MAHA BANDHA

There are three major yoga bandhas: whereby the combination of all three bandhas is called Maha Bandha, or “the great lock.” Strictly speaking, bandhas are not an asana, but a restraint. Like an electrical condenser, it fuses and switches control of the flow of electricity. Likewise, bandhas regulate the flow of prana (energy).

  • Mula Bandha
  • Uddiyana Bandha
  • Jalandhara Bandha

As such, Maha Bandha may also be called the “supreme bandha” or “triple lock.” This bandha is named as such because it provides the health benefits of performing all three bandhas simultaneously, beginning with Jalandhara Bandha and ending with Mula Bandha. These yoga bandhas are released in the reverse order, with Mula Bandha first and Jalandhara Bandha last.

The Sanskrit word ‘Bandha’ means to lock, bind or tighten. Bandha is therefore an action; a method of redirecting and guiding energy through the body. It is useful to think of the bandhas as valves rather than locks, ensuring the flow of energy is directed in the right way.

The yoga bandhas massage, stimulate and grant control over organs, muscles, nerves and physical processes within our body. Controlled contractions and muscle tension influence the subtle, pranic body, which leads to the correction and redirection of the flow of prana. This, in turn, affects our mind, and gives us ability to achieve peace and satisfaction, and even fight diseases at their root (they start at a subtle level, and then reach the physical one).

Mula Bandha

Mula Bandha refers to the triggering of the perineum muscle that is located between the genitals and the anus. Mula means “root,” therefore mula bandha translates as “root lock.” When this bandha is engaged, you will feel a slight pull on the inside of the thighs, similar to what you feel when trying to stop the flow of urine.

The energetic purpose of Mula Bandha is to prevent the escape of energy, specifically apana vayu or downward flowing energy. By contracting the pelvic floor muscles you prevent the downward movement of these muscles when breathing. You are literally stopping a downward physical force, which is the gross side of the subtle purpose of Mula Bandha.

The action of Mula Bandha is a contraction of the space between the genitals and the anus. It is not a contraction of the whole pelvic floor, nor should it involve any contraction of the anus itself. During a yoga class, Mula Bandha may be performed constantly, or increased with each exhale. It may also be held in constant contraction when there is a need for a sense of lift (during balances) or flight (during jumps). Mula Bandha is a great tool for being present in your practice. It cannot be performed unconsciously. As soon as your mind wanders, you disengage Mula Bandha.

During the performance of Mula Bandha, the breathing is retained. Hold the bandha as long as you can retain your breath, but again, without much strain. The pelvic floor muscles should be strained well, but not over strained. You shouldn’t feel too much discomfort during the practice.

Mula Bandha can be performed on empty lungs (when you exhale instead of inhaling in the beginning), or you can breathe normally while keeping the pelvic floor muscles contracted (this is normally done when you practice mula bandha for an extended period of time (for example during a yoga class). In this case, you don’t need to engage jalandhara bandha.

Mula Bandha Technique:

  1. Take a suitable pose or asana. It can be the lotus pose (padmasana), or perfect pose (siddhasana).
  2. Place your hands in Shuni Mudra over the knees, close your eyes and relax. Focus your mind on your breathing but do not interfere with it – just contemplate for a minute or so.
  3. Then move your attention to the pelvic floor region. If you find it difficult to feel the muscles of the pelvic floor, try to contract them rhythmically few times, but without much strain.
  4. Now inhale deeply, filling your lungs from bottom to top (‘from bottom’ is emphasized, because when you breathe engaging your belly, the amount of inhaled air is greater), retain your breath, and do jalandhara bandha (the chin lock, when you press the chin against the bottom of the neck).
  5. Slowly contract the pelvic floor muscles, and pull them up slightly. Hold the lock, but do not overstrain. This is the final position.
  6. To end the root lock practice, relax the pelvic floor muscles, slowly raise your head and exhale.

