One of the main aims of yoga is the create energy within the body and aura and direct the flow of life in conscious ways. We are able to expand our energy of life force in both quality and quantity. Healthy meridian flow keeps our bodies running on this energy smoothly. Our bodies develop a state of harmony and from this place our meditation practice becomes deeper and we are able to experience the light of the soul. The bandhas or locks are applied to the body to direct the flow of prana and apana. Prana is a flow of energy into the body and apana is the flow of energy out for cleansing. When these forces are in balance within our body, we achieve a heightened state of balance and neutrality. As such, the yoga bandhas are important tools for health, wholeness and self-mastery.
Prana and apana flow through the sushmuna, which is the central energy channel which runs up the spine, and is the same path the Kundalini energy, which lies at the base of our spine, takes on its trek to the Crown Chakra or Tenth Gate. Risen Kundalini energy creates a feeling of blissfulness and heightened intuition. In Kundalini yoga, we apply bandha or body locks during kriya in specific ways to move the flow of Kundalini energy up our spine in a controlled and precise fashion.
Body locks also serve to preserve proper alignment and assist the body in protection of the spine during challenges postures or asana.
There are 4 Bandhas or Body Locks which direct energy and they are described here in very basic terms. Much can be said about each bandha, and if you have questions, consult a qualified yoga teacher.
Root Lock – Mulbandh
A somewhat complex lock, the root lock balances the energies of the rectum, sex organs and Navel Point. It helps correct imbalances of sexual energy, whether too much or too little. It’s key purpose to balance the prana and apana energies in the Navel center. It also stimulates the proper flow of spinal fluid, protecting the spine during yoga asana.
To apply root lock:
Contract the muscles of the anus, then tighten the muscles of the sex organ, which will feel like a slight lift and rotation back of the pelvic bones. The tailbone will curve towards the floor. Then contract the muscles of the lower abdomen (below and including the Navel Point) back towards the spine. Do these three actions in a smooth, rapid succession. Breath may be in or out. Do not apply Mul Bandh if you are pregnant or on the first day of your menstrual cycle.
Diaphragm Lock – Uddiyana Bandh
A more advanced bandh, this body lock raises the energy up the abdomen, massaging the intestines and the heart muscles. It crosses the mid-body barrier, which is an energetic place above which actions are more conscious and below which actions are more unconscious. It is an important emotional integration tool and allows circulation to the sushmuna, in addition to cleansing the body. When applied it stretches the muscles between the ribs so that the entire rib cage can expand. As you pull the lock, the solar plexus is engaged and it strengthens the fire element and opens the heart chakra.
To apply diaphragm lock:
Make sure you are not pregnant, menstruating, or full from eating. This breath is only applied with the breath fulled exhaled and held out. Inhale deeply, then exhale fully and pull the diaphragm up and back towards the spine. Although you don’t directly engage the Navel Center, it will shift as the muscles of the diaphragm move. Keep the chest lifted and hold for 10-60 seconds based on your endurance and only hold as long as you are not straining, but are still able to hold the body in equilibrium. When finished relax the abdomen and exhale.
Neck Lock – Jalandhar Bandh
This is a basic lock and very commonly applied. As a general rule, Jalandhar Bandh is applied while chanting or doing pranayama. It assists good posture of the spine while sitting in meditation. It can act as a safety valve, regulating blood pressure to avoid sudden shifts that can occur while doing kriyas and other strenuous movement. It also, when properly applied, prevents dizziness that may result from a practice. It allows the energy to flow up to the base of the brain unobstructed.
To apply neck lock:
Sit comfortably with a straight spine and lift the chest and sternum upwards. Stretch the back of the neck up, bringing the chin slightly to the back of the neck. Don’t tilt your head down or to the side, simply balance the head and keep it centered. Relax your shoulders and upper back. The neck lock should not be forced, constrict your breath or otherwise be uncomfortable. Don’t strain!
Master Lock – Mahabandh
This is an application of all three locks above at the same time, holding the breath out. It is generally practiced after pranayama and other exercise and may be combined with other postures and mudras. With all of the locks applied, the body is in a perfect healing state. It is said to rejuvenate the body and its mastery can cure blood pressure problems, menstrual cramps, poor circulation and other ailments. The glands, nerves and chakras are all restored.
To apply Master Lock:
Apply Mul Bandh. Apply Uddiyana Bandh. Apply Jalandhar Bandh.