B A N D H A S
Ok let’s talk bandhas! Because you have been asking about it but also because they are very useful both in the practice of
F R E E D I V I N G & Y O G A
WE ARE ENERGETIC BEINGS
So lets stat from the beginning ; we are made of a physical body but also of an energetic body.
Our energetic body is like a network of little energetic tubes or channels carrying energy through the body, reaching to each and every cell.
We are constantly exchanging energetic information with our surroundings. Taking energy in and radiating energy out in a feedback loop; we are affected by, but also affecting, the other energetic beings and objects around us.
To keep our body, mind and soul healthy and strong, we must allow the energy to flow freely in our energetic body. When the energy doesn’t flow freely through the channels, there is congestions or blockages in the energetic tubes. This energetic congestion manifests on the physical plane as a weakness in this area of the body. This is why a lot of healers are working in the energy lines to heal physical illnesses.
GET YOUR PR ANA
In your yoga practice, it is important to allow the energy to flow freely. We call this energy P R A N A ; vital force. We get prana from our breath but also from connecting to the ground, grounding ourselves. We move the energy through the body using movement, deep breathing and most importantly ; B A N D H A S.
Root to Rise– For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, this is physics ; Newton’s 3rd law. So as you push down into the ground, the ground pushes right back up into you ; giving you access to unlimited amount of grounding energy. This should be the first thing you focus on when practicing asanas.
Taking deep breaths is also a great way to keep the energy flowing ; taking fresh, new prana in and releasing toxins out. This is a must in your yoga practice to keep the energy flowing and the body moving with strength and ease.
DIRECTING THE FLOW
Bandhas are like energetic valves ; directing the flow of energy through the body. They connect the lower body to the upper body, they protect the spine and they create a freeway for the breath. When the BANDHAS are engaged, the core is energized, the breath has a direction, the body is united and it becomes easy to move effortlessly into all asanas including inversions and other poses that are defying gravity. Bandhas are also very important when it comes to protecting your spine when moving through your yoga practice.
HOW TO ENGAGE
But how to engage the bandhas ? You want the energy to flow, not to be blocked. So the engagement should be subtle, simply giving an upward direction to the energy, not blocking it.
For the first bandha; Mula Bandhas ; you want to lift up from the pelvic floor, like you would do to stop yourself from peeing…You are lifting the energy up from the ground into the lower belly. From there you want to activate Uddiyana Bandha by lifting your navel up and in ; lifting the energy from the lower belly up into the upper body. Engaging those 2 bandhas will protect your lower back, give a direction to your breath and allow your whole body to move as one
This works for any standing or sitting poses but is even more important when you get upside down into your inversions or deep into your backbends. So remember ;
1 – push down through your fondation (hands, arms, forearms, feet ; anything that is touching the ground)
2- lift the energy up by engaging Mula and Uddiyanna bandhas
3- take deep and slow breaths (ujjayi is normally recommended)
BANDHAS OR BELLY BREATHING ?
Now everything in the universe is spinning around, from the atoms to the planets. This is why everything has 2 opposites, the yin and the yang, the feminine/masculin, the sun/moon…your body also has a yang and a yin system & so your yoga practice also has a yin and a yang side. Generally speaking the yin is the more soothing, nurturing, water-like, circular energy and the yang is the more straight forward, strong, fire-like energy. But remember the yin and yang symbol? There is a bit of yin in the yang and a bit of yang in the yin…
You body is made of yang tissues ; muscles, blood, cardio-vascular system. The Yang tissues are responsable for making your body S T R O N G. The yin tissues are the connective tissues ; ligaments, joints, tendons, bones, fascia…they are responsable for the F L E X I B I L I T Y and range of motion of your body. Your nervous system also has a yang response ; the sympathetic Nervous System related to the Fight or Flight Mode and the yin response ; the parasympathetic Nervous System related the the Rest & Digest Mode.
This is why, in order to find balance between being strong and flexible, being energized but also relaxed, feeding our logical mind but also our intuition , we tend to divide our yoga practice into yin and yang asanas. Most asanas have a yin and a yang variation.
