Bandhas - what are they?
Diaphragms formed of connective tissue and the subtle body that function as portals through which energy can be moved and held, a sacred seal, within the Spine or other areas of the body where Bandhas naturally form.
Primary Yogic Bandhas of the Spine:
Mula Bandha ( Root)
Uddhiyana Bandha (Diaphragm/Gut)
Jalandhara Bandha (Throat)
Maha Bandha - Sacred Seal involving all 3 primary Bandhas.
In the YM Method we also recognise the use of Pada (feet) Bandha and Hasta (hands) Bandha, as well as what we call the Armpit, Elbow and Knee Bandhas.
Their design and use in the Yogic practices is to be able to seal off the lower root opening and the upper throat opening of the spine in order to contain the channeling of energy/prana within the central nadis of the subtle energy body in PranaYama. They prevent energy leaking out of the energy channels during practice.
In Hatha Yoga when you combine movement with breath, the bandhas are used to stabilise the spinal column and engage core strength for aligned and safe posture practice, channel the breath in central nadis to avoid leakage of prana/energy and hold the body in postures so that the energetic alchemy of the posture can be fully realised by the yogi.
They are also used in breath mastery and breath retention.
I hope it is clear to the reader by this time that we are speaking of rather advanced practices of Hatha Yoga. The beginner Hatha Yogi does not need to do all this to get started with their practice. With correct practice, all this happens, effortlessly. Though I am no master of the bandhas I have had many glimpses of the effortlessness of bandhas through my YM practice and through my students and prefer to wait for those moments in meditation to happen rather than create the happening through too much will.
How to practice with Bandhas
Anyone can get a sense of the Bandhas in their bodies and energetically it can be happening without us being aware of it in everyday activities or sports. It is easier to feel the bandhas when we are soft and relaxed in our physical tissue and can lengthen through the spine from root to throat/crown of the head. There is a correlation between the Bandha locations and some of the Chakra locations and it can be exciting and fun to explore the difference between the seals and the spinning wheels in those locations.
I do not recommend activating spinal bandha (through muscular conscious initiation) in your daily/regular practice until the alignment of the base of the spine and the spine itself is well balanced. This can happen spontaneously in movements where the balanced elongation of the spine is made possible. Then the bandhas naturally activate and can even show us where further gripping/tension is so we can become more aware of what is in the way of clear energy passage and begin to soften that. It can also show us where there are imbalances in the spine. That too is deep and useful information in connecting our Bodies and bringing ourselves to better balance.
It is also possible to add tension to the Bodies in forcing a bandha to be. This is the primary reason we advise preparation of the body before engaging bandhas. The preparations we make in the YM Method provide a path of practice that naturally leads to Bandha awareness in the practitioner with no stress or strain to the Bodies.
The primary way in which we engage with the Bandhas in the YM Method is by placing ourselves in the middle of ourselves, and reaching the spine into elongation and expansion through relaxation. We come into this through the daily sadhana and time and practice, releasing what is in the way of natural Bandha alignment and activation, as well as through specific vinyasa routines that create the space for Bandhas.
Where we actively work with the Bandhas are the hand and feet bandhas. These are a great beginners practice to experiencing these sacred energy portals and can literally lift our asana practice into lightness and ease.
The YM Approach to Bandhas in Advanced Practice
Asana being an energetic practice naturally clears the path for and engages the Bandhas through the different angles, bends, turns that each asana provides. I find that Hatha Yoga asanas, when held through the elongation of the spine and midline awareness - in other words when the Asana is held by the spines relationship to the limbs and/or connection to the floor - bandha naturally engages. Provided that we are relaxed and at ease in the posture and that the spine is being lengthened. In this approach we do not engage the Bandhas or provide a breath to then move into the posture.
The posture itself engages breath, bandha and the movement into and out of the posture. Your being moved. The benefit of this is that a lot of the gripping we would experience in trying to ‘do’ all the different steps of the asana are generously relaxed and we can experience the alignment and energetics of a posture even if we cannot, yet, hold it there for any relaxed length of time.
*This work is from Year 4 and upwards in the YM Sadhana Program. Even if you do not study the YM Method, I do provide courses/consultations on all Hatha Yogic subjects outside of the YM Sadhana to advanced practitioners, Yoga Teachers, Energy Workers of other Methods and Schools.
Anyone who is interested in these subjects are welcome to contact me for further explorations.
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