Lift Your Energy
This gentle way of accessing the six bandhas (energetic locks) during your practice will help you experience more freedom in your body and bliss in your life.
Learn the subtle skills required to engage your bandhas, and feel lighter, more stable, and more secure.
THE GOAL OF WORKING WITH the bandhas is to learn to control—and seal— prana (life energy) within the central energy channel that yogis believe runs along your spine. As prana flows freely along this channel, called sushumna nadi, it brings stability and lightness to your physical body and helps dissolve emotional blockages in your chakras (energy centers along sushumna nadi)— balancing your body, mind, and spirit.
Each bandha acts as an energetic lock, or valve. Similar to the way that a valve on a bicycle tire lets air in while also keeping it from escaping, your three main bandhas direct energy and keep it contained in sushumna nadi. Mula Bandha (Root Lock), associated with the pelvic floor, pushes energy up toward your navel while also preventing too much of it from leaking out; Uddiyana Bandha, associated with your core, moves energy farther up; and Jalandhara Bandha, located at the throat, pushes energy down and prevents too much energy from escaping. When upward ( prana vayu) and downward ( apana vayu) energies meet at your navel and you activate Uddiyana, it’s like two sticks being rubbed together to create purifying heat and awaken prana (also called Kundalini), said to lie dormant at the base of the spine.
Traditionally, the bandhas were practiced during pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), and muscles associated with each bandha region were held intensely during breath retention. But in the past 20 years, there’s been a shift toward teaching the bandhas during asana, and with less intensity.
The way that I now feel and apply the bandhas to my own asana practice has evolved from using force, and gripping in my body, to exploring them from a place of release and softness. I used to clench my pelvic floor and engage my lower abdominals a bit too aggressively. This never felt quite right, and at times immobilized my body and breath.
After a particularly enlightening meditation retreat, it occurred to me that the purpose of working with the bandhas is to awaken the same consciousness that you do in meditation—and you gain entry to this experience by inviting softness, never by force. Our whole yoga practice, including the bandhas, is a collection of techniques for observing what arises in the present moment without gripping or rejecting. It is a direct experience of awareness. My approach to the bandhas is to release any tension held around the edges of each bandha area so that I feel a gentle, spontaneous rise of prana.
When I watch my students practice the bandhas this way, I see more fluidity in their movement and more openness in each pose. I’ve also noticed that if I overdo it in a pose (trying to sink too deep in Pigeon Pose, for example) I lose the feeling of energy in my central channel, so my bandha work acts as a safeguard against poor alignment and injury. Try it for yourself with this practice, designed to help you feel more energetically balanced.