As explained in the pranayama chapter, bandhas are energetic “locks” or interconnecting energy points within the pranic body at the most subtle level. On the physical level, the bandhas have corresponding gross focal points not unlike other yogic tools and practices and have an impact on the mental and physical state of the body. The internal actions sustained by bandha activation within the body have the following effects:
1. Help generate and maintain heat in the body.
2. Support the four natural curves of the spine.
3. Help to focus awareness on subtle energetic experiences.
4. Help set the way for meditative/contemplative absorption. Bandhas may also be included in one of the eight limbs called pratyahara (sense withdrawal). Learning to change the energetic sensations both internally and intuitively requires a deeper commitment to both presence and attention to the details from awareness. Initially, the concept of a “lock” may be useful however, the and has are as much (if not more) an “energetic intention” than a physical muscular contraction. In fact, as one develops and advances the use of bandhas, less “physical energy” is used to achieve the same (and sometimes even greater) subtle results.
The throat or chin lock is engaged on either the inhale or exhale. For beginners, the recommendation is on the inhalation only. The chin lock can be activated by beginning with lifting the sternum upward and drawing the chin slightly back toward the occipital ridge at the back of the neck. Allow the space t the back of the ears to tilt upward slightly until the skin of the sides and back of the neck feels taunt. Finally, lower the chin down slightly toward the space at the center of the throat.
Jalandhara bandha corresponds to the Vishuddhi Chakra and raises air and space energy up the central channel.It draws prana vayu (upward flowing energy downward for mixing with apana vayu). The throat lock stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands. It is used to keep the collected elemental energies and prana from escaping the central nadhi channel. On a physical level, the bandha is associated with keeping the pressure in the carotid sinuses in the neck artificially elevated. The result of the increase in pressure in the throat allows the brain’s natural defense against high blood pressure to be reset temporarily as the practitioner holds the breath for longer periods than would be possible without using the technique. With careful practice, the use of Jalandhara can reduce the heartbeat and help establish a feeling of meditative or contemplative awareness.
The upward flying lock is engaged best on the exhalation of breath down to the residual volume capacity (the amount of air still contained within the lungs once you have exhaled as much as possible and the root lock is engaged. In order for the middle lock to be effective, the root lock engages automatically (for most ) and the chin/throat lock must be used to seal the vacuum from above in the glottis. This seal causes the internal breathing diaphragm to lift upward. Hold in emptiness and keep the Jalandhara lock in place. Attempt to inhale to lift and expand the thoracic ribs laterally but do not inhale, hold the breath out. Uddiyana bandha corresponds to the swadisthana, manipura, and anahata chakras. It raises water energy up the central channel. The upward flying lock tones the abdominal organs and stimulates the heart and thymus.
The root lock is engaged best on the exhalation for most beginners although it can be activated on the inhalation. Bring awareness to the abdomino-pelvic floor region. Initially work toward contractions in the urogenital and rectal triangles combined.As your ability to refine the core lift develops, become more centered on lifting at the baseline that connects these two triangles, located medially between the genitals and the coccyx. In this space are the deep pelvic floor muscles, shaped like a hammock that supports the pelvic floor organs. Hold the lift briefly and then inhale, allowing it to relax. The root lock corresponds to the Muladhara (root chakra) and raises earth and fire energies upward along the central channel. The root lock draws apana vayu (downward) flowing energy upward. The deep toning of the pelvic floor muscles with mula bandha helps pelvic and lumbar stabilization in many positions. Many poses can be facilitated with greater ease using the root lock, and some poses are next to impossible to perform without the technique.
The integrated involvement of all the bandhas at once is called the great lock. The Mahabandha, also known as Tri Bandha, offers the integration of all the aforementioned principles and moves the individual practices to a new space of awareness where the parts no longer equal the whole. The use of all three locks is said to break down the three psychic knots believed to exist within the subtle body. The knots are detailed as:
1) Brahma granthi— the knot that has us attached to the material realm.
2) Vishnu granthi— the knot that has us attached to our emotions.
3) Rudra granthi— the knot that has us attached to our individuality.
The use of Maha Bhanda offers the yogic practitioner the opportunity to deepen awareness of the inner realm in addition to the external based explorations of asana and other elements. It is a factor in yogic lore of chakra activation and kundalini or pranic flow into the primary subtle channel, called Sashumna Nadhi.
1. Begin with Mulabandha, Jalandhara, and finally Uddiyana bandha in sequencing the introduction of the bandhas.
2. External breath retention (holding with breath out of the body) is considered a more advance technique and not appropriate for beginners. The Bandhas may increase intracavity pressure and are not appropriate for those with acute conditions of the pelvic floor or the abdominothoracic and cranial regions.
3. Offer easier exploration of all the bandhas by positional work previous to seated bandha work.
4. We can get a feeling for the Jalandhara bandha and prepare our energy and physical structures by holding a rolled-up sock, a small beanbag, pad, or the like in between the chin and sternal notch.
5. Practice bandhas after you have demonstrated skill at basic pranayama techniques previously introduced
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