The Bandhas For Beginners: What They Are & How They Work

Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned yogi, you’ve likely heard of the bandhas mentioned during class and might be curious to learn more about them, how they work and how to apply them to your daily yoga practice. After all, your yoga teacher sure seems to get a twinkle in their eyes when they speak about these energetic locks and it’s for a good reason.

Bandha is Sanskrit for lock, bond, or catching hold of.

Bandhas are considered both mental and physical (neuromuscular) movements that help you shape or harness the flow of prana as a means for deepening your practice.

There are many benefits to engaging with your bandhas such as removing energetic blocks and connecting you to your internal bliss self.

As you progress down your yogi path you might find yourself becoming greater interested in learning more about them, if so we have you covered!

In this article we will learn:

  • What Is A Bandha?
  • What is The Purpose Of Engaging Your Bandhas?
  • Benefits of Engaging Your Bandhas
  • The Different Types of Bandhas
  • Bandha Yoga Poses
  • Precautions & Contraindications

Regardless of where you are on your journey, understanding and working with these energetic restraints or locks can help you cultivate a deeper spiritual and energetic connection to yourself and your yoga practice. Through dedicated and continuous activation of them, you can be sure to unlock all the benefits Bandhas have to offer.

a woman wearing black yoga clothes practicing bandhas on her yoga mat in front of a window

The 4 Main Bandhas

Jalandhara Bandha– Chin lock

Uddiyana Bandha– Belly lock

Mula Bandha– Root lock

Maha Bandha– All three bandhas combined.

What is a Bandha?

Though most commonly known in the yoga community as energetic locks, different yoga teachers and masters have their own way of describing bandhas.

Imagining them as energetic locks is helpful but another great metaphor for understanding Bandhas are comparing them to gates that can both retain and guide, prana (life force).

Just as a gate can create a barrier for keeping things in and out, bandhas serve to both retain energy and create a connection between the different parts of our physical and spiritual self linking everything together in order to ease the flow of prana through the Nadis (energetic channels) of the body.

If you are looking to deepen your bandha yoga practice we highly encourage practicing under the guidance of a master yoga teacher that has proficient knowledge of engaging bandhas.

a blue swirling pattern

What is the purpose of Engaging Your Bandhas?

The purpose of engaging your bandhas is to create restraint, frame, and collect energy in certain areas of the body with the intention of directing prana energy.

As mentioned previously, it’s helpful to think of bandhas as a gate or dam that we can seal off in order to help us shape or direct lifeforce, prana, the vital force that sets everything in motion.

You can use them in asana, meditation, or pranayama practice to stabilize you and harness your energy.

Consider that asana is a means to break down obstacles for energy flow but isn’t focused on directing energy in any particular way. By engaging your bandhas during yoga practice you are synthesizing all the nutrients of prana and energy flow, and bonding them into your energy force.

It’s not a coincidence bandha and bond sound very similar. When activated the bandhas create a binding force that links or connects our energy channels leading to harmonization between the mind, body, and spirit.

Ideally, our prana should be able to smoothly flow through the Nadis (energy channels) of the body. When energy is stagnant or blocked you can engage your bandhas to retain prana, and concentrate it on certain areas of the body in order to release energetic knots, redistribute and improve energy.

a diagram of the subtle body energy channels
The Subtle Body Energy Channels.

The benefits:

On A Physical Level:

  • Creates compression in our internal organs and some key arteries. By doing this we temporarily stop or slow the flow of blood that when released delivers a flood of fresh oxygenated blood, improving circulation and promoting healthy blood flow in these areas.
  • As we age gravity plays a role in pushing things down specifically in the pelvic region of our body. The bandhas work against gravity by pushing up, which can help with keeping the pelvic organs toned and tight.

On A Mental Level:

  • It improves focus and attention since it involves single-point concentration and steady controlled breath.
  • Naturally calms your nervous system by toning the Vagus Nerve which is responsible for regulating our internal organ functions such as digestion, heart rate, and breath. It has been linked to stimulating relaxation and ease when toned.

