One of the elements I work with the most in my Tantric Hatha classes and that has the highest potential of bringing one's practice of Yoga to the next level is the bandhas. Also known as the 'energetic locks' of Yoga, working with the bandhas in combination with the breath is one of the ways for us to deepen our practice of yogic postures, as well as to intensity the effects of whatever we manage to mobilize throughout the class at the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system level.
Frequently underrated, however, the bandhas allow us to use the energy contained in our pranamaya kosha (one of the five sheaths or layers in charge of regulating the circulation of life force at all levels) in certain ways, to direct the energy contained in our pranic body towards the achievement of greater stability, concentration, or else, for the purpose of energy clearing and liberation.
In today's entry, we look at these three main magic locks and their relation to the overall energetics of Yoga to better understand what it is that we are really doing when we tell you to work with these very intense physical bonds.
Perhaps one of the first points in need of some clarification has to do with the very meaning of the term. Though the Sanskrit bandha is normally translated as lock, bond, ligature, restrain, chain, or tie, thus implying the action of controlling, restraining, or containing energy at a somewhat conscious level, we actually use the bandhas to attain pretty much the opposite effect! Yeah. You heard it right!
By activating or working with one of these four bonds –moola bandha in the pelvic floor area, uddiyana bandha at the level of the navel, jalandhara bandha in the throat, and maha bandha when all three are used in combination– we not only contract, then relax certain muscles in the physical body, but simultaneously unlock, release, or set free other types of energies at a more subtle level.
As said before, bandhas are a great way to mobilize the energies of our pranamaya kosha so that its effects may be felt not just physically, but also mentally and at a psychic or spiritual level. And so, when used in combination not only with asana, but also with specific breath ratios on the inhale or the exhale, the bandhas maximize the energetic effects of whatever body posture we enter into, thus deepening its energetic footprint. Bandhas thus possess the qualities of both physicality and subtlety, being performed both physically and mentally as we focus our awareness on them.
Now, there is a reason why we speak of three main bandhas and it has to do with how our bodies are said to constantly leak life force. According to the scriptures –check for instance the Hatha Yoga Pradipika– we humans lose prana through our senses which are predominantly oriented towards the exterior, towards things in the outside world. This leaking is not always an efficient way of operating, nor is it occurring throughout the body in an even form either. And so, some parts of our bodies leak more profusely than others, which is a negative thing overall. When we leak prana, not only do we have less energy to effectively conduct our lives in the physical plane, but also certain predispositions towards ailments in specific body parts and regions become more likely to come about. Working with the bandhas allows us to put a stop to this.
What we are actually doing when we squeeze and then release these bonds at any of the three main points mentioned above is, firstly, to try to create a safe container for all of our life force to gather and gain momentum at, thus centering and focalizing prana in our bodies instead of away from them. We do this to better recircuit and reorient its direction.
And so, with the activation of moola bandha, for example –by gently contracting the muscles in our pelvic floor area, then releasing the same– we prevent energy from merely escaping downwards through our root lock as would be the natural tendency for apana vayu to move like –our downward moving air. Engaging moola bandha first on the exhale not only tones the muscles of our lower root chakra area, but also gives us greater stability and grounding. Progressively moving on to doing the same with the activation of moola bandha on the inhale enables us to turn apana vayu into its counterpart wind, udana vayu or upward moving air, thus stimulating the awakening of Kundalini Shakti in Sushumna Nadi at the root chakra level.
The same is true of the activation of Jalandhara bandha, or chin lock. By carefully performing this lock on the exhale, then releasing it on the inhale, we lock prana inside our chest, thus not only pacifying the natural spinning tendency of our minds, but also contributing to having a greater influx of blood flow to certain areas and organs in the upper chest, which thus aids in clearing potential energy blockages in the subtle body.
Uddiyana bandha at the level of our abdomen, on its part, not only permits us to gently massage our internal organs on the exhale, which is a great thing in and of itself, but is also a great way of building momentum on the navel area, or manipura chakra. This is one of the main ways of mobilizing samana vayu at its best for the purposes of igniting the supreme fire of transformation or Rudrani.
And so, the bandhas are a superb tool for anyone interested in working simultaneously at the level of the physical and astral bodies.They have a direct effect upon the internal organs and processes they are closer contact with, while also affecting our energetic pathways, and more specifically the energies associated with our chakras, helping us derive both purification and next level activation.