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.