Effects of Mula Bandha

Physiological effects: It is believed that the practice of Mula Bandha can regulate menstrual cycles, lower respiration and heart rates, reduce blood pressure and improve digestion. Asthma, bronchitis and arthritis can also be effectively addressed by this bandha. The engagement of Mula Bandha protects the muscles of the lower back during the practice of asanas. It is also known to energize the body and increase vitality. Helps to build overall core strength. Mula Bandha is especially beneficial when practiced regularly before the conceiving the child, because it is beneficial for fertility. But during the pregnancy it helps to prepare the muscles for easier delivery. It is also good for postpartum period.

Energy effects: Mula refers to the base of the torso and it is related to the Muladhara, or Root Chakra. The purpose of the Mula Bandha is to prevent energy from flowing out of the body, directing it instead up through the spine toward the upper chakras.

Psychological effects: Improves mental clarity and concentration. Known to minimize depression and relieve frustration. Practicing Mula Bandha is believed to ground the individual, providing the inner stability necessary for personal growth. It encourages the realignment of the physical, mental and psychic bodies.

Contraindications: Keep in mind that since Mula Bandha promotes rapid energy growth, it may result in hyperactivity. People with high intracranial pressure or heart disease should not practice this bandha without an experienced instructor.

Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana bandha (upper abdominal lock) means “flying / moving up.” To engage this bandha, place three fingers below the belly button and pull your lower abdominal muscles slightly in and up. This will cause your pelvis to tilt forward slightly with an upward action, protecting the lower back and strengthening the lower abdominals. In this bandha, the prana or energy is made to move from the lower abdomen towards the head.

In the physical practice of Uddiyana Bandha, the abdominal muscles, organs and diaphragm are pulled inwards and upwards. This action is performed along with complete exhale retention. In this way the abdominal pressure allows the belly to become complete concave.

During asana class, a subtler version of Uddiyana Bandha is used. There is still a sense of lift and of drawing the lower abdomen inwards, however the breath should not be held. The diaphragm and ribcage should be allowed to move freely with the breath while the lower abdomen remains still. Widely used throughout an asana class, Uddiyana Bandha is especially useful during balance poses, inversions (including partial inversions such as downward dog) and when moving through a vinyasa.

Mula and uddiyana bandhas should be engaged throughout the yoga practice. Together they help correct the posture and create proper alignment, which will reduce the chance of injury.

Uddiyana Bandha Technique

  1. Stand in Tadasana.
  2. Spread the legs shoulder width apart.
  3. Stoop slightly forward, bending the knees slightly and place the hands with the fingers spread wide on the middle of the thighs.
  4. Lower the hands until the chin rests in the notch between the collar bone on top of the breast-bone.
  5. Inhale deeply and then exhale quickly so that all the air is forced from the lungs in a rush.
  6. Hold the breath (without any inhalation). Pull the whole abdominal region back towards the spine. Contract the abdominal region and lift it up towards the breast-bone, pressing the hands against the thighs.
  7. Maintaining the abdominal grip, lift the hands from the thighs and rest them on the hips.
  8. Straighten both legs and the back without loosening the abdominal grip or raising the chin from the breast-bone.
  9. Relax the abdominal muscles but without moving the chin and head. If the latter move, strain is at once felt in the region of the heart.
  10. Inhale slowly and deeply.
  11. Throughout positions 6 to 9 above, do not inhale. Do not hold the pose for more than 5 to 10 seconds, depending on your endurance.
  12. Take a few breaths, then repeat the cycle stated in steps 1 – 10 above. Do not, however, repeat it more than six to eight times within 24 hours. Only increase the duration of the pose or the number of cycles under the personal supervision of an experienced Guru.
  13. The cycles should be done only once a day at the most.
  14. Practice on an empty stomach after evacuating both the bladder and bowels.
  15. First learn Uddiyana Bandha in the standing position, then in the sitting position as a preliminary step for the practice of Pranayama.
  16. It should be done during exhalation (rechaka) and retention breath (kumbhaka) in the various types of Pranayama.

