In Sanskrit, bandha means to lock, to hold, or to tighten.
In yoga, bandhas play an important role on both the physical and spiritual level. Physically, engaging bandhas during yoga practice offers support during movement within and between individual postures. They also help you regulate and control all your internal systems, hormonal, sexual, metabolic, digestive, and more. Note: bandhas should not be practiced while pregnant.
There are three main bandhas in the body, and the fourth bandha is the usage of all of these three bandhas together:
- Mula Bandha: Mula means root, so Mula Bandha means a root lock. To engage, energetically lift the space three inches above your perineum without actually engaging anything. Or in other words, pretend you really need to use the restroom!
- This bandha should be held throughout your entire yoga practice. Think of it as the lock that allows your energy to flow up, not down and out. If your energy is forced to flow up, and stay inside you, for that matter, it will grow exponentially, leaving you with that amazing feeling of ‘floating’ as you walk out of out of class. It will also allow you to float IN class, as an engaged Mula Bandha allows you to be lighter on your limbs, and thus lighter on your mat.
- Uddiyana Bandha: 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. To activate, pull your belly button up and in.
- This 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.
- Jalandhara Bandha: 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.To activate, pull your chin in and towards the neck.
- If you're stressed out at work, engage Jalandhara Bandha as an instant trigger for mental relaxation as well as stress and anger relief.
- Maha Bandha: Maha in Sanskrit means great, and Maha Bandha is the combination of all three aforementioned bandhas.
- Maha Bandha gives the benefits of all three bandhas and regulates the entire endocrine system.
The second important role of the bandhas: directing the flow of energy within the body.
Imagine the inside of your body as a video game, with two lines of energy running through you—Prana, the energy flowing IN, and Apana, the energy flowing OUT.
Through the practice of asana (movement), meditation (mindfulness), and pranayama (breath), one learns to tap into and direct the flow of energy in various directions for various purposes.
Bandhas create a container within the body to make the most out of this energy.