An important component of yoga, the bandhas are primarily meant to serve our yogic practice. They are often misunderstood and so have a certain sense of mystery floating around then, when actually it’s all pretty straightforward, once you know the basics. I’ll try to unpack these guys here a little bit in an attempt to make them more accessible and to take your practice to the next level.
If you have been coming to my and Victoria’s yoga classes, you have probably been using them perhaps without realizing it, as we often cue them in class to guide our students into better alignment and help prevent injuries. Indeed, the physical practice of the bandhas utilizes co-activation of muscles and physical movements that ensure better alignment in postures and protect us from strain and injury.
More importantly, the bandhas, also known as energy locks, serve as valves that control energy, irrigate the channels of energy, and activate, replenish and balance the flow of prana throughout the body. While practicing, we observe energetic patterns beyond our physical form in the energy body.
So how does it work?
When you activate a bandha, the energy flow in a specific part of the body is blocked. When the bandha is released, this allows the energy to flow powerfully through the body and increases pressure. Asana creates bandha and bandha serves the breath and the breath is the vehicle for prana.
There are three classic bandhas: mulabandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha. They can be practiced together or individually during kriya, asana, pranayama, mudra, visualization, and meditation. When practiced together they are called tri-bandha, maha bandha or the fabulously named “Great Lock” (Maha in Sanskrit means ‘great’ or ‘supreme’ and Bandha means a lock – this term is the one used in the yogic texts Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, Gheranda Samhita and the Siva Samhita).
The question came up on our recent retreat as to why one would isolate the bandhas – a great question which I’m not sure I know the official answer to, but my understanding is that you would initially just use one or the other of the classic locks, and only at the point that you have mastered it/them would you move on to using all three at once. Does that help? Does anyone have a better answer or explanation?
So, the next time you hear the word bandha bandied about in a yoga class, you will know that it’s an instruction to focus on your internal energy and on harnessing this energy within the body. Start practicing slowly, please ask as many questions as you may have, and please let me know how you find it benefits your practice.
For a detailed breakdown of the three classic locks, you may wish to check out this lovely clear explanation of each.
Image: Brenda Medina, http://www.brendayoga.tumblr.com