Effects of Uddiyana Bandha

Physiological effects: It tones the abdominal organs, increases the gastric fire and eliminates toxins in the digestive tract. Uddiyana Bandha is a panacea for many abdominal ailments and diseases: constipation, worms, diabetes, etc. Stimulates the digestive fire, strengthens, tones, and massages all abdominal organs. Balances the adrenal gland. Improves the blood circulation in the entire torso. The powerful physical and energetic effects can lead to increased longevity.

Energy effects: Activates the Manipura Chakra and related fire element (Taja Tattva). Helps to direct prana into the path of Sushumna Nadi, allowing it to flow upward to Sahasrara (the crown chakra). Uddiyana Bandha has an extremely strong sublimation effect, raising vital energy from Muladhara and Swadhisthana Chakras toward the superior planes. With some practice, the energy from the lower chakras can be used to specifically activate the higher chakras.

Psychological effects: Removes lethargy, soothes anxiety and reduces tension in the body. A continuous practice cultivates inner strength, willpower and determination.

Contraindications: Colitis, stomach or intestinal ulcer, diaphragmatic hernia. High blood pressure. Heart diseases. Glaucoma and raised intracranial pressure. To be avoided during pregnancy.

Jalandhara Bandha

Jalandhara bandha is one of the energetic locks used in traditional yoga practice. The name comes from the Sanskrit, ‘jal’ (throat), ‘dharan‘ (stream) and ‘bandha’ (lock). It is performed by extending the neck while lifting the heart, then dropping the chin to the chest. The tongue presses into the roof of the mouth.

As well as toning the muscles of the neck, jalandhara bandha is thought to have a powerful effect on the flow of prana in the subtle body. It is believed to control the stream of energy through the nerves and energy channels of the neck.

Jalandhara bandha is a “chin lock.” To practice this lock, bring the chin toward the clavicle bone while keeping your spine upright and moving your shoulder blades down the back. This bandha is rarely used, but can be found when engaged in certain yoga asanas.

Jalandhara Bandha Technique

  1. Begin to lower your head slowly, while at the same time drawing your sternum toward the chin. This bandha is performed by drawing the chin and chest together. It is important to think of moving the chin and chest towards each other, rather than just dropping the head down.
  2. The chin should be in line with the center of the chest. Do not force the neck muscles to rest the chin in the collarbone notch; simply lower the neck as far as it will comfortably go.
  3. This bandha is performed with breath retention (either internal or external) and can be held as long as the practitioner can comfortably hold their breath.

When you perform Jalandhara Bandha, you are not putting any extra strain on the brain while retaining the breath. If you hold the breath without Jalandhara Bandha, your eyes would turn red, your ears block and a load of pressure is felt in the electrical nerves of the brain. On the contrary, with Jalandhara Bandha, these loads of pressure (strain) are not felt on the brain. The load is shifted from the brain to the chest.

Jalandhara Bandha differs from Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha in that it is rarely performed alone. It is commonly used as part of pranayama. It does appear spontaneously during shoulderstand and dandasana (in the form of maha mudra). Traditionally, it is also used in every seated forward fold, amongst a host of other yoga asanas.

Effects of Jalandhara Bandha

Physiological effects: Jalandhara Bandha regulates the circulatory and respiratory systems. This powerful energy lock is said to compress and stimulate the sinuses. Practicing this bandha improves the overall function of the thyroid and parathyroid glands. The throat pressure created by Jalandhara Bandha gently creates balance in the thyroid gland, helping to regulate metabolism.

Energy effects: Jalandhara Bandha is a subtle process that works on the internal energy systems. It activates and energizes the Visuddha (throat) chakra, which is believed to aid in communication, freedom and self-expression.

Psychological effects: Stress, anger and anxiety are greatly reduced.

Contraindications: People with high blood pressure, vertigo, heart disease or cervical spondylosis (‘wear and tear’ of the vertebrae in the neck) should not practice Jalandhara Bandha.


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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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