Synopsis of the Bandhas, Nadis & Chakras
In order to follow the techniques of pranayama it is necessary to understand how the bandhas, nadis and chakras pertain to the practice of pranayama.
Bandha means bondage, joining together, fettering or catching hold of. It is also a posture in which certain organs or parts of the body are contracted and controlled.
Nadi is a tubular channel in the body through which energy flows.
Chakras are wheels or circles, also referred to as energy vortexes within the body and surrounding electromagnetic field (aura).
Importance of the Bandhas
When electricity is generated, it is necessary to have transformers, conductors, fuses, switches and insulated wires to carry the power to its destination, as without these the electricity generated would be lethal. When prana is made to flow in the yogi’s body by the practice of pranayama, it is equally necessary for them to employ bandhas to prevent the dissipation of energy and to carry it to the right quarters without causing damage elsewhere. Without the bandhas, prana is lethal.
Pranayama & Jalandhara Bandha
The first bandha which the yogi should master is Jalandhara. Jala means a net, a web, a lattice or a mesh. In Jalandhara Bandha, the neck and throat are contracted and the chin is made to rest on the chest in the notch between the collarbones and at the top of the breast bone. It is mastered while doing Sarvangasana and its cycles, for here also the chin is pressed against the sternum. The Jalandhara Bandha regulates the flow of blood and prana to the heart, the glands in the neck and the head together with the brain. If pranayama is performed without Jalandhara Bandha pressure is immediately felt on the heart, behind the eyeballs and in the ear cavity and the head feels dizzy. Jalandhara Bandha is essential in the three processes of pranayama, namely, puraka (inhalation), rechaka (exhalation) and kumbhaka (retention).
Pranayama & Uddiyana Bandha
The process in Uddiyana Bandha is to lift the diaphragm high up the thorax and to pull in the abdominal organs against the back towards the spine. It is said that through Uddiyana Bandha, the great bird (prana) is forced to fly up through the Susumna Nadi, the main channel for the flow of nervous energy, which is situated inside the meru-danda (spinal column). It is said that Uddiyana is the best of bandhas and anyone who constantly practices it as taught by their Guru or Master becomes young again. It is said to be the lion that kills the elephant named Death. It should be performed only during bahya kumbhaka following rechaka, that is, during the interval between complete exhalation and fresh inhalation when breathing is suspended. It exercises the diaphragm and abdominal organs. The cavity created by the lift of the diaphragm gives a gentle massage to the muscles of the heart, thereby toning it.
Uddiyana Bandha should never be attempted during antara kumbhaka, that is the interval between complete inhalation and the start of exhalation when breath is retained, otherwise it will strain the heart and diaphragm and the eyes will puff out.
Pranayama & Mula Bandha
Mula means root, source, origin or cause, basis or foundation. Mula Bandha is the region between the anus and the scrotum. By contracting this region, Apana Vayu (the prana in the lower abdomen), whose course is downwards, is made to flow up to unite with the Prana Vayu (which has its seat in the region of the chest).
Mula Bandha should be attempted first in an tara kumbhaka (retention after inhalation). The region of the lower abdomen between the navel and the anus is contracted towards the spine and pulled up towards the diaphragm. In Uddiyana Bandha the entire region from the anus to the diaphragm up to the sternum is pulled back towards the spine and lifted up. But in Mula Bandha the whole lower abdominal area between the anus and the navel is contracted, pulled back to the spine and lifted up towards the diaphragm.
The practice of contracting the anal sphincter muscles (the Asvini Mudra) helps one to master Mula Bandha. Asva means a horse. This mudra (a sealing posture) is so called because it suggests the stalling of a horse. It should be learned while doing various asanas, especially Tadasana, Sirsasana, Sarvangasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana, Ustrasana and Paschimottanasana.
