In Sanskrit bandha means to lock, to hold, or to tighten. It also refers to a lock in and of itself.There are 3 principle bandhas in the body, and a fourth that ties them all together. The ancient yogi philosophers said, that when you master the locks, your master the yoga practice, the practice on the outside -- floating in and out of asanas, holding for long periods of time, and managing new positions – and the practice on the inside – consistent single pointed concentration, steady and long breath, and a calm, clear mind. And in a straight-up modern, western sense, the bandhas help you regulate and control all your internal systems, hormonal, sexual, metabolic, digestive, and more.
Note: Bandhas should not be practiced while pregnant.
1. Mula Bandha: In Sanskrit mula means root, and thus Mula Bandha is the root lock. To find it, sit, stand, or even be in an asana, and if you are a man, contract the area between the anus and the testes. If you are a woman, contract the muscles at the bottom of the pelvic floor, behind the cervix. Initially the anal sphincter will also contract, but with time and practice you will be able to hone in on the Mula Bandha region and leave the rest aside. The muscles you instinctually contract to pull up and hold in what is dying to flood out can be generally considered Mula Bandha, or at least the Mula Bandha region.
Mula Bandha stimulates the pelvic nerves, the genital system, the endocrine system, and the excretory system. It has also been shown to relieve constipation and depression.
2. Uddiyana Bandha: In Sanskrit uddiyana means to fly up, or to rise up. This ‘flying up lock’ is thus all about your insides flying upwards, intangibly meaning your energy, tangibly meaning your diaphragm, stomach, and abdominal organs. To find Uddiyana Bandha start standing up tall, feet about a meter apart. Inhale through your nose and reach your arms up alongside your ears. Exhale out of your mouth and fold forward placing your hands just above your knees. Without inhaling close your lips, straighten your elbows, and feel your abdominal wall and organs push up and back towards your back. It should feel somewhat like a suctioning back and up of everything on the inside.
If you are doing it correctly your waist with the ribs noticeably protruding over and in front of your abdomen or belly button. Retain as such for as long as possible, and exit the bandha via inhaling through your nose and standing up straight, raising your arms up along side your ears, then exhaling through your nose again as you move your arms down.
Uddiyana Bandha is the ultimate remedy for abdominal and stomach ailments, from constipation to indigestion. It stimulates your digestive juices, thus increasing your metabolism, and tones your overworked abdominal organs. It also balances the adrenal system, relieving stress, lethargy and tension. And best of all, it is the sure fire way to get flat washboard abs without ever doing any crunches.
3. Jalandhara Bandha: Jalandhara Bandha is pretty much the only double chin you will want, and try, to have. In Sanskrit jal means throat, jalan means net, and dharan means stream or flow. Thus in the most basic sense, Jalandhara Bandha can be considered the throat lock that controls the flow of energy in the nerves and blood vessels of the neck.
To find Jalandhara Bandha sit up tall, either in a comfortable cross legged position or on your shins with your butt on your heals. Place the palm of your hands on your knees. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, then bring your chin towards your neck and lift your sternum ever so slightly. Press down on your hands and straighten your elbows, pull your chin back further, and retain as long as possible. To exit lift your chin, inhale the remainder of capacity into your lungs, and exhale. If you felt a nasty double chin or were stressing about someone taking a picture of your profile, you did it right!
Unlike the first two, Jalandhara Bandha is normally performed in combination with specific breathing practices, and rarely done on its own. That said, it is immensely powerful, as it compresses the sinuses on the main arteries of the neck and in doing so helps regulate the circulatory and respiratory systems. The pressure on the throat helps to balance the thyroid and metabolism. And if no one is looking at you at work, engage Jalandhara Bandha as an instant trigger for mental relaxation as well as stress and anger relief.
4. Maha Bandha: Maha in Sanskrit means great, and Maha Bandha is the combination of all three aforementioned bandhas.
Sit in a comfortable seat, on your shins or cross legged, palms of the hands on the thighs or knees. Inhale fully through your nose, and exhale completely through your nose. Squeeze squeeze squeeze until every last drop is out. Without inhaling engage Mula Bandha, then find Uddiyana Bandha. Inhale a tiny bit and lift your chest, and from there engage Jalandhara Bandha. Retain, pressing your palms down, as long as possible. When you have had enough, lift your head, inhale fully, and release all the bandhas.
Maha Bandha gives the benefits of all three bandhas and regulates the entire endocrine system.