In the yang asanas it is important to keep the body strong and engaged as we are playing with our limits and moving on a faster rythme. This is why bandhas should alway be used when practicing yang yoga. In this way we are protecting our spine, uniting the body and maximizing our our energy usage.
In the yin asanas, we want to release and relax in the poses and stay still for a few minutes, simply allowing the asana to reach into the connective tissues. Bandhas are much less important here.
The Bandhas are usually more important in the yang practice, when you need to be energized to move freely, with easy and with control. But when you practice yin yoga or more relaxing kind of yoga, you want to bring the energy down, to slow down your metabolism and to switch your nervous system into the rest and digest mode. In yin yoga, it is more about letting go, surrendering, releasing. This is why bandhas are less important in the practice of yin. Instead we focus on belly breathing, pushing the belly out as we inhale and slowing down the breath as we exhale. This kind of breathing instantly induces relaxation, switching to the parasympathetic nervous systems, slowing down the heartbeat and getting us ready for deep meditation.
This is why, in my opinion, bandhas are used for a more energizing practice (fire) usually in a combination with Ujjayi Breathing. They are especially important in all standing poses, backbends and inversions. But when you want to relax and let go into a more yin-like practices, slow belly breathing is much more efficient than focusing on the bandhas.
CONNECT WITH YOUR BANDHAS
The easiest way to feel your bandhas is on full exhale breath-hold. I will spend more time explaining various exercices in a future post. But for now your can try this one :
1- Start by sitting down, rooting down through your sitting bones. Make sure your spine is long and your shoulder relaxed
2- Forcefully exhale out through your mouth as you lean forward.
3- Holding the breath out, start to lift the pelvic floor up (like you wanna stop yourself from peeing) this is Mula Bandha + lift your navel up and in towards your spine for Uddiyana Bandha
4- Keeping the breath out and the bandhas engaged, push your hands on your knees to bring yourself back in an upright position (sitting straight)
5- Hold the bandhas and the breath for a few seconds
6- When you want to release the breath, release the bandhas first and then simply open the mouth to let the air come in naturally
7 – Repeat 3 times
This exercices is a very good one to start feeling the bandhas. Eventually you can also play with engaging and releasing the bandhas as you keep holding your breath out. Once you got the bandhas and how they should feel, start to practice engaging them while breathing. If possible using Ujjayi, the ocean sound breathing. Remember the engagement should be subtle, giving a direction to your energy, not blocking it!
ARE BANDHAS LOCKS ?
People often refer to Bandhas as energetic locks. From my perspective, bandhas are like valves rather than locks. They are directing the flow rather than blocking it. But they can also be used to lock the energy in, like when you close the valve. For exemple, when holding the breath in, you are locking the prana in, directing the energy inwards. In this case, bandhas are used to help locking the energy in. When holding the breath, a 3rd bandhas becomes important ; Jalandhara Bandha ; ”the throat lock”.
Jalandhara Bandha is engaged by bringing the chin in and down, locking the throat and lengthening the back on the neck. This bandha is often used when holding the breath. It makes the breath-holds more comfortable, securing the breath and the prana around the lungs’ area. For freedivers, jalandhara bandha helps to prevent the glottis from opening, making equalization and contractions more comfortable. Again, from my perspective, this is not a lock but rather a valve. The energy doesn’t flow anymore from the lungs into the mouth but is still flowing from the spine into the neck and all the way to the crown of the head. Jalandhara Bandha has different degrees of engagement, like other bandhas, and can also be useful in many yoga asanas.
To wrap up, I think what you need to remember is to engage your bandhas when you are doing active yoga poses. Don’t worry too much about them when you are doing relaxing passive poses. There are 3 main bandhas Mula Bandhas, Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha. The first 2 are very useful to connect the lower and upper body, protect the spine and give a direction to your breath and your prana. The throat bandha is more important when practicing breath retention. Now that you know about some of the theory behind those energetic locks, go have fun practicing them when you do yoga but also when you walk, when you sit or just when you breathe!