Five Pillars Yoga

Yoga 101: Breaking Down the Bandhas

Starting From the Ground Up with Mula Bhanda

Much like the chakras, the bandhas are an esoteric, unseeable internal-energy system. This makes them pretty hard to describe, let alone use, but chances are you’ve wondered about them if they’re not already part of your yoga tool kit.

Let’s break them down.

Bandha means lock or bond in Sansksrit. There are three bandha spots in the body that correspond to three chakras, or energy centers. From the ground up they are:

  • 1st chakra: Mula Bhanda (Root Lock)
  • 3rd chakra: Uddiyana Bhanda (Navel Lock)
  • 5th chakra: Jalandara Bhanda (Chin Lock)

When a bandha is engaged it stops the flow of energy, in the form of breath, to that part of the body; when a bandha is released it floods that area with extra energy.

Why use them?

We’ve nested this post under the pillar of Right Breathing because the energy dynamics at play when the bandhas are engaged and released are pranayama energies. By manipulating breath—in some sense, the body’s greatest natural drug—we’re able to shift our internal landscape. Think about the heat-building qualities of Breath of Fire, the balancing effects of Alternate Nostril and the cooling capabilities of Sitali—all ways to enhance or shift our experience.

The same is true of the bandhas. When we incorporate the bandhas into our yoga and pranayama practices they enhance and change the nature of the poses, essentially kicking them up a notch. Simultaneously, they support the pranamayakosha—one layer of the energetic body—in deep cleaning by encouraging the flow of energy up (toward the crown chakra, seat of enlightenment) instead of down.

For the purposes of this post we’ll explore Mula Bandha, the root lock. Mula bandha is said to cut through brahma granthi, internal resistance to change that resides in our first chakra. Muladhara chakra is the one responsible for keeping us grounded and safe, so it makes sense that we’d have a natural aversion to anything unknown.


How to Engage Mula Bhanda

First, release any weirdness around talking or thinking about the sex organs—they’re what this pose is all about.

A true root lock is very subtle. It takes time, practice and the help of a good teacher to really “get it,” so, in the beginning, cultivate a relationship with your pelvic floor and just get used to playing around down there.

  • Engage the muscles you use when you are trying not to pee.
  • For women, contract the muscles behind the cervix, at the base of your pelvic bowl, like a Kegel exercise.
  • For men, contract at the perineum, the sensitive spot between the anus and the testes.
  • Think about drawing the base of the pelvic floor up.
  • Start with big contractions. Initially, your anus will likely lift into the body, but over time, with refinement, it will stay neutral.
  • Sit on your heel or atop tennis ball. Position in at your perineum and roll over it while contracting the pelvic floor to feel the difference between anal and perineal contractions.
  • Like we said, it’s subtle, but the act of putting pressure in this zone will make Mula Bhanda feel more natural.
  • For women, this perineal contraction is happening while also drawing the vaginal walls in and up.
  • As you get more comfortable, explore Mula Bhanda from a deep squat, Goddess Pose, or Warrior 1.

The implications of Mula Bhanda on your yoga practice are manifold. Some schools recommend engaging it throughout your entire practice, a constant reminder to lift up and stay light. It’s especially useful in standing sequences or balancing poses, any time you want to shore up your foundation.

From a meditative standpoint, Mula Bhanda means bringing our senses in; it’s a cousin to the practice of Pratayahara, the fixing of our internal gaze inward. When we restrain our outward gaze we tune into our inner landcape and strengthen the third eye, our energetic seat of insight and intuition.

Check back for future posts on Uddiyana and Jalandara Bhanda.

Images: Sacred chakra wheel and Muladhara illustration