The term 'Bandhas' escaped my wheelhouse for the first few years I started practicing yoga. It wasn't until I began my teachers training did I truly give them the attention they needed. When you first start practicing yoga there is so much body mechanics to consider that simply to link the breath with the appropriate action is an effort. My teachers most likely used the term 'engage your Bandhas' but at that time my focus involved refining my new 'Ujjiya' breathing technique. Needless to say, it is a topic worth covering when your off the mat to get a clear understanding of how these subtle energetic locks can benefit your practice and conserve your energy.
Translation of Bandhas from sanskrit means 'to bond or arrest'. It falls under mudras which are energitic seals in the body. Alongside the breath and dhristi (gazing point), Bandhas are considered to be key principles of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. The 3 Bandhas or subtle energy locks are as follows:
Mula Bandha: Root lock o f the pelvic floor
Uddiyana Bandha: drawing back the abdomen, about 2 inches below the navel
Jalahandra Bandha: Chin Lock
Below is description and application of each one and hopefully gives you inspiration to integrate them into your regular practice.
Mula Bandha is probably the most subtle of the 3 as it requires our mind's attention to actively engage into the pelvic floor. Well what does that mean exactly? The best description is trying to sto
p the flow of urination or damming a river. The same muscles that hold back the flow of 'I gotta' go are used in activating the pelvic floor.For women the felt sense is at the base of the cervix where as in men it is right in the center of the perineum, (or for the more descript the area between where you take #1 & #2).
Women who have had kids will find it similar to Kegel exercises.
How it is engaged is in sync with the breath. On the inhale invite the subtle contraction of the pelvic floor until you reach the top of the breath. From there you transition into the 2nd Bandha,Uddiyana. Heighten your awareness around this lock each time you enter downward dog. The idea is to practice the Bandhas throughout the practice but it is helpful to have landmarks to bring you home to it.
Uddiyana is probably one of the easier ones to connect with as the engagement is noticeable but not exaggerated. As you reach the bottom of your exhale your drawing the area below the navel in and then up towards the rib cage. Sometimes referred to as the 'Flying Lock' the action both tones and creates room for the organs in the abdominal area. The diaphragm will in turn move upward towards the rib cage. The contraction helps to massage the muscles in the core and remove stale air from the lung sacs.
A great posture to check in with Uddiyana is Prasarita Padotanasana B. The position of your hands in this wide footed forward fold, have the fingers pointing towards your navel. From here you can experience the subtleties of movement as you enter the pose and sustain it.
Jalandara Bandha is primarily used to regulate the prana/energy that you are creating throughout your practice. In the first series of Ashtanga we first encounter the chin lock in Dandasana. This is the first posture of the seated work following the standing sequence. The prana and heat we generated needs to be integrated so that we can come into the next postures maintaining a smooth even breath and conserve the energy. The action is to draw the chin towards the throat and lift the sternum towards the chin. Think of sealing at the top and continue with your ujjiya pranayama. The gesture is like tucking a sheet underneath your chin same same, however you don't want to loss the head and let it flop heavy to the body. After a 5 count hold your release should be down on a slow inhale to bring the head back to neutral. Your inviting fresh oxygen into the brain so let the movement be gradual to avoid becoming light headed.
The best way we can tell our bandhas are successfully engaged is when we experience lightness in our movement. The feeling when we jump to our hands and our landing is soft and quiet. The sensation is almost as though we are flying or gracefully moving through space. To experience the energy being conserved and the benefits of the breath and postures is to heighten our awareness around these core locks. Move slowly and freely with the breath and savor each action. In the wise words of the late Pattabhi Jois~ Yoga is 99% Practice, 1% Theory, with that in mind the rest is up to you=)