Bandhas—you hear about them in yoga class…and you’re told they can make your practice easier, give you that sensation of floating through your practice, ya-dah, ya-dah—but do you REALLY know what they are?
Well, you’re not alone.
In our recent survey we received more requests from our community for a bandha training than anything else!
What we’ve noticed is that students and teachers may have heard about the bandhas, but most haven’t really grokked them.
It’s common for us to hear feedback that bandhas are a vague concept. Or that the information out there is too esoteric or even contradictory to be useful to the average yoga practitioner or teacher.
Not knowing how to find mula (sometimes spelled moola), uddiyana and jalandhara bandha, how to apply them, when to use them, what they’re useful for and if there are any times you wouldn’t want to use them, are all comments we hear when we conduct our workshops and teacher training programs.
Further confusing things, uddiyana bandha is also often misconstrued as having strong abs.
(By the way, you can get strong abdominal muscles as a byproduct of using uddiyana bandha, but it’s not the same as “six-pack abs.”)
So why bother trying to master this aspect of your practice?
My first experience of the bandhas goes back to the late 80s when I was introduced to Kripalu yoga and to the practice of pranayama.
At that time, the bandhas were introduced to me as a way to direct the energy stimulated during pranayama upwards and to simultaneously unlock mental and pranic levels of our being.
From that I felt them on a superficial level and did my best to use them based on my understanding at that time. Occasionally I could feel (or thought I could) the effects of the bandhas and a sense of rising energy as I went deeper into my pranayama practice.
In early 2000 along came Ashtanga yoga into my life. Rupali introduced this style of yoga in her morning classes at our then-studio, Yoga Hawaii, and people loved it…including me!
Once I started practicing Ashtanga the bandhas became a daily part of my asana practice and over the years my understanding has grown and changed and continues to develop and affect my pranayama and asana practices.
What transformed (and continues to) my understanding and practice of the bandhas was largely due to focus.
By using them as a focal point in my asana practice I was able to really feel them, not only the physical level, but energetically. As the old saying goes, “what you focus on expands.”
That’s true even in this case.
When I really gave attention to drawing the inbreath up from the joining of mula and uddiyana bandha and allowing all my vinyasas and asanas to expand out of this area, my practice transformed. It became less work—less physical and much more energetic.
So if that’s one tip I can give you today, start playing with that aspect: take every breath during your practice from the depths of mula bandha and connect it up to uddiyana bandha, in every pose. That one thing can transform your practice.
(And if that instruction makes you scratch your head, keep reading. You’ll want check out the interview link below.)
Years ago one of my Ashtanga teachers, Nancy Gilgoff, told me that about every five years she gets a new realization about the bandhas, and thinks to herself, “Oh, this is what the bandhas are!”
Then another five years later she’ll again think, “Oh, NOW I understand the bandhas.”
What she’s expressing is that over the years you gain a deeper understanding of this aspect of yoga. Your understanding and practice of the bandhas shifts and deepens over time.
And this has been true for me in my practice.
The layers of this practice unfold over time…on physical, energetic and psychic levels.
I love sharing my experience and insights about the bandhas with students. It’s one of the deeper practices in yoga that is transformational and often overlooked, mostly due to confusion and/or lack of knowledge.
We’d love to hear about YOUR experience with the bandhas…do you feel in touch with them in YOUR practice? Leave us a comment below!