Picture from The Accidental Yogi, edited.
As an Ashtanga teacher, I start every class with my students at the very top of the mat, feet together, toes touching (if possible). Before we begin with our asana practice, I take a few minutes to queue the bhandas before we begin our session. The benefits of our bhandas or locks, are plenty in relation to the benefits that we can get out of our yoga practice. Here are some details about each bhanda.
1. Mula Bhanda (Root Lock)
We activate this bhanda by contracting our pelvic floor. This bhanda can’t be seen, the teacher will never know whether you do it or not, it’s something that only you will feel. It’s located near the reproductive organs, the perineum specifically, and there is an upward and inward feeling to this movement. This bhanda balances the energies in the navel, rectum and sex organs and “redirects excess sexual energy into creativity and bodily repair.” (Siri Datta, Open Your Heart with Kundalini Yoga, 72)
2. Uddiyana Bhanda (Diaphragm Lock)
In Ashtanga practice, we apply a much gentler form of the Uddiyana Bhanda by simply bringing the navel in and tucking the tailbone in, imagining the diaphragm pull. We do this in order to keep breathing and practicing. This full bhanda is different, to apply it, we breathe in, then breathe out completely, emptying the body of breath, bringing the abdomen in and up. Hold this position. As soon as you breathe in again, the lock will release. It’s important to never try this on a full stomach. This lock is near the heart and its benefits include stimulating “kindness, compassion and patience” as it opens up the Heart Chakra (Siri Datta, 72)
3. Jalandhara Bhanda (Neck Lock)
This bhanda is also used in Ashtanga to activate the Ujjayi breath. We pretend as if we’re breathing right through the throat, through the neck, mouth closed, keeping the nose just as an outlet for the actual breath. To apply this bhanda, keep a straight spine and neck, bring the head back, the chin slightly in and back as well. It’s used in many chanting meditations and pranayama exercises. It has many benefits including opening up the path between the torso and the head, allowing the energy to flow, increasing concentration and bringing our awareness inwards. It also “prevents undue changes in blood pressure, acts as a safety valve that regulates the pressure and gets rids of any dizziness. It stimulates and balances the thyroid and parathyroid glands.” (Sri Datta, 71)
4. Maha Bhanda (The Great Lock)
This is practiced when we apply all three bhandas, holding the breath out. It is believed that the body is then in its “perfect healing state. The glandular and nervous systems become revitalized and rejuvenated.” (Sri Datta, 73)