On An Energetic Level:

  • Bandhas stimulate the chakras (energy wheels) by sealing the energy around them. When chakras are stimulated by using bandhas, prana can circulate efficiently through the body resulting in improved physical, mental and spiritual vitality.  
a woman doing yoga with chakras highlighted down her spine in different colours

The 6 Different Types of Bandhas

There are 3 individual bandhas in the body and 4 when you count the Great Lock created when all three are activated together known as Maha Bandha. Hasta and Pada Bandha are newly discovered bandhas that aren’t found in ancient texts but are used often in the yoga community.

Contrary to mainstream belief, it is advised to engage your bandhas from the top down starting with Jalandhara Bandha and ending with Mula Bandha, not vice versa in order to prevent energy not being retained within the body.

#1: Jalandhara Bandha- Chin lock

Jala in Sanskrit means water, flow, or net. It seals the upper portion of the energy pathways. It is recommended to develop and master working with this Bandha first as it will create the container for prana from the other two bandhas to be framed and retained.

Without activating this one first we risk prana dissipating from the body since there is nothing to contain it if we are working on moving energy up.

How to activate it: You bring your chin forward and down to meet the top of the sternum with soft pressure. 

Helps with:

  • Toning the Vagus Nerve for increased relaxation and calming of the nervous system.
  • Stretches the muscles of the cervical spine (neck) and relieves tension in the jaw.
  • Connected to the throat chakra, when activated this bandha helps us speak our truth and creative expression.
a woman practicing jalandhara bandha in bridge pose

#2: Uddiyana Bandha– Belly lock

Located in the abdominal wall. Uddiyana is sanskirt for rise up. It seals the mid portion of the energy pathways.

How to activate it: You suction your abdominal cavity back under your ribs as much as you can creating a vacuum feel in your belly and driving your naval in towards your spine.

Helps with:

  • Hugging the muscles of the abdominal wall together and toning the organs of the midbody.
  • Activating your tapas (discipline) and increasing mental and physical endurance.
  • Strengthens the core and aids in digestion.
  • Moving energy from the body up to the brain for increased energy and clarity.
  • Tones, massages and cleanses the abdominal organs and deep interior muscles.
  • Connected to the solar plexus chakra which is the chakra associated with power, self-esteem, and taking action by working with this bandha you can be sure to tap into your power reserve and make changes you are seeking to make in your life.

*practice this one on an empty stomach*

a tattooed woman practicing a seated bandha, sucking her belly in, wearing yellow yoga trousers

#3: Mula Bandha– Root lock

Located at the base of the pelvis, Mula is Sanskrit for root or foundation. It seals the lower portion of the energy pathways in your spinal column. To engage this bandha we need to bring our attention to the pelvic floor.

To activate: Gently constrict your anal sphincter and perineum muscle as if you were holding back the need to pee.

Helps with:

  • Hugging the muscles of the pelvic floor together and toning the organs of the lower body.
  • Incontinence and bladder leakage especially after pregnancy or menopause.
  • Moving energy from the earth up through the root chakra to aid with any mental, emotional, or spiritual stagnation associated with this chakra.
  • Connecting us to the divine feminine and our foundation while also clearing any over-attachment to earth matters.
  • Activating Kundalini Energy since this powerful energy resides at the base of our spine.
two people wearing white clothes and a man doing lotus mudra during kundalini meditation

#4: Maha Bandha

The Great Lock or Crown Jewel of the energetic locks, this master lock includes all three Bandhas and is when all three bandhas are engaged.

#5: Pada Bandha

Foot lock is activated by engaging the energy from the soles or arches of your feet.

#6: Hasta Bandha

Hand lock is activated by engaging its energy from the palms of your hands.

Bandha Yoga Poses & Activation Instructions

Mula Bandha Yoga Poses

In yoga asana, you can incorporate working with your bandhas naturally by engaging them one at a time, though they can be practiced synergistically (maha bandha).

Technically when practiced during asana they are considered functional bandhas as opposed to traditional bandhas which can only be practiced in stillness and during pranayama practice when the breath is being retained (known as Kumbhaka).

