Energy locks in Yoga: Bandhas for beginners

Have you ever wondered what to do when a teacher asks to engage your mula bandha? Come along to our core and restore class and learn locks. Alternatively this post should help you find them in preparation for your next class.

I remember the feeling of disbelief as a beginner when my teachers told me I had to contract my butt muscles for the duration of my yoga practice. I spent many a class with my buttocks in spasm trying to achieve this ambitious goal.

Nowadays I have a far better understanding of this technique after studying under a diverse band of teachers. Here’s what I have learned.

“Bandha” literally means lock or seal and we have three of them in our body. Anatomically speaking, these three important neuromuscular locks regulate changes in the intra abdominal and intrathoracic pressures that affect abdominal and thoracic organs.
They provide support and stability in posture and help make your yoga practice safe. It will actually help improve your yoga practice if you engage these during your class. You will learn to glide in and out of postures and increase stability whilst holding positions for longer.

In addition Bandhas strengthens your respiratory system by improving lung function, as the width of your chest increases and a greater breath capacity is produced. This helps develop all the significant parts of the lungs equally, without creating harmful tension.

On an energetic level these internal energy locks direct the Prana, or life force up the spine rather than allow it to escape downwards as it normally would. This helps your yoga practice elicit that sense of bliss and regeneration we all look forward to.

Mula Bandha

This is known as the root lock and helps stabilise your pelvis and strengthen your pelvic floor. It also stops energy escaping downwards and helps send it upwards. It’s not about contracting your anus and clenching your buttocks. It’s more of a central lift. If you are a man, contract the area between the anus and the testes. If you are a woman, contract the muscles at the bottom of the pelvic floor, behind the cervix (as if you were gripping onto someone during sex…).

Try and keep your butt relaxed. Initially you will clench but just keep reminding yourself to let it go.

Trying to do this for an hour and a quarter practice is pretty damn hard. So start with the out breath. Eventually after significant  practice it will become increasingly natural to keep it working for the whole class.

Uddiyana Bandha

This bandha known as the flying lock gives an upward moving to your energy and makes for an increasingly fluid and lighter practice. To engage this lock you simply imagine you are trying to put a pair of jeans on that are too tight and you have to suck in your belly to squeeze into them.

Here’s a tip: stand with your feet hip distance apart and inhale deeply. As you exhale, bend forward placing your straight hands onto your knees, drawing you tummy muscles in the direction of your spine. You should feel your diaphragm working hard and muscles engaging across your back.

This lock can have the most transformative effect on your practice, giving energy and strength to jumps and allowing you float back and forth into postures.
Once again for beginners engaging on the out breath is the best way to start.

Jalandhara Bandha

This is the throat lock which is normally performed during breathing exercises. The only time you really want to display a double chin. This Is rarely done in isolation unlike the previous locks. Its intention is to keep energy flowing further up the body and maintain all the prana in your torso. It is also excellent for keeping your mind calm.

In a seating position, rather than just bend your head forwards, inhale deeply and on the exhalation, move your chin in the direction of your neck. Keep your chest bone lifted and breath. If you want to deepen it, try and bring your head back a little further while keeping your chin tucked into your neck.

Try it now if no-one is looking and see how calm you feel after a few breaths.

So that’s your basics. Get engaging during your classes and see how to work bandhas with your core at Paula’s core and restore workshops.

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