introduction-to-bandhas Photo: @theshalayogastudio | Instagram

Exploring the Bandhas & Energetic Anatomy

Yoga is the science of awakening to our true nature. During a yoga practice, we facilitate this internal transformation through external practices. In addition to physical postures and breathing practices, yoga describes several other methods or tools to purify energy and direct the flow of prana, our vital life force. One of these methods is the use of bandhas or energetic locks. This article will familiarize you with the main bandhas and explain how they can enhance your yoga practice.

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The Main Bandhas

Bandhas are energetic locks that we physically engage, on their own with other practices, to harness and manipulate prana. The four main bandhas – Mula, Uddiyana, Jalandhara, and Maha – not only cleanse the energetic body but also strengthen and revitalize our physical body and mental capacities by working with the body’s various systems.

Mula Bandha

The first of the bandhas is Mula bandha, the root lock. Appropriately named in both English and Sanskrit, it’s located in the area of Muladhara, the root chakra. We can look at Mula bandha as an energetic seal at the base of the spine that keeps energy in the region of our central energetic channel (the spinal column). Engaging Mula bandha also helps move prana from the base of the spine upward towards the center of the body. 

To work with Mula bandha, gently lift your pelvic floor (the space between your genitals and anus). This action is isolated and similar to holding in the urge to urinate. When you practice Mula bandha, engage your pelvic floor enough to create a subtle pressure without force or discomfort. 

We typically practice bandhas during breath retention – either the pause between inhalation and exhalation or between exhalation and inhalation. Although you can practice Mula bandha during either type of breath retention, the following indications are for engaging the root lock while holding your breath out:

  • Sit with a straight spine 
  • Inhale deeply
  • Exhale completely
  • Hold your breath out as you gently lift your pelvic floor, creating a lock
  • When you are ready to breathe, release the lock first
  • Inhale deeply
  • Return to normal breathing 
  • Repeat for 2-3 rounds, increasing rounds as you gain confidence with your practice.

Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana bandha, the navel or abdominal lock, is at the solar plexus. Its proximity to Manipura (the solar plexus) chakra is relevant since this is the energy center where we store prana. By engaging Uddiyana bandha, we energetically inhale, directing prana towards the spine. Engaging this bandha also sends prana upward into the higher chakras. Accordingly, uddiyana translates to “upward flying.” 


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To perform the abdominal lock, imagine you are trying to pull your navel back towards your spine and upwards in the same motion. On the physical level, your ribcage will become prominent as it is when you suck in your stomach. Leaning your torso forward will help support the movement necessary to do this while learning. You can facilitate this in one of two ways: 

  • Lean forward (keeping your spine straight) in a cross-legged position with your arms outstretched on the floor or your knees for support.
  • Stand with wide legs and a slight knee bend, resting your hands on your thighs for support.

As with Mula bandha, we practice Uddiyana bandha during breath retention. However, Uddiyana is only performed during external retention. To try this on your own:

  • Find one of the positions above with your upper body leaning slightly forward
  • Inhale deeply
  • Exhale completely 
  • Retain your breath as you pull your navel back towards your spine and then upward, creating a lock.
  • When you are ready to breathe, first release the lock
  • Inhale deeply
  • Return to normal breathing 
  • Repeat for 2-3 rounds, increasing rounds as you gain confidence with your practice.

Since Uddiyana bandha involves manipulating the area around the digestive organs, only practice on an empty stomach.

Jalandhara Bandha

Jalandhara bandha, the throat lock, is located near Vishuddhi (the throat) chakra, our center for energetic purification. Like Mula bandha, Jalandhara bandha creates a seal to maintain vital energy in the spinal column. It also balances energy in the higher chakras.

The throat lock, unlike the former two bandhas, the throat lock is often combined with other bandhas or breathing practices. To engage the throat lock, guide your chin back towards your neck and gently tuck it down towards your sternum. This will form a slight constriction in your throat. From the surface level, Jalandhara bandha looks like a double chin. It can be practiced during any breath retention, though the following indications are for practicing on an external retention:

  • Sit with a straight spine. 
  • Inhale deeply
  • Exhale completely 
  • Retain your breath as you guide your chin backward and downward, creating a lock.
  • When you are ready to breathe, first release the lock
  • Inhale deeply
  • Return to normal breathing 
  • Repeat for 2-3 rounds, increasing rounds as you gain confidence with your practice.

Maha Bandha (Combining the Bandhas)

Maha means “great,” and Maha bandha, the great bandha, combines the previous three bandhas. Benefits of Maha bandha include balancing energy in the entire body, uniting different manifestations of prana, and facilitating higher states of consciousness.

To practice Maha bandha, engage each lock sequentially, from lower to higher. Then, release them in the opposite direction, from higher to lower. (Please note that some yoga traditions indicate a different order for engaging and releasing the three bandhas). Like Uddiyana bandha, we practice Maha bandha only during external breath retention. Here are instructions for engaging Maha Bandha:

  • In a stable seat, take a deep breath in
  • Exhale entirely and retain your breath out
  • Engage Mula bandha
  • Engage Uddiyana bandha
  • Engage Jalandhara bandha
  • When you are ready to inhale, first release the locks (Jalandhara, then Uddiyana, and finally Mula)
  • Inhale completely
  • Rest with long, deep breathing, only adding rounds once experienced.

When to Practice Bandhas (and when not to)

We generally work with the bandhas independently or as part of a pranayama practice. However, we can also incorporate them into asana practice. For example, kriya-based yoga practices often combine bandhas in specific sequences with asana and pranayama techniques to achieve certain results. Kundalini yoga traditions, based on elevating kundalini energy, also utilize bandhas (most often Mula bandha) while holding asanas to help direct pranic flow upward.

Some teachers classify bandhas as “advanced” yoga. However, others lean towards the idea that you know your body best. In other words, if you are naturally curious about bandhas and energetic anatomy, perhaps that’s reason enough to experiment with these techniques. On the other hand, if you engage in these practices and feel uncomfortable or disinterested, your inner teacher will probably tell you to back off. 

Although yoga is a personal practice, we recommend beginning any new yogic practices with the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.

Avoid working with bandhas (especially Uddiyana) with a full stomach. Additionally, most experts recommend avoiding bandhas if you are pregnant, menstruating, or experiencing high or low blood pressure or heart conditions. It’s common to feel dizzy or lightheaded or to experience energetic surges during these practices. If this is the case, listen to your body and rest.

Harness Your Energy

Bandhas are powerful, energetic locks that increase the efficacy of asana and breathwork to cleanse our bodies, hearts, and minds. By familiarizing ourselves with the bandhas, we begin to understand, through tangible experience, how to understand and connect with our life force energy.