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The Bandhas and their Application

The word Bandha means to lock, to bind, to tie together. Bandhas involve the contraction or squeezing of muscles. There are three muscular locks called Jalandhara Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha & Mula Bandha. They are situated in the throat, abdomen & perineum respectively. When we apply these three Bandhas together, it becomes Maha Bandha, the great lock. As there are three bandhas, there are three muscles group involved: cervical (neck) muscles, abdominal muscles and perineal muscles.




These internal energy locks direct the Prana, or life force up the spine rather than allow it to escape downwards as it normally would and convert it into spiritual energy. Jalandhara Bandha prevents Prana from escaping the upper body, Uddiyana Bandha forces Prana up the Shushumna Nadi & Mula Bandha when engaged, prevents Apana escaping from the lower body and draws it up to unite with Prana.

Contraction of these muscles affects the nervous, circulatory, respiratory, endocrine & energy systems. As endocrine glands are intimately related to the Chakras, it means Bandhas also affect the Chakras. On all the Chakras, the Bandhas are directly associated with the active stimulation of three Chakras --Mulabandha (Muladhara Chakra), Uddiyana Bandha (Manipura Chakra), Jalandhara Bandha (Vishuddhi Chakra). Each of these physical & practice locations is related neurologically to a specific counterpart in the spinal cord, brain and therefore the psyche.

BANDHA TECHNIQUES

• Bandhas are advanced practice and should be attempted only under guidance.

• In learning Bandha techniques you always begin with Jalandhar Bandha before attempting to learn the other two.

JALANDHAR BANDHA

The Sanskrit word Jalan means net and Dhara means stream or flow. This lock controls the network of Nadis in the neck. The physical manifestation of these Nadis is the blood vessels & the nerves of the neck. It is also called the throat lock. In Pranayama, there is a possibility of increasing the blood pressure and accordingly achieving Jalandhar Bandha during Pranayama can help control blood pressure, protect the brain & give energy to the brain instantly.

TECHNIQUE

• Sit on a folded blanket in Siddhasana (Press the perineum with the left heel and place the right heel on the left thigh) or any other comfortable posture. Place the palms on the knee; keep the neck and the spine straight. Close the eyes and relax the whole body.

• Now inhale slowly and deeply and at the end of inhalation & the beginning of retention of breath, stretch the neck forward and press the chin firmly against the chest, into the jugular notch (the hollow formed in the neck) as far as possible.

• Straighten the arms by pressing the knee down with the palms.

• Stay in this final position for as long as the breath can be held comfortably. Do not strain.

• Then bring the chin up and exhale. This is one round.

• Repeat when the respiration has returned to normal. This practice may be repeated up to 5 times.

• This Bandha is ideally performed in conjuction with Pranayamas & Mudras. It can be practiced on its own or before meditation.

BENEFITS

Stretches the neck, pulling the spinal cord & the brain has subtle effects on the pituitary & pineal glands while the forward flexion affects the thyroid, parathyroid & thymus glands. At the same time it stimulates the parasympathetic spinal area in the medulla oblongata (situated at the bottom of the brain and the top of the spinal cord) regulating heart rate, respiration, blood pressure etc. Jalandhar Bandha also compresses the carotid sinuses, which are located on the carotid arteries, the main arteries in the neck. These sinuses help to regulate the circulatory & respiratory systems. By reducing sympathetic tone, depression, stress, anxiety and anger are reduced & one achieves a sense of rest, relaxation & general wellbeing.

PRECAUTION
People suffering from cervical spondylosis, high intracranial pressure, respiratory problems, vertigo, high or low blood pressure& heart disease should not practice Jalandhar Bandha on their own unless advised by the yoga experts since long retention of the breath may bring about some strain on the heart.

UDDIYAN BANDHA

The Sanskrit word Uddiyana means to rise up or to fly upward. This practice is so called because physical lock applied to the body causes diaphragm to rise towards the chest. Another meaning is that the physical lock helps Prana into Sushumna Nadi that it flows upward to Sahasrara Chakra. Uddiyana Bandha can be combined with Nauli Shatkarma.

TECHNIQUE
Uddiyana bandha can be practiced either standing or in sitting posture.
• In the standing posture, place the feet approximately two feet apart. Keep the spine straight, bend the knees slightly and lean forward from the waist far enough to place the palms just above the knees. Make sure the arms are straight.

