A look through traditional texts will show you that the practice of bandha was originally classified as a subset of mudra. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, deals with bandha and mudra together. Many other Tantric texts do the same. In practice, bandha is very closely associated with the practice of both mudra and pranayama. In their own right, bandha are important techniques because they give us the ability to direct subtle-energy within the body through the locking mechanism they create inside of us.
In Sanskrit, the word bandha means to ‘hold, tighten or lock’, which is exactly the function of a bandha within the body. The purpose of engaging the bandhas is to lock prana within specific areas of the body so we can direct the flow of energy toward the spine and into sushumna nadi for the purpose of spiritual awakening.
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Progression of practice
The progression of practice, when it comes to bandha, is this: first master the bandhas individually (jalandhara bandha first, then mula bandha, then uddiyana bandha), then incorporate them into more comprehensive pranayama and mudra practices.
When combined with pranayama techniques that include breath retentions (which amplify the level of prana within the body) bandha become powerful practices for generating and directing energy within the body. The caveat to this, however, is that this power must be contained within the supportive structure of the body and the still, clear presence of the mind. If body and mind have not been fortified to the extent that they can hold this level of energy, the power we build will spill into our lives and make a mess in the same way that water spills out of a glass and makes a mess.
That is to say, the quality of the energy we build is determined by the quality of our consciousness. This quality and capacity must be cultivated before bandhas are introduced.
Bandhas and granthis
In addition to jalandhara banda, mula bandha and uddiyana bandha, there is another bandha practice called maha bandha; the simultaneous activation of the first three.
Jalandhara bandha is created by locking the throat, uddiyana bandha is created by locking the diaphragm and mula bandha is created by locking the pelvic floor. From a subtle-energetic perspective, each is associated with a knot of psychic energy called a grunthi. A grunthi is a concentration of a particular quality of energy at a particular point along the spine, which obstructs the free flow of prana within sushumna nadi.
Mula bandha and brahma grunthi
Mula bandha is associated with brahma grunthi, which sits between the first and second chakras. Brahma grunthi is characterized by an excess of tamasic energy. Tamas is the energy of manifestation. For this reason, brahma grunthi is associated with density, sometimes also stuckness, darkness, lack of motivation or apathy. The first and second chakras are associated with our survival and creative (including procreative) instincts. When then these condense, tradition says they become an obstacle to our evolution and kundalini cannot rise up the spine.
The practice of mula bandha helps to break through this concentration of energy, blast through any stuckness that might have condensed there and kundalini can continue its journey along the spine without being pulled back down by the attractions, self-limiting beliefs or the instinctual patterns of our personality.
Uddiyana bandha and Vishnu grunthi
The second knot, or grunthi, is called Vishnu grunthi and it lives between the third and fourth chakras. Whereas brahma grunthi is a concentration of tamasic energy and is associated with the energies of first and second chakras, Vishnu grunth is an excess of rajasic energy and is associated with the energies of the third and fourth chakras.
Respectively, the third and fourth chakras are associated with issues of personal power and connection and rajas is associated with qualities like passion, drive, activity, stimulation and movement.
The practice of uddiyana bandha helps us to break through this knot of excess energy, which frees us from the physical, mental and emotional attachments that keep us stuck in our ego. Our relationships, as well as our energy, becomes more universal in nature. We are no longer limited by our personal preferences or aversions. Having broken through this barrier, kundalini can continue its journey along the spine.
Jalandhara bandha and Rudra grunthi
Finally, there is rudra (sometimes referred to as ‘shiva’) grunthi. Associated with the fifth and sixth chakras, rudra grunthi is an excess of sattvic energy. Sattva is the quality of balance, harmony and contentment and while these qualities are certainly ones we want to cultivate, we can also become attached to them and for as long as we attach to feelings or experiences (pleasant or otherwise) in the material world, our spiritual progress will be hampered. Respectively the fifth and sixth chakras relate to creative expression, truth and intuitive or ‘higher’ knowledge.
The activation of jalandhara helps us pierce through rudra grunthi, dispersing the excess energy that can build in this place. When we do, we’re able to move beyond a worldview marked by concern with individuality and ego and evolve our experience in the direction of our cosmic potential. Beyond our identification with ‘I, me and my’ the full spectrum of experience awaits. It is at this point that kundalini can complete its journey up the spine and we can open into an experience of wholeness and unity.
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