I get more requests to talk about Bandhas than any other yoga talks. I understand why, they are a bit elusive and mostly spoken about in esoteric languages. I have written much longer articles about them, which I will include links to.
Here is a brief description of these little movers and the power they give our immunity, digestion, nervous system, and circulation.
Bandhas as a bridge
Bandha means to lock, tie, bond together. I picture them as a bridge; a bridge from the physical muscles and bones in your practice to the inner workings of our body.
As we are able to tune it to what is going on in our own bodies, this in turn increases our awareness to others and the universe going on around us. I like to call this awareness mind bandhas 🙂
Bandhas and your PNS
When you read about bandhas in the yogic texts they are spoken of in a lore esoteric language. This is due to their effect on our nervous system making us parasympathetic dominant; the calming side of your nervous system is called the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Both mula and uddiyana bandha put pressure on nerves to our parasympathetic nervous system which stimulates it and strengthens it.
- Mula bandha puts pressure on the pelvic splanchic nerve —which is the PNS nerve connected to our external anal sphincter, it’s job is to relaxe us for going to the bathroom and sexual functions; none of these happen when you are stressed ….
- Uddiyana bandha puts pressure on our vagus nerve, which is calming and balancing to our nervous system.
When we are in the calming side of our nervous system healing occurs, digestion is stronger, and our immune system has energy to fight pathogens. This is why we have all the esoteric talk about bandhas and their effect on our body.
Bandhas are little movers
Bandhas move energy … I know more esoteric talk, lets make it not so esoteric. Moving energy means blood flow (particularly venous blood getting back to the heart), neurons communicating, lymphatic fluid moving through the lymph vessels transporting toxins to the nodes where they are ameliorated, and hormones secreting.
The mild pressure the bandhas put on our abdomen help move all these fluids in our body keeping us healthier.
Bandhas give us lightness and ease of movements
When we engage with our bandhas; those little muscular contractions in our pelvis and abdomen we are kind of picking ourselves up from the inside. Our body is not such a dead weight for our arms and legs to carry around, suddenly movement is easier not only do you run up the steps feeling light and energetic it is also easier to pick yourself up in a vinyasa or sun salute. Just try movement with the core support of your bandhas, it may be an eyeopening experience to feel the lightness and ease of movement this gives you which motivates you to move more throughout your day.
Bandhas, How to Employ?
I have heard many descriptions of how to engage your bandhas and most of them I don’t agree with.
While I no longer like to reference Pattabhi Jois I will still give him some credit … Pattabhi Jois explained mula bandha as “squeeze your anus”. When I researched in the yogic books, science literature, and anatomy and physiology text books -his description is the most correct due to mula bandhas effect on the nervous system; squeezing your anus puts pressure on the pelvic splanchnic nerve which helps de-stress you as I explained earlier. So squeeze your anus — gently, subtly, and mostly constantly … its that simple.
Uddiyana puts pressure on the vagus nerve right at the top of our abdomen where it attaches to the upper colon. This is easily done every time you take a deep exhale. Take a deep exhale now and feel the inner upper lift of your upper abdomen putting pressure on your vagus nerve. Now soften the effort a bit, using your exhale to connect with your uddiyana bandha lift, hold that subtle lift as you inhale. See if you can take several breaths holding the lift and feel how your breath will expand your rib cage instead of your belly.
Connecting with the bandhas gives you power! Many ancient traditions the world over recognize our core abdomen as the point of power in the body; for good reason! This is where most of our immune system functions, digestion occurs, and neurons flow. The Chinese call this center chi or Qi, the Japanese call it Ki, Egyptians call it Ka, and the Hawaiians call this center Ha. Connect to your bandhas and feel the power in your life.
Pulling together Bandhas with Breath
On a physical level, Connecting with your bandhas requires more mental effort than physical effort, although the body will understand it much sooner than the mind will! It many take years to develop— still begin the process early in your practice.
They are a subtle, constant lift — in the beginning we tend to squeeze too much — or not at all . . .
Connecting our bandhas to our breath helps us feel the bandhas from the inside — instead of using too much external muscular effort. Here is a nice short meditation to connect your bandhas to your breath:
- Sit with a relaxed abdomen, eyes closed, tongue on the roof of your mouth. Inhaling and exhaling both through your nose only, and keeping your abdomen relaxed; feel your abdomen expand with each inhale and relax inward on your exhales. Feel this in your body for a few breaths.
- Start to become more active with your exhale; as you exhale follow the natural inward upward movement with your abdominals tucking up in under your rib cage. As you become more active in your breathing process you will get a deeper exhale that is just a little quicker as the lifting of the bandhas pushes the air out a little quicker. Relax on your inhales and let your belly drop. Sit with this breath for a few breaths.
- Now becoming more active with both the inhales and exhales; as you exhale connect with the inward upward lift–HOLD that inward upward lift and inhale. As you inhale instead of you abdomen expanding your lower ribs will expand instead. Feel this expansion in your back ribs, side ribs, as well as your front ribs. Sit with this breath for a bit.
- Taking it just a little deeper, with your inhale perform the anal squeeze/mula lift, gently hold that lift as you exhale into your uddiyana bandha. Try to gently hold both bandhas steadily as you breathe. Inhales moving from the root of your spine to your heart. Exhales connecting with the inward upward lift under the ribs. Feel your breath moving up and down your spine, feel your breath moving in your body.
Pulling together your breathing and bandhas fills your body with prana — like a form of oxygen, prana is your energy; a yogic energy that helps you feel awake and alive and energetic. Prana is intelligence at a cellular level (oxygenating our cells!), intelligence is called buddhi in Sanskrit, which comes from the root “bud,” which means to wake up, and so it is the energy of waking up.