Ever hear your yoga teacher tell you to "engage your bandhas"—and wonder what on earth that instructor was talking about? Bandhas in yoga are energetic locks that, when utilized properly, are believed to keep your prana (energy or life force) inside your body. There are three main bandhas: mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha.
1. Mula bandha is the "root lock" and aids in grounding. Generally located in the perineum, this lock is often recommended to be held throughout an entire asana practice, as it is thought to keep all of your prana inside, preventing it from leaking down and out.
Mula bandha stimulates digestion, the endocrine system, and the pelvic nerves. It is said to relieve mild depression and promote rapid energy growth. To access this lock, kneel with your eyes closed. Focus your attention on your perineum. Take a big inhale, and at the top, retain your breath, lengthen your tailbone down, contract the muscles of the perineum, those that you would use if you had to pee, and the lower belly. Hold this for 5 seconds, and then gently release. Practice mula bandha at the breath retention at the top of the inhale.
2. Uddiyana bandha is the upward flying lock. Generally located in the abdomen, this bandha is said to stimulate, retain, and lift your prana. Commonly used in inversions and standing poses, this lock gives you more lift, making "taking flight" in inversions and arm balances easier. Uddiyana bandha improves digestion, increases circulation, and massages internal organs.
To access this lock, stand with your feet just wider than hip-width apart. Bend your knees and allow your palms to rest on your thighs. Take a big inhale, opening your chest. Exhale out your mouth and arch your spine like cow pose and release all of the air out. Close your mouth, and instead of inhaling, retain your breath, round your spine like cat, and engage your navel to your spine. Flare your ribs out in the action of "mock inhaling" (without actually taking air in) and hollow the belly. Retain your breath here for 10 to 15 seconds and then release.
3. Jalandhara bandha is known as the destroyer of old age, a yoga fountain of youth, and translated as "net bearer bond," but is more commonly referred to as the throat lock. Generally located in the neck, this lock is responsible for preventing prana from leaking out of the torso through the throat.
Jalandhara bandha protects the neck. It is also thought to protect the inner ear, brain, and eyes from the pressure created by breath retention. To access this lock, sit comfortably and close your eyes. Lift your sternum and drop your chin lightly, lifting through the top back of your skull as if someone had a string on the back of your neck and was lifting you up. Lengthen through the back of your neck and keep your shoulders down your back.
After practicing for quite some time and getting comfortable with them, for maximum bandha benefit and prana retention try taking all three, referred to as maha bandha: first mula, then uddiyana, then jalandhara. To release, reverse the order.