The bandhas – Mula bandha and Uddiyana bandha*
Bandha allows energy to flow. This is technically something very subtle. Therefore physical action and muscle contraction are only a small part of bandha. Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha are the two most important bandhas in Ashtanga Yoga.
In Sanskrit bandha means to lock, to hold, or to tighten. It also refers to a lock in and of itself. There are 3 principle bandhas in the body, and a fourth that ties them all together. The ancient yogi philosophers said that when you master the locks, you master the yoga practice, the practice on the outside - floating in and out of asanas, holding for long periods of time, and managing new positions – and the practice on the inside – consistent single pointed concentration, steady and long breath, and a calm, clear mind. And in a straight-up modern, western sense, the bandhas help you regulate and control all your internal systems, hormonal, sexual, metabolic, digestive, and more.
Note: bandhas should not be practiced while pregnant.
Mula bandha – root lock
Mula Bandha is introduced with the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. Imagine that you urgently need the toilet, but there isn’t one around, you’re probably already using Mula Bandha. Or else, for the ladies: you are in white shorts walking through the park and you get your period a day early. The muscles you instinctually contract to pull up and hold in what is dying to flood out can be generally considered Mula Bandha, or at least the Mula Bandha region.
Activate this Mula Bandha at the end of an exhalation, as the inhalation starts. Draw the pelvic floor in and up. In advanced yoga practices Mula Bandha should be held throughout the entire yoga practice. There are countless reasons why trying to hold Mula Bandha is beneficial, but quite simply think of it as the lock that allows your energy to flow up, not down and out. In a more physiological sense, Mula Bandha stimulates the pelvic nerves, the genital system, the endocrine system, and the excretory system. It has also been shown to relieve constipation and depression.
You achieve Uddiyana Bandha, by gently drawing the stomach inwards. At the end of an exhalation, when the need to inhale begins, imagine a golden thread that is attached two fingers width under the navel that is pulling in and up. From and anatomical viewpoint, the transverse abdominal muscles will be lightly activated.
Uddiyana Bandha can be one of the most transformative aspects of your yoga practice, especially as you get more advanced. It moves the energy upwards with much more force than Mula Bandha, thus allowing you to invert and jump more easily, as well as float forward and back more lightly, and twist more deeply. Because the abdominal wall is pressing the organs and tissues of the abdominal cavity backwards, Uddiyana Bandha creates a soft massage for the deeper internal muscles of the lower back.
In a more day-to-day sense, Uddiyana Bandha is the ultimate remedy for abdominal and stomach ailments, from constipation to indigestion. It stimulates your digestive juices, thus increasing your metabolism, and tones your overworked abdominal organs. It also balances the adrenal system, relieving stress, lethargy and tension. And best of all, it is the sure fire way to get flat washboard abs without ever doing any crunches.
Mula Bandha is linked to exhalation, Uddiyana Bandha to inhalation. Both bandhas remain continuously activated throughout the whole practise. To begin with this is very difficult and you will keep noticing that you’ve forgotten the bandhas. See this though as a success as you have reminded yourself. With practise you’ll remind yourself about bandhas time and time again, until it will become a constant companion to your practise.
Energetically, the bandhas create two opposing forces like the poles of a battery, between which energy can flow. Mula Bandha draws energy towards the lower end of the spine, into the Muladhara Chakra; it stands for the element Earth. Mula Bandha connects you with this earthed energy, giving you firmness and stability. Uddiyana Bandha literally means „flying up“. Uddiyana Bandha draws Prana (energy) out of its foundation, the Muladhara Chakra, up through the spinal column. Uddiyana Bandha connects you with the element air, the energy of the Anahata Chakra in the middle of the ribcage. Uddiyana Bandha gives lightness, helping you to overcome the force of gravity.
The practise of Ashtanga Yoga symbolises the dance of opposites that the world make up. If the forces of opposition in you are in balance, then you will find yourself in internal harmony and bodily health.
Text by: Deddou Burkhard