In your yoga classes you may well have heard your teacher telling you to ‘engage the bandhas’, without actually explaining what these are or how to activate them. The bandhas are interior body ‘locks’ used in postures or pranayama (breathing techniques) to control the flow of energy within the body. They can take a long time to master and definitely aren’t something that you should stress about. However, it’s useful to know what they are in case your teacher mentions them, and you may find that some postures become easier if you’re able to activate these ‘locks.’
SO, WHAT ARE THE BANDHAS IN YOGA?
This is the root lock and is activated by engaging the pelvic floor and drawing it upwards towards the navel. If you don’t know how to access the pelvic floor, think of it as the space between the pubic bone and the tailbone. Engaging Mula Bandha while doing yoga poses can give the postures an extra lift, which is particularly useful for jump throughs and inversions.
This is the abdominal lock which can be practiced alone or in conjunction with Mula Bandha. To engage this bandha, begin by sitting in a comfortable cross-legged position. Exhale, then suck the belly in, drawing it up underneath the rib cage towards the spine. Doing this seated will help you to know what it feels like, but a gentler version will be used during your asana practice. I always think about scooping up and in, and find this useful when forward folding to create more space within the posture and to keep the back long and straight. Uddiyana Bandha also tones, massages and cleanses the abdominal organs.
This is the throat lock. To engage this bandha, sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Inhale so that the lungs are about two-thirds full, and then hold the breath in. Lower the chin, and then draw the chin back closer to the chest so the back of the neck does not round. Hold as long as comfortable and then bring the chin up and release the breath.
Like everything else in yoga, using the bandhas takes time and practice. When thinking about the breath, postures, alignment and whatever else is running through your head, it might seem impossible to think about these elusive body locks, so don’t worry. I think most people find it tricky, and I know that I certainly haven’t mastered them yet. In general, I would say Uddiyana Bandha is the easiest to engage and is most beneficial to your practice because it encourages you to lengthen your spine and relax your shoulders, which is important for most postures.
Have a go and let me know what you think!