• As you begin to exhale you contract the abdomen and place the chin on the hollow of the throat. By the end of the exhalation the abdomen should be fully contracted, drawn up and back toward the spine by pressing the knees with the palms. With this contraction, the diaphragm rises and creates a cavity on the front side of the abdomen under the rib cage. The back will curve slightly.

• The position is held as long as possible, do not strain and then release.

• This is one round.

• Repeat when the respiration has returned to normal. This practice may be repeated up to 5 times.

• When this Bandha is mastered, the navel moves toward the spine and the rectal and back muscles contract.

• During Pranayama this Bandha is to be practiced only in the sitting position. It must always be practiced on an empty stomach. Agnisar Kriya is an excellent preparatory practice.

BENEFITS
Abdominal contraction compresses the digestive organs, adrenal glands, kidneys and the most important the solar plexus. Solar plexus has many subtle influences on the distribution of energy throughout the body. The energy has healing qualities and is experienced consciously as beneficial, enhancing our sense of wellbeing. Uddiyana Bandha tones the sympathetic nervous system thus avoiding the effects of stress and anxiety in psychosomatic disease. This Bandha is the panacea for many abdominal and stomach ailments including constipation, indigestion, worms and diabetes provided they are not chronic. The adrenal glands are balanced removing lethargy, anxiety and tension. It improves blood circulation to the whole trunk area and strengthens all the internal organs. The extra fat of the stomach is also melted off. The body becomes active and alert. Uddiyana Bandha is one of the finest exercises for the abdominal muscles.

PRECAUTION
• Never force the abdominal muscles outward, use force only in pulling the muscles in and upward.
• Do not practice this exercise if there is any problem of high blood pressure, hiatal hernia, ulcers or heart disorders. Women should not practice it during menstruation or pregnancy.

MULA BANDHA

The Sanskrit word Mula means root, firmly fixed, source or cause. Together the words Mula & Bandha refer to the contraction of Muladhara Chakra, the seat of Kundalini. This contraction is triggered at the root of the spine, the perineum. Mula Bandha is also known as the perineal lock. It occurs simultaneously at many levels. On the physical level, it is the physical contraction of muscles. However, when refined, Mula Bandha is the contraction of Muladhara Chakra. Thus Mula Bandha is not just the contraction of the perineal body/cervix but also the locking of Muladhara Chakra. The perineal body and cervix act as trigger points to enable us to locate the psychic centre of Muladhara Chakra.

TECHNIQUE
Sit on a folded blanket in Siddhasana posture. Keep the palms on the knees and slightly press them. Gently close the eyes and relax the whole body by watching the natural breath for a while. Focus your awareness on the anus region. While exhaling, contract this region by squeezing the muscles in and up. Hold the contraction for sometime with normal breathing. Do not hold the breath. Repeat 10 times with maximum contraction and total relaxation. With further practice, the duration can be increased 3 to 5 minutes.

BENEFITS
• This Bandha stimulates both the sensory-motor and the autonomic nervous systems in the pelvic region. When Mula Bandha is performed, pelvic stimulation activates parasympathetic fibres emerging from the pelvic spinal cord. Parasympathetic fibres emerge from the cervical (neck) and sacral (pelvic) areas only while sympathetic fibres emerge from the thoracic (upper back) and lumbar (lower back) areas. Sympathetic nervous stimulation also occurs in Mula Bandha but at subdued level. The overall effect of stimulating both parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems is to rebalance these two major components of nervous activity in the body.

• This has very definite effects on the hypothalamus (responsible for the complete endocrine system) which relays its information to the whole limbic (emotional) system and the cerebral cortex (outer layer of the brain).

• It stimulates the uro-genital and excretory systems. Intestinal peristalsis is also stimulated, relieving constipation and piles. It is beneficial for anal fissures, ulcers, prostatitis, some cases of prostatic hypertrophy and chronic pelvic infections.

• Because of the pressure on the anal sphincter during Mula Bandha, heat is generated which causes Apana Vayu to move upward. The usual tendency of this Vayu is to move downward. However, this practice forces Apana to move upward and unite with Prana Vayu at the navel center. Ultimately, in the course of its upward journey the energy aroused at the base of the spine assimilates Apana (at the Muladhara Chakra) and Prana (in the region of the navel and chest) and then reaches the forehead. Therefore, with the help of other Mudras and Maha-vedha Kriya, it is forced to enter into the central channel, Sushumna, leaving its normal course through Ida and Pingala. Eventually, MulaBandha becomes spontaneous and effortless.

