bYoga is predominantly presented as a physical practice (asana) in the west. Yet, yoga is a discipline that creates, within the body vehicle, the developing and directing of internal energy. Various internal practices assist with the cultivation of energy. The bandhas are an internal energy aspect of yoga. Once grasped, the bandhas could be beneficial in uncovering broader insight into how one can more fully benefit from their practice.
Yoga practice has steadily increased for the past 5 decades. Many people come to yoga from different backgrounds and for various reasons. Yoga asana provides the benefits of improvement in circulation, asana is energy exertion. There are gentler forms of yoga but many yoga classes are taught in a vinyasa (asana linked to asana) format. Energy is generated and expended during a typical vinyasa class.
Generated energy can be developed and directed with proper focus and training. There are techniques and meditations that lead to a more accurate sensing of one’s internal state. Beyond asana there are five (higher) levels within the scope of practice. The next step up from asana is pranayama. Prana (energy) and yama (restriction, control) is a set of different practices that focus on the breath. Inhaling, pausing, exhaling, pausing are the four phases of breath. Pranayama consists of using, manipulating and managing breath, Breathing and using various ratios, rates and retention phases furthers enhancement of energy development.
There are practices that serve as a compliment to asana and an adjunct to pranayama. These are called bandhas. Bandhas are a series of physiological components that channel and control energy within the body. There are three of them: Mula Bandha or anal contraction, Uddiyana Bandha or stomach contraction, and Jalandhara Bandha or throat contraction. During asana practice, the bandhas are ‘gently’ engaged so that breath is able to flow in managed fashion. Pranayama practice involves varying degrees of bandha engagement, depending upon the technique that is being used.
Mula Bandha is engaged by contracting the urogenital and pelvic floor muscles. This equates to control the urine stream. It is used to direct energy upward (to stop energy from flowing downward). The control of downward energy flow helps to maintain the tone pelvic floor muscles. The lifting of this energy can help develop unselfish love and greater intellectual capacities. also assist with controlling and easing cravings and emotionalities.
Uddiyana Bandha is used to generate ‘inner body lift’. The effects of gravity compound with age and the body succumbs to the sagging of internal organs. Uddiyana Bandha engenders an overall ‘lightening’ effect and bodily organs are not as prone this sagging. This bandha is engaged by the gently drawing in and upward of the abdominal musculature while activating Mula Bandha. One gains higher spiritual awareness and more dignified cultural patterns by utilizing Uddiyana Bandha.
Jalandhara Bandha is very important. It regulates the upward flow of energies to the brain and the throat. Jalandhara Bandha is critical during pauses full breath holds. If it is not engaged correctly, the small capillaries in the brain could be deleteriously effected. During meditation, it helps to regulate the flow of breath. It is engaged by contraction of the glottis muscle in the throat.
The use of bandha is a way to become familiar with inner body energy flow. The physical benefits of asana are numerous, but energy cultivation is limited through it’s sole practice. The body can go beyond energy expenditure to energy cultivation and acquisition. Within yoga there are many techniques through which this can be achieved. The bandhas comprise a group of these techniques. There are three of them, but they can be combined (practiced) concurrently to form the Maha Bandha (Great Bandha). Utilization of the bandhas can reveal a deep flow of energy in the body and give one insight into the directing of that energy.
Disclaimer: One should receive guidance on bandhas practice from a qualified instructor. In the case of pelvic floor, abdominal, or blood pressure issues, see a health professional.
Yusidian Selvarajan Elisabeth Haich Yoga and Health, New York, Harper., 1953
Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga. Goswami Kriyananda, Temple of Kriya Yoga, 1976