Yoga Studies: The Bandhas, Day One

by Angela Clark

The beginning: Angela learns there are bandhas

My first experience learning about the bandhas took place in a yoga asana class (like many of us I’m sure) but it wasn’t until I took a pranayama (breath practice) training with Marga Guegere that I learned the depth of what it means to engage the bandhas.  So just a brief overview about the bandhas if you are wondering “What the heck is a bandha and how do I find it?”

What are the Bandhas?

In the yogic tradition the bandhas are physically manifested “locks” in the body.  Through the physical contraction that happens to create these “locks” there is a paradoxical “unlocking” of energy, often times referred to as Prana.

The three major bandhas are Moola Bandha located at the base of the body and created by contraction of the pelvic floor (perineum and cervix).  The second is Uddiyana Bandha, which is located at the solar plexus and is created when the diaphragm and organ body are drawn up into the rib “basket.”  The third bandha is Jalandahara Bandha, located at the throat and created with the contraction of the muscles located on the anterior side of the neck.

We can look at these three major bandhas as gates to the Prana (often referred to as “life-force energy”).  You can have the body with it’s muscles, bones, organs, connective tissue but without breath, oxygen, Prana – there is no life. There is also a fourth bandha that is created when all three are performed together and it is called Maha Bandha.

Like any practice that is paving the way to enlightenment, we have to take steps. It has been put like this; we do the asana practice (physical practice) to gain control of our muscles, which sets us up for a pranayama (breath practice) to gain control of our consciousness, the mind, and it’s rulings over our body’s more subtle functions like the nervous system and digestive system.  And while we can affect our consciousness and breath through the postural physical practice, the asanas are just the tip of the iceberg because our focus remains on physical alignment. To go deeper into understanding ourselves we need to dive into the icy water to see the depth and vastness of the yoga practice, which includes a pranayama practice.

Have you ever been in a yoga class and had a question about a pose or something the teacher said but couldn’t find the right opening to ask the question? Or perhaps you were so “blissed-out” after the class, you completely forgot you had a question at all. Maybe you are a ‘yoga-geek,’ like us, and want to absorb any and all information about the practice of modern yoga.  If any of those sound familiar, then this column is for you. Each time we introduce part of the yoga practice and spend the week looking at it, dissecting it, and then connecting the dots. Feel free to ask any and all questions in the comments section about the topic of the week.

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2 Responses to Yoga Studies: The Bandhas, Day One

  1. Thank you Angela, for explaining what can be super confusing for teachers and students alike! Question: WHEN do you think it’s best to apply bandhas, and which ones? I like to practice with certain bandhas for certain asanas and transitions, but mostly out of habit. Do you have suggestions for useful, but less commonly taught bandha work in asana practice?

  2. Angela says:

    What a great question Daniella! The next few days are going to explore Moola Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandahara Bandha. All three major bandhas can activate when we practice, it’s the intention at which we apply them to the poses, which is different to how we apply them to pranayama (breath practice). For example: whey we are in Bakasana (aka Crow Pose) we are very much in the territories of Moola Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha (you can feel that one) however we are looking to hold that arm balance so we must maintain breathing, and to do that the diaphragm must be able to move so, the application of those two bandhas is more from what I would call, the muscular action (or superficial action) of drawing in & up. In pranayama we would be sitting and really wouldn’t activate Moola Bandha; the Base of the Container without Jalandahara Bandha; the Top of the Container, and in my experience always done with breath retention. Pranayama practice should be done with a teacher’s guiding hand. Engaging the pelvic floor muscles (Moola Bandha) is great for transitions D – they help to stabilize the pelvic joints and fire the ‘lower core’ muscles helping us not only to balance but also to protect our back.

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