In Sanskrit bandha means to lock, to hold, or to tighten. There are three main bandhas in the body that are used in yoga classes all the time. There is also a fourth that ties them all together. Ancient yoga philosophers believed that when you mastered the bandhas, you mastered your yoga practice. Holding the bandhas helps to regulate the energy flow within the body. They also help you to concentrate, to control your breath and to keep the mind calm. Physiologically they help to regulate many internal systems such as metabolic and digestive systems. They also help you to engage your core which protects the back and greatly aids your ability in certain poses. Using the bandhas is the key to many poses such as arm balancing.
Mula Bandha: Mula bandha is an upward lift at the pelvic floor, between the genitals and the anus. Lauren Imparto, founder of, I.AM.YOU., uses this example to describe mula bandha: “Just imagine you are in the middle of a 3 hour traffic jam to the airport, the highway has turned into a parking lot, and you have to pee.”
Mula means root in Sanskrit. This root lock located at the Muladara chakra should be held throughout your yoga practice. This will be very difficult to maintain at the beginning but will come with time. Holding root lock allows the energy to flow upward rather than down and out from the body. Keeping your energy or prana in during practice means you’re less likely to become fatigued during class, you’ll be able to hold poses longer and find more ease in your practice.
Uddiyana Bandha: In Sanskrit uddiyana means to fly up, or to rise up. The upward flying lock engages just below the belly button where the abdominal muscles will pull inward and up. One way to find uddiyana bandha is to stand tall with feet about hip width apart. Reach the arms overhead and then on an exhale fold over and bring the hands to the thighs. Holding the breath, straighten the elbows and pull the abdominals in and up creating a suction cup effect, hollowing out at the abs. Hold until the desire to breath is strong and then inhale and straighten up to standing. Becoming proficient at uddiyana bandha can really transform your practice. Using root and upward flying locks together is when you become capable of the floating that you see some yogis do. Here’s an example of that: http://youtu.be/ibKXDfEblAw
Uddiyana Bandha is also good for increasing metabolism, relieving stress and getting super strong abs!
Jalandhara Bandha: In Sanskrit jal means throat and so this bandha is often referred to as throat lock. This lock regulates the energy in the nerves and blood vessels of the neck.
To find jalandhara bandha, sit in a comfortable seated position with the hands resting on the knees. Inhale deeply through your nose, then drop your chin towards your neck and lift your sternum a little bit. Press the elbows straight and then press your chin back further. Hold the inhale until the desire is strong to exhale and then lift the chin. This bandha is normally used in certain breathing exercises, and not usually seen in conjunction with typical yoga poses.
Maha Bandha: Maha in Sanskrit means great, and Maha Bandha is the combination of all three aforementioned bandhas.
When you sit comfortably and engage the three bandhas, you are taking maha bandha. To do this you would engage mula bandha on an exhale, hold the breath out and engage uddiyana bandha, sip a little breath and take jalandhara bandha. Then retain as long as is comfortable for you. This will bring the benefits of all three bandhas, helping to regulate the endocrine system and gain better control of the breath. This means your prana will be flowing more easily within and you will have greater energy and a calmer mind.