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The Three Bandhas (locks) (video)

In an earlier blog post, I talked about the concept of Kumbhaka – कुम्भक – (breath retention). As noted therein, breath retention can be done after a full inhalation, or after a full exhalation, or at any time during the breathing cycle. 

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, situated 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)
  4. Maha bandha – महाबन्ध – (Great lock) – when all the bandhas are applied at the same time after full exhalation

Enjoy the guidelines for the bandha practices as given in the video here.

These bandhas are normally applied while holding the breath. As mentioned earlier, breath can be held either at the end of inhalation or at the end of exhalation. The Mulabandha (root lock) and the Jalandhara bandha (chin lock) can be applied both at the end of inhalation as well as after exhalation. However, the Uddiyana bandha (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)

Mula bandha can be applied either after complete inhalation or after complete exhalation. 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)

Just like the Mula bandha, Jalandhara bandha bandha can also be applied either after complete inhalation or after complete exhalation. The chin lock is applied by lowering the chin to the chest while lifting the sternum upward. While holding the lock, a light pressure should be maintained with the chin against the chest.

Uddiyana Bandha (Navel Lock)

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.

Maha Bandha (Great Lock)

As noted earlier, Mula bandha and Jalandhara bandha can be applied either after inhalation or exhalation. However, since the Uddiyana bandha can only be applied after an exhalation, if you want to apply all three together – Maha bandha – you can do so only after complete exhalation.

Practicing the three bandhas

Please follow along the video guidelines to understand and practice all the three bandhas.

The practice of bandhas can be easily integrated with most of the pranayama practices. For example, in a previous blog post, I talked about integrating the bandhas at the end of the Kapalabhati sequence. It is a common practice to include bandhas in any of the following pranayama practices:

  • Ujjayi pranayama
  • Shitali and Sitkari (both cooling breaths)
  • Nadi Shuddhi, aka Anuloma Viloma (alternate nostril breathing)
  • Bhramari (humming bee)

I am giving below instructions for application of the three bandhas with one of the breathing practices listed above – Ujjayi pranayama.

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 couple of deep breaths to become more aware of your breathing cycle.
  4. Now, take a long, deep inhalation using the Ujjayi breath.
  5. At the end of inhalation, close both the nostrils – right nostril with the right thumb and the left nostril with the ring finger.
  6. Apply the Mula bandha (root lock) and the Jalandhara bandha (chin lock) while retaining the breath in internal kumbhaka.
  7. When you are ready to exhale, release the two locks, keep the right nostril closed with the right thumb, and exhale slow and deep through the left nostril using the Ujjayi breathing technique.
  8. At the end of exhalation, retain the breath out (external kumbhaka)  and apply all the three bandhas, the Maha bandha (great lock).
  9. When you are ready to inhale, release the bandhas and repeat the breathing cycle.
  10. Make sure that the breathing is smooth, deep and soft throughout the cycle. You should feel no strain at any time during the cycle.
  11. Continue for about 5 to 6 breathing cycles.

Benefits of Bandhas

Uddiyana bandha

  • Helps increase vitality as it has a powerful toning effect on the visceral organs, muscles, nerves and glands.
  • Abdominal suction stimulates blood circulation and absorption. This pushes out all the stagnant blood. All the inner organs are revitalized.
  • The heart is squeezed and gently massaged by the upward pressure of the diaphragm.
  • The processes of digestion, assimilation and elimination are directly affected.
  • Helps alleviate or prevent a large number of abdominal ailments including indigestion, constipation, diabetes, colitis etc.
  • Strengthens the diaphragm and other respiratory muscles and renders them more mobile.
  • The lungs are tightly squeezed and this induces a greater efficiency of gas exchange, i.e. absorption of oxygen and expulsion of carbon dioxide.
  • The adrenal glands are regularized thereby giving energy to a lethargic person and relaxation to an anxious or overwrought person.
  • Regulate the energy level in the whole body
  • Because the brain is deprived of oxygen for a short period during retention, its capacity to absorb oxygen is also increased.  
  • It helps stimulate the Manipura chakra, situated at the navel center. This results in more subtle flows of prana and its distribution throughout the body. It also redirects prana into the sushumna nadi. This helps to expand awareness and induces meditation.    
  • With all the physiological and psychological benefits the ageing process can be retarded.

Jalandhara bandha

  • It induces mental relaxation and can help to induce meditation.
  • The pressurization of the carotid sinuses helps to bring mental balance by slowing down the heart. These sinuses help to regulate the circulatory and respiratory systems. This also encourages introversion – one tends to become oblivious to the outside world.
  • The whole nervous system and brain become calmer. It produces mental relaxation, relieving stress, anxiety and anger. One tends to become more one-pointed. All this is a great help in meditational practices.
  • This bandha closes the windpipe and compresses various organs in the throat. Notably it massages the thyroid gland and the parathyroid glands which are located in the cavity of the throat. The whole body depends on these glands for perfect development and maintenance.

Mula bandha

  • It stimulates the pelvic nerves and tones the urogenital and excretory systems.
  • It is helpful in psychosomatic and degenerative illnesses.
  • It relieves depression and promotes good health.
  • It helps to realign the physical, mental and psychic bodies in preparation for spiritual awakening.
  • Mula bandha is a means to attain sexual control. It may be used to sublimate sexual energy for spiritual development (brahmacharya), or for enhancement of marital relations.

Maha banndha

  • Maha bandha gives enhanced benefits of all three
    bandhas.
  • It affects the hormonal secretions of the pineal gland and regulates the entire endocrine system.
  • The
    degenerative and ageing processes are checked and every
    cell of the body is rejuvenated.
  • It introverts the mind prior to meditation.
  • When perfected, it can fully awaken prana in the main chakras.
  • It leads to the merger of prana, apana and samana in manipura chakra, which is the culmination of all pranayamas.

Contra-indications

  • People suffering from high or low blood pressure, heart conditions, stroke, hernia, stomach or intestinal ulcer, and those recovering from any visceral
    ailment should avoid the practice of these bandhas, or practice them under the guidance of a qualified teacher.
  • Pregnant women should also not attempt this practice.

Now sure how to pronounce the Sanskrit terms?

Click on the play button to listen to the audio recording of some of the Sanskrit words 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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