However, you can benefit from both a traditional and functional bandha practice. We recommend if you want to practice traditionally to try the below yoga poses as a way to prepare to work with them.

Otherwise, feel free to engage the bandhas in a functional way during your next yoga class or by practicing any of these yoga bandha poses. Always practice with one-pointed concentration, intention, and deliberate caution.

Practice by supporting your pelvis and coming into Easy seat with prayer mudra. Engage the perineum muscles (the space between the sitting bones and pubic bone) up like you are trying to restrain yourself from peeing, contract your anal muscles and lower pelvic muscles, hold your breath then gently release after a few seconds.

Also consider exploring it in, bridge, butterfly pose, locust or garland pose.

a woman meditating cross legged on a white bed

Uddiyana Bandha Yoga Poses

Practice Uddiyana bandha by standing with your knees slightly bent and placing your hands on your thighs. On the exhale suction your navel up and in towards the spine and into the rib cage, holding the breath, then gently releasing after a few seconds. This traditional stance relaxes the abdominal organs with gravity, which you counteract in the abdominal lift.

You can practice this bandha in any upright pose or on all fours like in Tabletop, kneeling like in Hero pose, or lying down with the knees bent.

Jalandahara Bandha Yoga Poses

Practice Jalandahara Bandha by bringing your chin into your chest and elongating the neck while holding your breath, then gently release after a few seconds. You will feel compression in your throat and windpipe.

Throat Lock doesn’t often come into use within asana practice. The exception is in poses like Shoulderstand and Bridge, where bringing the chest toward the chin to create the Throat Lock is inherent to the posture itself.

It’s more commonly done as part of seated breath work but feel free to apply when on the ground in butterfly pose or when sitting up in hero pose. Basically, any pose where the neck can be elongated and tucked into the chest without creating force or stress and when you can be soft.

a man doing a shoulder stand yoga pose with jalandahra bandha on a yoga mat by a lake

Maha Bandha Yoga Poses

In certain poses, Maha Bandha can be used effortlessly such as in tadasana though it’s ok to only engage 2 at a time instead if you are wanting to work with specific ones.

Precautions & Contraindications

If you are looking to deepen your Bandha yoga practice we highly encourage practicing under the guidance of a master yoga teacher that has proficient knowledge of engaging the Bandhas.

It’s advised we approach working with the bandhas when we are in a calm place in order to facilitate the movement of energy. Consider that smoothing your breath should be a preliminary requirement before engaging in bandha practice.

If you have constipation, are on your cycle, or struggle with being spacy (high vata), lessen your Mula bandha practice as it could be moving excessive energy up and creating more disconnect.

Practicing Uddiyana bandha creates a strong vacuuming effect in the abdomen and puts internal pressure on the organs.

For this reason, it is not recommended during pregnancy or menstruation, nor for people suffering from colitis, shortness of breath, stomach or intestinal ulcers, diaphragmatic hernia, high blood pressure, heart disease, glaucoma, and raised intracranial pressure. Women with IUDs should also be careful.

a man wearing grey teaching a yoga clase

Final Thoughts

Bandhas are a vast field and the information we know about them is still developing even today. Approach them with a calm mind, careful attention, and patience.

As with any exercise that could have adverse effects, the bandhas are both energetic and physical, allowing them to evolve organically over time in order to correctly use them is the best approach to reaping all the physical, spiritual, and mental benefits of these energetic locks.

Remember to approach them mindfully and methodically and they will help you embody the practice of yoga.

mini bhanda documentaries!

Here are some helpful videos to reference back to if you’re curious about learning about the bandhas from seasoned teachers.

The bandhas in modern practice: A historical perspective by Leslie Kaminoff

What are the Bandhas with Rod Ryker

Photo of author
Anna is a freelance lifestyle writer and yoga teacher currently living in sunny San Diego, California. She uses the tools of storytelling and yoga to convey a message of hope and inspiration. Her mission is to make the tools of yoga accessible to as many people as possible especially those in underrepresented communities.

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