The word bandha means ‘blocking’, ‘putting an obstruction to’, ‘locking’ or ‘holding’. Bandhas block the flow of prana in certain areas of the body and thereby store the prana in the concerned area, force it to flow to other areas or to accumulate in certain areas. Through the bandhas, certain parts of the gross body are contracted. This action influences the kosas (sheaths) of the subtle body. Thus, a physical effect brings about a corresponding mental effect.
Let’s see the four bandhas in connection with pranayama.
- Jalandhara Bandha
- Uddiyana Bandha
- Mula Bandha
- Maha bandha (or bandha-traya)
Jalandhara Bandha (The Throat-Lock or The Chin-Lock)
Sit in padmasana or siddhasana with head, neck and torso perpendicularly straight and the knees in contact with the floor. Place the palms of the hands on the knees. Close the eyes and relax the body.
Inhale slowly and deeply. Hold the breath inside the chest. In this state of antara kumbhaka (internal breath-retention) immediately after the full inhalation (puraka), bend the head forward and press the chin firmly into the notch between the collarbones on the top of the breast bone (sternum).
Then straighten the arms and press the knees down with the hands, simultaneously hunching the shoulders upward and forward. Remain in this bandha as long as the breath can be comfortably retained without straining.
To release the bandha, relax the shoulders, bend the elbows, slowly release the chin lock, raise the head and then exhale. You may rinse and repeat the procedure.
The jalandhara bandha is practiced during internal breath retention (antara kumbhaka) and external breath retention (bahya kumbhaka) only. Both the jalandhara and the uddiyana bandhas are simultaneously performed in bahya kumbhaka only, but not in antara kumbhaka, for which uddiyana is contraindicated.
During antara kumbhaka, both the jalandhara and the mula bandhas are combined. Inhalation (puraka) and exhalation (recaka) are not done while one is in the chin-lock position.
Contraindications: Jalandhara bandha is contraindicated in pathological conditions of cervical spondylitis, intracranial pressure, hypertension, cardiac ailments, and vertigo.
Uddiyana Bandha (The Abdominal Retraction lock)
The Uddiyana Bandha should be practiced with an empty stomach and after the evacuation of the bowels and the ladder. Sit in a meditational pose like padmasana or siddhasana that enables the knees to touch the floor. Place the palms on the respective knees. Close the eyes. Relax the body.
Take a slow and deep inhalation through the nostrils. Exhale slowly and fully through the mouth. Hold the breath out. In this state of external breath retention (bahya kumbhaka), perform jalandhara bandha. Then contract the abdominal muscles backward and upward, with the resultant abdominal concavity. In this bandha, the diaphragm is pulled up towards the thoracic cavity and the abdominal organs are pushed back towards the spine.
Remain in the uddiyana bandha for a period that allows you a comfortable external breath retention. Then release the uddiyana and the jalandhara in sequential succession. Raise the head to fully erect position and then inhale.
Repeat the bandha after the normalization of breath.
Special Note: Uddiyana bandha should be performed only during bahya kumbhaka following recaka (during the interval between complete exhalation and the subsequent inhalation when breathing is fully suspended). It should never be attempted during antara kumbhaka (during the interval between complete inhalation and the start of the subsequent exhalation when the breath is retained inside).
Contraindications: Uddiyana bandha is contraindicated for a person suffering from cardiac ailments, peptic ulcer, colitis, and hernia. It should also be avoided during pregnancy.
Mula Bandha (The Perineum Retraction Lock)
Sit in any meditational asana with knees firmly fixed to the ground. The best asana, for this purpose, is siddhasana/siddhayoni-asana. Place the palms on the respective knees. Close the eyes. Relax the body.
Take a deep inhalation. Retain the breath inside. Perform Jalandhara bandha. Without an excessive strain, contract the perineal/vaginal muscles as tightly as possible and draw them upward and backward. This is the final pose.
Remain in this bandha for a period that allows a comfortable internal breath retention.
To unlock the bandha, release the perineal/vaginal contraction, slowly raise the head and then slowly exhale.
Repeat the procedure.
This is the mula bandha with antara kumbhaka (internal breath retention). This bandha can also be practiced with bahya kumbhaka (external breath retention after an initial exhalation) Jalandhara bandha is necessarily associated with both antara and bahya kumbhaka. However, mula bandha can also be practiced with normal breathing without internal or external breath retention and without the jalandhara bandha. In that case, the bandha can be regained for a long period.
In the mula bandha, the region of the lower abdomen between the navel and the anus is contracted towards the spine and pulled up towards the diaphragm. In contrast, in the uddiyana bandha, the entire region from the anus to the diaphragm (up to the sternum) is pulled back towards the spine and lifted up towards the chest.
Maha-Bandha or Bandha-Traya (The Triple Lock)
The mahabandha is a simultaneous combination of the three bandhas, jalandhara, uddiyana, and mula, performed during bahya kumbhaka (external breath retention).
Sit in any one of the meditative poses, in which both the knees can touch the ground. The best asana, for this purpose, is siddhasana or siddha-yoni-asana. Sit with knees resting on the floor, spine erect and head straight. Keep the palms on the respective knees. Close the eyes and relax the body.
Take a deep nasal inhalation (puraka). Slowly make a complete exhalation (recaka) through the mouth. Retain the breath outside (bahya kumbhaka). Subsequentially, perform jalandhara, uddiyana and mula bandha. Maintain this triple lock for a comfortable period without straining.
While you retain this mahabandha, rotate your awareness in the sequence: muladhara, manipura, and visuddhi. Fix your awareness on each chakra for a few seconds and then shift to the next. After you complete these three chakras, come back to the muladhara and again ascend in the process of the shifting of awareness. Repeat the process until you can comfortably hold your bahya kumbhaka.
To unlock the bandha, release mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara in the order which is reverse to the starting sequence. Inhale slowly only when the head is upright. This makes one round. Before you commence the next round, allow the breath to be normal.
Benefits of Bandhas
The jalandhara, the uddiyana, and the mula bandhas contract the regions of the throat, upper abdomen, and pelvic floor, respectively. They also remove the blockages of the three granthis (knots), the rudra granthi, the vishnu granthi and the brahma granthi, respectively, of the subtle body.
The brahma granthi is located in the muladhara chakra. It induces attachment to the material world, sensual, especially sexual gratification and self-centeredness.
The vishnu granthi is located in the anahata chakra. It induces emotions, sentiments, delusion (moha), love, affection, and attachment to a personal relationship. It also creates emotional psychic experiences.
The rudra granthi is located in the ajna chakra. It creates obstacles generated by intellectual ambitions and thirst, yearning for siddhis (miraculous powers) and intellectual psychic experiences.
The bandhas, already mentioned, open up these granthis and, thus, remove the obstacles created by these granthis.
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