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Bandhas (Energy Locks)

In the last blog post, I talked about the concept of Kumbhaka – कुम्भक – (breath retention). A natural extension of Kumbhaka is the concept of the Bandhas – बन्ध – (energy locks). The bandhas are a very important part of the pranayama techniques as they help balance out the prana (the vital life force) in the system. As per the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, bandhas help us cleanse the chakras and allow the Kundalini Shakti (the dormant creative power) to awaken. The kundalini can then start its journey toward its final destination- the Sahasrara Chakra (thousand petal lotus) – abode of the supreme consciousness represented by Lord Shiva,  at the crown of the head. 

There are three bandhas which are practiced as a part of the pranayama routine:

  1. Mula Bandha – मूलबन्ध – (root lock)
  2. Uddiyana Bandha – उड्डियान बन्ध – (navel lock)
  3. Jalandhara Bandha – जालन्धर बन्ध – (chin lock)

These bandhas are normally applied while holding the breath, either at the end of inhalation or at the end of exhalation. The root lock and the chin lock can be applied both at the end of inhalation as well as after exhalation. However, the navel lock can be effectively applied only after a complete exhalation. These locks are maintained as long as the breath is being retained. The locks should be released before resuming the breathing cycle. When all the three locks are applied together at the end of exhalation, it is called "Maha Bandha" or the Great Lock.

Mula Bandha (Root Lock)

To apply the root lock, squeeze the perineum area inward from all sides and then lift the anus muscles upward. The awareness during the root lock is focused at the Muladhara Chakra (the root chakra), located at the spot which as about the width of two fingers above the anus.

Jalandhara Bandha (Chin Lock)

The chin lock is applied by lowering the chin to the chest while lifting the sternum upward. While holding the lock, a gentle pressure should be maintained with the chin against the chest.

Uddiyana Bandha (Navel Lock)

As mentioned above, the navel lock is effectively applied only after a complete exhalation. At the end of exhalation, try to suck the belly all the way back toward the spine. While holding the navel lock, the chin lock is simultaneously applied.

Ujjayi Pranayama

The application of the three bandhas can be practiced by practicing a simple breathing technique called the Ujjayi Pranayama. In an earlier blog post, I talked about the Ujjayi breathing technique, the ocean-wave sounding breath which is done by constricting the passage of air at the epiglottis area. Ujjayi Pranayama is done while using the ujjayi breathing technique.

Step-by-step

  1. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged sitting posture, keeping the spine upright, arms and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Keep the eyes closed so you can stay focused on the breathing pattern.
  3. Take a long, deep inhalation using the Ujjayi breath.
  4. At the end of inhalation, close both the nostrils – right nostril with the right thumb and the left nostril with the ring finger.
  5. Apply the root lock and the chin lock while you are retaining the breath.
  6. When you are ready to exhale, release the locks, keep the right nostril closed with the right thumb, and exhale slow and deep through the left nostril.
  7. At the end of exhalation, retain the breath out  and apply all the three bandhas.
  8. When you are ready to inhale, release the bandhas and repeat the breathing cycle.
  9. Make sure that the breathing is smooth, deep and soft throughout the cycle and at no time feels strained in any way.
  10. Continue for about 5 to 6 breathing cycles.

As always, I would love to receive any comments or feedback that you might have. Please use the form below to enter your comments.

Sounds

Click on the play button to listen to the audio recording of some of the Sanskrit sounds in this post

  • Kumbhaka –

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  • Mula Bandha –

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  • Uddiyana Bandha –

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  • Jalandhara Bandha –

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14 comments to Bandhas (Energy Locks)

  • Subhashji,

    Visiting your website first time and liked it. I am beginner in Yoga and Pranayam but having too much on internet adds confusion. Do you have any article which describe what sequence we should follow in Yoga and Pranayam. Which Asanas should be done in the beginning vs. towards the end. What pranayam one should start with and end with.

    Regards,
    Divya

  • Bhairavi

    Hi. Just wanted to remind that all pranayama techniques are working as strong amplifiers of whatever states we have inside. For this reason it is necessary that we do the pranayamas in a calm and steady state of mind. Some of these techniques are extremely powerful and can cause serious proplems in a being who is not properly prepared for such a huge intake of prana together with awakening the Kundalini. Therefore i would be more cautious and take a bit more responsibility, at least to mention this and that ones being should be prepared and purified properly before starting to practise these techniques. Also the protect the name of Yoga. You dont want to generate for example psychic problems to some very beginners in this path of Yoga.

    • Dear Bhairavi,
      I truly appreciate your cautionary note with regard to the practice of pranayama. You bring up a valid point about my emphasizing in my web posts the need for caution and proper preparation before practicing the more advanced practices like bandha and kumbhaka. In the yoga classes that I teach I constantly remind the students never to strain themselves while practicing pranayama and build up the practices very gradually. Thanks a lot for your candid and valuable feedback.

  • Respected Shri Subhashji,

    My humble respect to you. Your step-by-step explanation on Ujjayi Pranayam is splendid and any lay man can practice the same.

    Regards and may the Almighty God bless you in your efforts in propagating our Hindu Ancient Yoga for the welfare of the mankind.

    N.K. Ramani

  • Varuna

    Hello, I am recently doing pranayana after 20 years.When applying root lock and chin lock gently after inhalation, everything dissolves into a presence of solid light. Previously I was doing Gurukulla with a Shimahat from the Sawasvati-Giri order and this wasn’t far out of the ordinary. Now I am trying to integrate the various practices with a rather ordinary life. Any tips?

  • Bertha

    Dear Subhash, I have a friend who is ill in bed and I have bought her a Pranayama DVD by Dr Vasant Lad, renowned Ayurveda doctor located in New Mexico. Dr Vasant Lad’s DVD is so good that I think she will be able to practice Pranayama without difficulty. The main problem is that, due to her condition, she cannot sit on the floor or cross her legs. Can she practice Pranayama sitting up in bed with three or four pillows to rest her back?
    Thank you!

  • Ramesh S

    Is Maha Bandha or one of the three Bandhas known to be beneficial for elderly in keeping prostate enlargement under control or providing a cure.

    You have done a great service in explaining all one should know about pranayama. Can you consider adding the benefits of each pranayama, for eg. if Brahmari helps in healing glaucoma, etc?

    All the best Sir.

    • Hello Ramesh,
      Thanks for your kind feedback. From what I have read, Mula Bandha is supposed to be helpful for situations involving prostate enlargement. Much depends upon the nature of the ailment and the extent of the yoga practice. In general, I strongly recommend practicing yoga, including asana, pranayama and meditation, not to work on a specific ailment but the heal the whole being – physical, mental and deeper. Once the yoga practice becomes a part of the lifestyle, many benefits will begin to surface.
      I have tried to list the benefits of each of the practices that I have described. It is best to try it out for yourself to see how much help a specific practice would bring in a given situation.

  • Shreyas

    many thanks for the teachings, till now havent done any yoga or pranayama can I start doing it right away, of course with restraint

    • Indeed, Shreyas, there is no prerequisite for starting the practice of yoga. The sooner you start, the sooner you start realizing the benefits. Preferably, in the beginning, practice under the guidance of a qualified teacher.

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