“The locks (bandha) are special body positions that are designed to retain the life force in the trunk and thereby stimulate it”.
“The bandhas provide the integrating structural and energetic dynamic of yoga practice[…]. They internalize our energy, our awareness and the effect of our practice; they unify the body structurally and energetically; they unify the body and mind; and they clarify, challenge, develop and eventually release the breath. But most important of all, the bandhas generate the momentum and energy that allows us to confront and burn up our imposed limitations. They do this by containing, transforming and redirecting our energy and attention.”
Bandha is a Sanskrit word that means literally to hold, to squeeze, to grab. David Swenson give an interesting metaphor of word bandha as energy gates or valves, like in the heart; just as the heart regulates the flow of blood, bandhas regulates the flow of energy (prana).
By the term Bandha is therefore intended muscle contractions that convey the energy in a precise point of the body and are combined with asana, pranayama and mudra to intensify the postures.
The practice of bandhas allows us to increase the awareness of our body and to be able to better use the energy that is within us.
But what are the most important bandhas?
Basically there are three: mula bandha, uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bandha.
“Pressing Yoni with the heel, contract up the anus. By drawing the Apana thus, Mula Bandha is made.”
(Hatha Yoga Pradipika, III-60)
In Sanskrit mula means root, thus Mula bandha is the root lock and is located at the base of the spine. This bandha is performed by contracting the muscles located in the ‘pelvic floor’, in the area between the anus and genitals. Mula bandha is said to cut through Brahma Granthi, the energetic knot of our resistance to change, which lies in Muladhara Chakra. On the physical level, practicing Mula bandha creates attentiveness in the supportive musculature of the pelvis, increases his stability and creating a safe environment for spinal movement. Moreover, lifting and compressing the bowel and lower abdominal region, Mula bandha creates a solid foundation, a platform under the breath that makes possible to increase or decrease the pressure inside the torso and facilitate movement. The bandha creates lightness and fluidity; when it is properly applied, the body is less earth-bound and more mobile.
Through gradual refinement, Mula bandha becomes less muscular and more subtle, energetic, and etheric:
“[...]when practicing Mulabandha on the highest level, the yogi sees the Divine in all with equanimity and detachment”
“Uddiyana is so called by the Yogis, because by its practice the Prana flows in the Susumna.”
(Hatha Yoga Pradipika, III-54)
In Sanskrit uddiyana means to fly up, or to rise up. This ‘flying up lock’ is thus all about your insides flying upwards, intangibly meaning your energy, tangibly meaning your diaphragm, stomach, and abdominal organs. In this area, that is worthy of our navel, there is also Manipura Chakra that stimulates the adrenal glands and the endocrine pancreas. Uddiyana bandha, applied together with Mula bandha, helps to untie Vishnu Granthi, the knot of individual ego and power.
Uddiyana bandha can be one of the most transformative aspects of your yoga practice, especially as you get more advanced. It moves the energy upwards with much more force than Mula bandha, thus allowing you to invert and jump more easily, as well as float forward and back more lightly and twist more deeply. Because the abdominal wall is pressing the organs and tissues of the abdominal cavity backwards, Uddiyana bandha creates a soft massage for the deeper internal muscles of the lower back. In a more day-to-day sense, Uddiyana bandha is a remedy for abdominal and stomach ailments, from constipation to indigestion. It stimulates digestive juices, thus increasing metabolism, and tones overworked abdominal organs. It also balances the adrenal system, relieving stress, lethargy and tension.
“In Jalandhara Bandha, the indications of a perfect contraction of throat are that the nectar does not fall into the fire and the air is not disturbed.”
(Hatha Yoga Pradipika, III-71)
In Sanskrit jal means throat, jalan means net, and dharan means stream or flow. Thus in the most basic sense, Jalandhara bandha can be considered the throat lock that controls the flow of energy in the nerves and blood vessels of the neck. This bandha is done by extending the neck and dropping the chin to the chest.
Jalandhara bandha tonifies the throat chakra, neck, shoulder, and arm regions. Jalandhara bandha is a great aid in pranayama which is a great boost to pratyhara and meditation practice. It also unties the knot at the Rudra Granthi, that represents the transformation of an existing form, idea or concept into the universal aspect. Here there’s a breaking away of the old, the ego awareness, the "I" awareness, the mental awareness, the physical awareness and an evolving of the sixth sense or the eye of intuition.
“This Maha Bandha is the most skillful means for cutting away the snares of death. It brings about the conjunction of the Triveni and carries the mind to Kedar .”
(Hatha Yoga Pradipika, III-24)
Note: Triveni refers to the three nadis, Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. Kedar is the space between the eyebrows, which is the seat of Shiva
Maha in Sanskrit means great, and Maha bandha is the combination of all three bandhas, it gives the benefits of all three bandhas and regulates the entire endocrine system.