Bandhas for beginners: an introduction to the yogic ‘locks’

Bandhas for beginners: an introduction to the yogic ‘locks’

As you deepen your commitment to yoga and move beyond focusing solely on poses, you’ll start to come across other aspects of yoga practice including the ‘bandhas’. Here you will learn about bandhas for beginners. You might have heard your instructor or other participants use such terms but not have a clue what they mean or how they relate to your practice. So if you find yourself wondering what it means to “activate your bandhas” then read on to find out more.

In Sanskrit, the word ‘bandha’ means ‘lock’, ‘seal’ or ‘bind’. In basic terms, bandhas are muscular contractions in different areas of the body and their activation should be an integral part of your yoga practice. When a bandha is activated, the flow of energy to that particular area of the body is blocked or sealed off. When the bandha ‘lock’ is released, this causes a strong surge of energy flow throughout the body and this helps to strengthen, renew and rejuvenate the internal organs and circulatory system, reduce stress and mental restlessness and create a greater sense of harmony and balance.

Essentially, mastering how to control your bandhas means mastering how to control your energy system. In doing so you create the power you need to deepen your poses and release any energy blockages, thus improving the flow of prana (universal life force) and fresh oxygenated blood throughout your body.

There are three principle bandhas in the body, and a fourth that ties them all together.

  • Mula bandha – anal lock or root lift/pelvic floor lock
  • Uddiyana bandha – upward abdominal, lifting of the diaphragm
  • Jalandhara bandha – chin lock
  • Maha bandha – practice of all three bandhas at the same time.

The bandhas can be practiced together or individually during asana, pranayama, mudra, visualization, and meditation. It is advisable to fully release the bandhas in final resting pose.

How to activate your bandhas:

Mula bandha

This is a great bandhas for beginners exercise. To activate your mula bandha, or root lock, gently engage and lift your pelvic floor muscles. For men, this means contracting the area between the anus and testes and for women, contracting the muscles at the bottom of the pelvic floor. Think of the muscles that contract when you desperately need to pee but there’s no bathroom in sight! 

Uddiyana bandha

Our second bandhas for beginners exercise is Uddiyana. There are a few ways to activate the uddiyana bandha so for further guidance consultant an instructor. One of the easiest ways to practice this bandha, however, is to start in a cross-legged position with the palms facing down on top of the knees. Exhale all of your breath through the nose and lean forward pressing your palms into the knees and engaging the abdominal muscles to pull your belly in and up under the ribcage. Hold your breath and the lock for as long as comfortable. To release, soften your abs, lean back and take a breath in through the nose. 

Jalandhara bandha

This bandha, unlike the first two, is rarely performed on its own and is usually combined with specific breathing practices. To find jalandhara, sit tall in a cross-legged position or on your shins, bottom on your heels. With your palms on your knees, slowly inhale through your nose, bring your chin towards your neck and slightly lift your breastbone. Press on your hands, straighten your arms and pull your chin back further and hold. To release the bandha, lift your chin, slowly inhale and then exhale. This is another great bandhas for beginners exercise.

Maha bandha
This is a combination of the above bandhas and therefore offers the benefits of all three ‘locks’. Sit cross-legged or on your shins, palms on your knees or thighs. Inhale fully through the nose and then exhale completely while squeezing until there’s nothing left. Without inhaling, activate the mula bandha and then uddiyana bandha. Inhale slightly while lifting your chest and then activate jalandhara bandha. Hold as long as comfortable while pressing your palms down. When you’ve had enough, lift your head, inhale and release all the bandhas. Return to normal breathing.

So now you’re in the know you can lock in and lock up, realize the glorious benefits of the bandhas and experience your yoga practice elevate to a new level.

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