Why So Locked Up? A Quick and Dirty Look at the Bandhas in Yoga

Zainab Zakari
Why So Locked Up? A Quick and Dirty Look at the Bandhas in Yoga

In my first Ashtanga classes years ago, my instructor kept talking about ‘accessing the bandhas’ throughout the hour and half long practice. At the time I thought it was yoga mumbo jumbo, and I just ignored it.

But, as one might guess, after developing a regular practice, I figured out what he was talking about—and it wasn’t just mumbo jumbo.

In Hatha Yoga, bandhas are often defined as energy “locks” or “bonds” that help regulate the flow of prana or “life force” in one’s body. In more layman’s terms, they influence energy and breath flow. You can tap into the bandhas using the breath and specific movements or poses.

There are several bandhas, but three are mentioned most often, which I’ll talk about here quick and dirty-style.

1. Mulabandha, the Root Lock

When accessed, this lock can help ground and stabilize while you’re seated or moving.

Physically it’s located near the base of the pelvis, the perineum, and can be accessed with actions like Keigel exercises for women, or the contraction you might feel by trying to hold it in during a long car ride with no bathroom in sight.

2. Uddiyana Bandha, the Flying Lock

For the arm balance enthusiasts, this lock is one of your best friends. As a source of liftoff and lightness, this bandha helps in transitions and movements like jumpthroughs and jumpbacks, as well as moving into inversions smoothly like you floated up there.

It’s located near the navel and upper abdomen, just below the rib cage. Specific breath techniques can tap into Uddiyana Bandha, which should be done with the guidance of an experienced teacher.

3. Jalandhara Bandha, the Chin Lock

This isn’t as frequently accessed as the other two in the movement practices, but it does come up more in pranayama or breathwork. Just as the name might suggest, this involves dropping your chin to your chest to constrict air flow for a prescribed amount of time.

One important note: Before you start to experiment with techniques to tap into the bandhas, do enlist the help of a qualified teacher to guide you and answer any questions you might have. Also feel free to check out other resources to learn more about these locks.

Among my current picks: Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar & Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual by David Swenson.

With the bandhas, we’re tapping into the more subtle aspects of a yoga practice. It may still feel like mumbo jumbo now, yet with time, practice, and more inquiry, they can become powerful tools to add to your practice.