This is a continuation of the article: introduction to bandha
How to do jalandhara bandha
There are two ways the word jalandhara can be interpreted. The first is through the translation of jalan as ‘net’ and dhara as ‘stream or flow’. In this way, the practice is thought control the flow of energy in the nadis (subtle-energetic pathways) in the neck (as well as their associated nerves and blood vessels).
The other interpretation rests on the root word jal, which means ‘water’. By this measure, jalandhara bandha refers to the locking mechanism that catches the nectar of amrita (the nectar of immortality that flows down from bindhu) in the throat, stopping it from falling into the digestive fire of manipura chakra and ensuring that its energy is preserved.
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Jalandhara bandha can be engaged, quite simply, by lowering the chin and lengthening the back of the neck. It can also be combined with breath work in the following way:
Inhale fully, hold the breath in and while the breath is retained, engage jalandhara bandha. When it is time to exhale, first release jalandhara bandha and then exhale fully. Do not breath in or out while jalandhara bandha is engaged. Repeat as many times as is comfortable for you.
By working in this way, it is possible to create a lock in the throat that allows you to build energy in the chest without it rising into the head, busying the mind.
As a stand-alone practice, focus your awareness on the throat pit and any sensations that arise as the result of holding the breath in. You can also take as your spiritual focus, vishuddhi chakra (fifth chakra).
If you have high blood pressure or heart issues do not practice using breath retentions.
Jalandhara bandha is typically the first bandha taught. Comparatively speaking its effects are gentle and, in fact, the gentle application of jalandhara bandha during asana practice has the benefit of netting energy within the trunk so that it doesn’t rise into the head and busy the mind. The practice gives rise to a feeling of mental relaxation and a decrease in our experience of stress, making the ‘turning inward’ of awareness during meditation possible.
How to do mula bandha
The Sanskrit word, mula means ‘root or cause’. In the context of the practice of mula bandha, it relates to the root or base of the spine - the perineum - where muladhara chakra is located and where kundalini (in its dormant state) resides before it begins its journey up the spine.
When beginning your practice of mula bandha, start in a seated position like siddhasana or siddha yoni asana so that you can apply pressure to the pelvic floor at the point between the gentials and anus using your right heel (that is, place your heel against the muscles you use when you need to go the toilet but have to halt the flow). It is those same muscles that you contract and then lift to engage mula bandha. Begin by engaging and releasing them until you can do so with ease.
When you feel established in this practice, add a hold. That is, contract and then lift the pelvic floor muscles and hold the contraction. Ensure that you’re contracting only those muscles associated with mula bandha and that the rest of the body is relaxed. Initially the anal and urinary sphincter muscles will also contract but in time you’ll be able to isolate the movement more specifically. Repeat several more times, ensuring full contraction and also maximum relaxation between rounds.
Once you’ve mastered this you can combine it with the practice of jalandhara bandha and also internal breath retention. Do this by taking a deep breath in. Then, holding the breath in, engage jalandhara bandha. Also engage mula bandha and hold the contraction firmly, but without strain. When you need to exhale, first release mula bandha, then jalandhara bandha, then breathe out. Repeat the practice another nine times.
You can also do this practice using an exhale retention instead. From a practical perspective, engaging mula bandha during the exhale retention will calm the mind and ground your awareness in the body whereas engaging mula bandha during the inhale retention will blast through brahma grunthi and allow that freed energy to rise up the spine. Mula bandha with the inhale retention is more of an activating, kundalini-style practice.
When holding mula bandha focus your awareness at the perineum, contemplating the qualities of muladhara chakra.
Mula bandha is a practice that can also be used to sublimate sexual energy (brahmacharya).
How to do uddiyana bandha
The word uddiyana means ‘to rise, or fly, upward’. As the diaphragm lifts into the chest cavity during the practice, it pulls, or lifts, prana upwards into the heart so the energy can continue its journey towards sahasrara chakra.
Begin in a comfortable seated position with the palms flat on the thighs or knees. Close your eyes and relax.
Inhale deeply, then exhale fully (and even forcefully). Hold the breath out. With the breath held out, lean forward allowing the spine to become longer. Engage jalandhara bandha then draw the navel all the way in and then up as you straighten the arms. It can take a little bit of practice to ‘find’ uddiyana bandha, but you’ll know when you have because the belly will be completely hollow and it will have a very particular (slightly unusual) feeling to it.
Hold uddiyana bandha (with the breath held out) for as long as you can, then release the belly muscles, soften the arms and take a deep breath into the chest. Raise your head and find a neutral seated position. Remain here until the breathing returns to normal and you are ready to take another round.
Uddiayana bandha should only be performed with the breath held out. Start with three rounds and work your way to 10 rounds.
Focus your attention on the abdomen and the qualities of manipura chakra.
This is an advanced technique, with strong pranic effects, and should only be introduced once you are comfortable with both inhale and exhale retentions and jalandhara and mula bandhas.
If you are pregnant (or during your menstrual cycle) substitute mula bandha in place of uddiyana bandha.
Practice on an empty stomach.
How to do maha bandha
Maha bandha is ‘the great lock’, made by combining the other three bandhas.
Begin in siddhasana (or siddha yoni asana) or another comfortable cross-legged seated position. The spine should be upright and the chin level. Close the eyes and relax the body.
Inhale fully, then exhale fully (even forcefully) through the nose. Hold the breath out and with the breath held out, engage jalandhara bandha, then also mula and uddiyana bandhas. Hold this for as long as you comfortably can (without straining) then release the bandhas. Take a deep, slow, breath in.
This is one round. When the breath has returned to normal, begin the next round.
Do not begin practicing maha bandha until the other three bandhas have been mastered first.
Do not practice maha bandha while pregnant.