There are so many elements to yoga that certain techniques are often missed, such is the case of incorporating bandhas into your practice; a technique that when added to your poses will make you question why you never tried it before. In yoga, bandha refers to a lock or bond that we activate within specific parts of our body; by doing so we help better direct the flow (prana) to all of our internal systems.
There are three main locks: the Mula Bandha (the root lock), the Uddiyana Bandha (the abdominal lock) and the Jalandhara Bandha (the neck lock).
The path of these bandhas follow along our central axis, the spine, and by focusing on these locks, we direct the energy upwards and prevent it from draining down to the earth; in the end, we will find our limbs to be lighter and the power of our asanas will be greater. In order to apply the technique to our practice let us further examine each of the locks one by one.
This bandha is at the center of the pelvic floor and by contracting the muscle within, we restrict the prana from flowing downward and instead direct it upward to the solar plexus (a network of nerves located in the abdomen). Activation increases our sense of stability and strength within our poses, but also helps with better digestion, a lower heart rate, and controls our rate of breath.
To practice, sit down comfortably, preferably on the floor, and relax your body. For a male, the muscle is the central perineum and for a female, it is the cervix. Use your breaths to help you focus on when to contract your muscles; when you inhale slowly lift and squeeze your muscle and then release it as you exhale. Work up to holding the muscle continuously where you won’t have to release it with each breath. Initially, when you first apply this bandha you will find that your anus tightens as well but keep up the practice and you will eventually be able to separate the two. See the difference you feel when you try applying the bandha in and out of a pose.
In Easy Pose, or standing, depending on what you find works best for you, start with your belly rounded; the goal is to hollow out your belly by bringing your abdominal muscles up and under your rib cage. Pull in your diaphragm and lift your chest, widening your ribs. This bandha is best to practice on its own first to get the hang of it before you attempt to apply it within an asana.
This bandha is best practice in a relaxed pose, like lotus, so find a comfortable position and relax your chin forward, keeping your shoulders away from your ears. Inhale through your nose until you feel your lungs fill almost completely; hold onto your breath for as long as you can. When you are ready to release your breath relax your throat and breathe out the air in a long exhale allowing for your chin to lift away from your chest.
When you use these bandhas, you will find increased strength, balance, and ability for many poses. If you combine all three bandhas you will achieve what is known as the Great Lock, or Maha Bandha.
By using the bandhas within your practice, you will begin to notice a shift in your energy levels and where your prana is directed. Take it slow and you will find that you won’t even have to focus on activating the bandha after some time, your body will do it naturally and your practice will flourish.