge amount of energy in the root chakra, which is often held dormant or even suppressed in some way. Here we are consciously activating this energy, and allowing it to travel up the spine and through the chakras. At first it can be difficult to hold this lock for long periods, but with regular practice it becomes much easier.
The Diaphragm Lock
In class, Yoko often tells students to make sure the belly is in and up. This sounds like a simple instruction, but what exactly does it mean and why is it so important? The ‘in and up’ is actually an instruction for the student to activate the second of the three bandhas, known as ‘Uddiyana bandha’, or the ‘Upward-Flying Lock’. To activate this bandha, draw the lower belly in towards the spine. It is much easier when Mula bandha is already engaged. Once again, you will notice that energy is directed upwards through the spine.
It is good practice to engage the first two bandhas at the beginning of class, while in a standing or seated position, to bring awareness to them. It is also good to engage these bandhas if you do a downward facing dog near the beginning of class, as they can be felt clearly in this posture. With practice and conscious awareness, you will begin to activate them throughout your practice, and also in your day-to-day life. If you engage these bandhas while sitting, or even walking, energy will begin to flow more freely, and your posture and stability will naturally improve.
The Throat Lock
The last of the three bandhas is called ‘Jalandhara bandha’ and is the ‘Throat Lock’. This bandha is usually only activated during pranayama and meditation practices, although there are a few Yoga postures where you can get an idea of the feeling of engaging it, such as shoulder stand and plough. To activate this lock the other two bandhas should already be engaged, and the chin is brought down onto the sternum to lock the throat.
It is crucial to learn Jalandhara bandha in order to do more advanced pranayama techniques, so it is a good idea to begin to learn how to engage this lock, although it is not something you would necessarily need to be engaging on a daily basis.
What are the Benefits of Activating the Bandhas?
I’ve already mentioned some of the benefits above, but it’s worth going through them again to really establish how beneficial they can be; they rejuvenate internal organs and the body as a whole, improving circulation and strength; they direct kundalini through the spine, increasing energy flow; they improve awareness and enhance posture and alignment; they also help with breathing and clearing the mind. In fact the bandhas can affect every aspect of the being - body, mind, emotion, spirit, and along with alignment work, they can help to heal the body.
Even regular practitioners can forget to engage the bandhas regularly, or they may only engage them during their Yoga asana practice. However, we are asking you here to incorporate them into your day-to-day life and see how transformational they can be, and why they are so revered in Yogic practice as one of the true keys to health and longevity.
My Recent Practice
Yoko recently asked me to focus on my bandhas more, as I had suffered a severe case of Covid, which had a bad effect on my stomach and internal organs, and also left me with an acute kidney infection. I noticed that my posture had become a lot more fetal, as I was nursing my stomach and kidneys and holding a protective body shape. I spent a whole day paying attention to activating the locks, particularly Mula bandha and Uddiyana bandha, and noticed that my health and strength had improved greatly by the end of the day. I also noticed how little attention I had paid to the bandhas, as it takes conscious attention to bring awareness to them. As I said earlier though, it gets easier the more you do it. In fact, quite quickly it becomes second nature, leading to all of the health benefits described above.
We hope this introduction to the bandhas has been useful, and you begin to pay real attention to these locks and utilise them. Along with energy alignment, they are a wonderful tool for healing and transformation.
If you would like to book a private or group Yoga session, please contact us or make a booking here. We really look forward to seeing you in class.