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Bandhas: The Portals of Enlightenment

Posted by Dan Jacobs on

You may have heard some of your yoga instructors tell you to “Engage your Mula Bandha” during practice, especially during poses such as Malasana or Ustrasana. So, what are bandhas exactly and how do we engage them? Today we’ll be diving into the mysterious realm of bandhas while dipping our toes into the vast ocean of Kundalini yoga.
Before we get into this article, I don’t want to scare any new readers away with sanskrit words or phrases you may not understand, so here is a quick breakdown of common ‘yoga words’ some may be unfamiliar with:

Bandhas = Energy ‘locks’; Intentional contractions of specific muscles in order to redirect energy flow within
Malasana = Squat Pose
Ustrasana = Camel Pose
Asana = Yoga posture; Translates “To sit” in sanskrit
Kundalini = The name of a sleeping energy within us; Also a yoga style
Sanskrit = an ancient language of India used for many Hindu scriptures; one of the oldest languages in the world
Prana = Energy, breath, life force
Let’s get to it! As mentioned above, bandhas are intentional contractions of specific muscles, and there are 3 of them, with a fourth Bandha that combines them all.

The first is the Mula Bandha, and it is the contraction, or ‘lifting’ of the pelvic floor.
The second is the Uddiyana Bandha, the contraction, or ‘engaging’ your lower abdominals.
The third is the Jalandhara Bandha, which is bringing your chin to your chest while slightly lifting your sternum.
The fourth and final Bandha is the Maha Bandha which combines all three. This is a serious practice, and I highly recommend that you learn how to properly do this under the supervision of a trained & certified instructor.

I sometimes say to my students, “What is true in yoga is also true in life.” This applies to many different yoga practices, and Bandhas are a great example. Many yogi philosophers, including the late & great Yogi Bhajan, agree that when you master these energy locks, you master your yoga practice externally as well as internally. Externally in the sense of smoother transitions, holding asanas for longer periods of time, and building strength to attempt new poses; internally thru enhanced concentration, steady, purposeful breathing, and a serene, clear mind. Having control over these external & internal benefits result in other physical advantages, such as control of your sexual, hormonal, digestive, and metabolic systems.
Controlling your Bandhas = Controlling your mind + body = Controlling your life.
The ‘big idea’ is to consciously integrate as many Bandhas as you can as frequently as you can, on and off the mat. You can engage your Mula Bandha & Uddiyana Bandha while walking around, sitting at work, driving your car, pretty much anywhere. The lack of training the Mula Bandha is one of the leading reasons of incontinence in Western civilization; it is considered taboo or inappropriate to train this extremely important muscle group, when in reality it should be consciously trained daily for a strong physical and energetic self.

In order to understand the energetic purpose of the Bandhas, it is important to understand how energy flow takes place within us. There are 5 forces of prana (commonly known as “life-force”), with 3 that are most relevant to our discussion.
Udana is the upward-moving acquisition of energy. It is identified with the throat and chest and is responsible for inhalation & ingestion.
Apana is the downward-moving removal of energy, identified with the pelvic floor & lower abdomen, controlling excretion of waste.
Finally, samana is the absorption of energy, located at the navel. This controls digestion & the generation of internal heat.
If you think back to when we were talking about what the bandhas are physically, you’ll remember that the 1st Bandha locks the pelvic floor, the 2nd bandha locks the navel, and the 3rd bandha locks the throat.

Now combine this with what we just learned about how energy flows within your body, and think about how the Bandhas affect this.
When engaging your Mula Bandha, your pelvic floor is locked, so apana cannot move downward, and is pulled back into the navel.
While engaging you Uddiyana bandha, pushing your belly towards your spine, it directs the energy up into your spinal cord, (Sushuma channel), towards your higher chakras.
When engaging your Jalandhara Bandha, your throat is locked, so prana cannot move upward into your busy mind, and is also pulled back into your Anahata Chakra, also called Heart Center.
When you master the Maha Bandha, the energy awakened finds its way up from the base of the spine all the way to the base of the skull, dismissing lower energy emotions such as fear and loss in favor of complete detachment, love, & bliss.

Now that we understand what Bandhas are and their effects on the body both physically and energetically, we can now connect it all to the overarching goal of all forms of yoga; enlightenment. This is where the little bit of Kundalini comes into play, seeing as the practice of mastering the Bandhas is most closely aligned with a Kundalini Awakening. (I plan on writing a full blog post on Kundalini sometime in the future, the following is an over-simplified breakdown of a wonderful and powerful practice.)

Yogis believe that we all possess a ‘coiled snake’ of energy at the base of our spines. When one has a Kundalini Awakening, it is characterized by the Shakti (feminine) energy moving up the spine to meet the Shiva (masculine) energy. People who have experienced this form of enlightenment claim it feels like a warm, thick snake is slowly crawling up their spine, followed by a massive rush of energy, happiness, and pure bliss.
The characteristics of mastering the bandhas over time are directly in line with a Kundalini awakening.

Let’s condense everything we’ve said so far together into a one sentence summary:
Mastering the Bandhas over time leads to an intense awakening of energy which results in spiritual enlightenment.

Look for traditional yoga schools that will teach this ancient technique to you. You will not find this sacred knowledge at your local gym or club.

We are warriors of light, love, and peace. Knowledge and compassion is our sword and shield.

Thank you for allowing me to share this sacred knowledge.


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