It is said that by the practice of these bandhas the sixteen adharas are closed. Adhara (from the root ‘dhr’ (to support) means a support, a vital part. The sixteen vital parts are:
- organs of generation
- middle of the eyebrows
- Brahmarandhra (the aperture in the crown of the head through which the soul is said to escape on leaving the body)
There is a grave danger in attempting to learn the Uddiyana and Mula Bandhas by oneself, without the personal supervision of an experienced Guru or teacher. Improper performance of the Uddiyana Bandha will cause a dramatic loss of vitality, while that of Mula Bandha will seriously weaken the practitioner who will lack virility. Even the correct performance of Mula Bandha has its own dangers. It increases sexual retentive power, thereby tempting the practitioner to abuse that power. If they succumb to that temptation, they are lost. All of their dormant desires are aroused and become lethal like a sleeping serpent struck with a stick. With the mastery of the three bandhas, the yogi is at the crossroads of his destiny. One road leads to bhoga or the enjoyment of worldly pleasures; the other leads to yoga or union with the Supreme Soul.
The attraction of worldly pleasures is great. The yogi, however, feels greater attraction for their Creator. The senses open outwards and consequently they are attracted to objects and follow the path of bhoga. If the direction of the senses is changed so that they turn inwards, then they follow the path of yoga. The yogi’s senses invert to meet the Creator, the source of all creation. It is when the aspirant has mastered the three bandhas that the guidance of a Guru is most essential, for under proper guidance this increased power is sublimated for higher and nobler pursuits. The practitioner then becomes an urdhvaretus or one who lives a life of celibacy and does not dissipate their virility. They will then acquire moral and spiritual power. The power within them will shine forth like the sun.
While practicing Mula Bandha, the yogi attempts to reach the true source or mula of all creation. His goal is the complete restraint or bandha of the chitta which includes the mind (manas), the intellect (buddhi) and the ego (aharhkara).
The human body is a miniature universe in itself. Hatha is composed of the syllables ‘ha’ and ‘tha’ which mean the sun and the moon respectively. The solar and the lunar energy is said to flow through the two main nadis, Pingala and Ida, which start from the right and the left nostrils respectively and move down to the base of the spine. Pingala is the nadi of the sun, while Ida is the nadi of the moon. In between them is the Susumna, the nadi of fire. As stated earlier, Susumna Nadi is the main channel for the flow of nervous energy, and it is situated inside the meru-danda or spinal column. Pingala and Ida intersect each other and also Susumna at various places. These junctions are called chakras or wheels and regulate the body mechanism as fly-wheels regulate the output of energy in a mechanical engine.
The main seven chakras and sub-chakras (energy centers):
Muladhara Chakra which is situated in the pelvic region above the anus (mula= root, cause, source) (adhara = support, or vital part)
Swadhisthana Chakra above the organs of generation (swa = vital force, soul) (adhisthana = seat or abode)
Manipuraka Chakra is the navel (manipura = navel)
Manas and the Surya Chakras are located between the navel and the heart (manas = mind) (surya = sun)
Anahata Chakra in the cardiac region (anahata = heart)
Vishuddha Chakra in the pharyngeal region (visuddha = pure)
Ajna Chakra between the eyebrows (ajna = command)
Sahasrara Chakra, which is called the thousand-petalled lotus, in the cerebral cavity
Lalata Chakra which is at the top of the forehead (lalata = forehead).
According to the Tantric texts the object of Pranayama is to arouse Kundalini, the divine cosmic force in our bodies. Kundalini is symbolized as a coiled and sleeping serpent lying dormant in the lowest nerve center at the base of the spinal column, the Muladhara Chakra. This latent energy has to be aroused and made to go up the spinal column piercing the chakras up to the Sahasrara (the thousand-petalled lotus in the head, the network of nerves in the brain) and there to unite with the Supreme Soul. This is perhaps an allegorical way of describing the tremendous vitality which is obtained by the practice of Uddiyana and Mula Bandhas described above.
Micah Lyn is an Intuitive Healer and E-RYT 500 Certified Yoga Instructor registered with the Yoga Alliance. She offers a variety of private yoga classes, therapeutic yoga sessions and intuitive healing services at Pachamama Yoga ✨ Los Angeles Healing Center. Visit the YTT Programs & Workshops page to see upcoming Online & Hands-on Intensive Yoga Teacher Trainings, Virtual Online Yoga Workshops & Transformational Yoga Retreats featured worldwide.
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