The perfection of this practice leads to a spontaneous realignment of the physical, mental and psychic bodies in preparation for spiritual awakening.

PRECAUTION
Mula Bandha raises the energies very fast and can precipitate symptoms of hyperactivity if performed wrongly.

MAHA BANDHA

The Sanskrit word Maha means great. Maha Bandha is called the great lock as it combines all the three Bandhas in one practice

TECHNIQUE
Sit on a folded blanket in Siddhasana posture. Keep the palms on the knees and slightly press them. Gently close the eyes and relax the whole body by watching the natural breath for a while. Exhale forcefully & completely through the mouth. Retain the breath outside. Perform Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Mula Bandha in this order. Hold the Bandhas and the breath as long as is comfortable without straining. Then release Mula, Uddiyana and Jalandhara Bandha in this order. After coming back, inhale slowly. This is one round. Relax and let the breath return to normal before commencing the next round. Make 3-5 rounds.

BENEFITS
Maha Bandha gives the benefits of all three Bandhas. It affects the hormonal secretions of the pineal gland and regulates the entire endocrine system. The decaying, degenerative and aging processes are checked and every cell of the body is rejuvenated. It soothes anger and introverts the mind prior to meditation. When perfected, it can fully awaken Prana in the main Chakras. It leads to the merger of Prana, Apana and Samana in Agni Mandala which is the culmination of all Pranayamas.

PRECAUTION
Do not attempt Maha Bandha until other three Bandhas have been mastered. People suffering from high or low blood pressure, heart conditions, hernia, stomach or intestinal ulcer, persons with physical weakness and those recovering from visceral ailments should avoid this practice. Women should not practice it during menstruation or pregnancy.

IMPORTANCE OF BANDHAS

• The Bandhas play an important role in the cleansing processes of Yoga. As Pranayama helps to reduce waste matter in the body by directing the Agni, the fire of life, same way by using the Bandhas, the Agni can be directed to the exact place where the rubbish has settled & blocking the flow of energy in the body. The Bandhas intensify the effect of the fire.

• The muscles which are not generally used, are contracted in these Bandhas. This results in more blood supply to these muscles thereby improving their efficiency.

BANDHAS AND ASANAS

These three Bandhas can be used during asana practice. The best asanas for practicing Bandhas are a few of the inverted postures such as headstand, shoulder stand, all postures in which we are lying flat on the back such as Tadasana and sitting postures with a straight spine such as Mahamudra. Another simple position for practicing the Bandhas are Adhomukha Shavasna (the downward facing dog). The Bandhas are easy in these asanas because raising the rubbish into the flame with Uddiyana Bandha and holding it there with Mula Bandha is greatly assisted by the body mechanics of the posture. In all inverted postures, the rubbish is raised to sit above the flame. The flame burns up toward the rubbish and the rubbish moves down toward the flame. The practice of Bandhas is very difficult in asanas such as backbend and twists and is therefore best avoided.

NOTE
Do not use Bandhas throughout the entire asana practice. These should be practiced artfully and not obsessively.

BANDHAS AND PRANAYAMA

These three Bandhas can be used during Pranayama practice. When we use these Bandhas with Pranayama, they intensify the cleansing effect of Pranayama. Jalandhara Bandha positions the torso in such a way that the spine is held erect. This makes it easier for the prana to move the flame toward the rubbish that needs burning. Uddiyana Bandha then raises the rubbish up toward the flame and Mula Bandha helps us leave it there long enough for the rubbish to be burned.

PRANAYAMA AND BANDHAS

• Omkar and Bhramari Pranayama can be done by applying Uddiyana & Mula Bandha.

• Shitali & Sitkari Pranayama can be practiced by applying three Bandhas together. For that we should do the Pranayama with time ratio, that is---- 1:4:2:4—one is for inhalation, four times is for holding of the breath, two is for exhalation, again four times is for holding of the breath. We should apply the Bandhas while holding of the breath.

• Ujjayi, Kapalbhati and Bhastrika can be done by applying Jalandhar Bandha. When we practice vigorous Pranayama such as Kapalbhati and Bhastrika we spend lots of energy by doing rapid breathing, Jalandhar Bandha helps us to get the energy back instantly.

In short, Jalandhar Bandha and Mula Bandha can be maintained during the whole process of inhalation, exhalation and holding the breath. Uddiyana Bandha can only be done during breath retention following exhalation. To intensify the practice, we must practice patiently without forcing the body or the breath.

Dr. Rita Khanna
Aum Shanti

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