Unlocking Ashtanga Yoga: How to Find your Bandhas

As we go through our yoga practice, we hear a lot about bandhas.

We start to have something of an idea of what they are—-these physical and energetic locks that we’re meant to hold throughout our practice. Still, they’re ruddy difficult and knowing how to find your bandhas in the first place can take some experimentation.

Sometimes, you keep hearing the same sorts of phrases describing the ideal experience  but it doesn’t quite click. (Tighten the pelvic floor, anyone?) All it takes is for somebody to say the same thing in a different way and all of a sudden, you have the experience of understanding.

Here are all those little nuggets of gold that have helped me find that physical click of understanding, deepening my practice exponentially.

I practice Ashtanga Yoga, where the bandhas and breath control are most central. Please note—these tips assume some familiarity of yoga practice, postures and your own body. Also, these research poses should be practiced under the guidance of a competent teacher though can be considered as research and training. In any case, I hope this helps you figure out how to find your bandhas—let me know in the comments!

Mula Bandha

Mula Banda is the pelvic floor lock, ground the upward-facing prone down, giving you stability and connection to the earth.

Through breath awareness

This is the most straightforward: find a comfortable seated position with your back straight and hips higher than your knees. Inhale fully, exhale fully. Keeping the breath out, pay attention to your pelvic floor. It naturally contracts at the end of the exhale. Feel that, hold it and then continue to keep that lift when you inhale.

Sphinx

Get into sphinx pose. With your elbows and forearms pressing against the floor, notice that your pubic bone is against the floor and can’t move anywhere. Keeping that awareness, tuck the tailbone in towards the pubic bone. With the pubic bone and tail bone tucked towards each other, the pelvic floor naturally contracts, mula bandha is activated and your pelvis is stabilised.

Understanding mula bandha in this way is also a great way to explore its place in other asanas. Particularly in Trikonasana A. See if you can move the pubic and pelvic bones towards each other to activate mula bandha.

Shoulderstand

In shoulderstand, lift the inner line of the legs. Make sure the legs are relatively straight up, not tilting over your head. Then, experiment with relaxing the buttocks. What can happen is that as you relax the buttocks, the pelvic floor has to contract in order to keep those legs pointing up. In the inversion you can then feel what mula bandha feels like and take that feeling into other poses in your practice.

Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana Bandha is the abdominal lock, pulling the downward-facing apana up, making you feel lifted, bright and energised.

It’s also a major reason to practice yoga on an empty stomach!

Through simulating the inhale.

This is once again the most straightforward. It can be done in a comfortable seated position or in Tadasana bent over with your hands on your knees.

Inhale fully, exhale fully. Keeping the breath out, make the action of breathing in without actually breathing in. This changes the shape of the thoracic cavity, creating uddiyana bandha. Then, hold that position and breath in using your diaphragm.

Through breath awareness.

Lie comfortably on your back and do some conscious breathing. Put one hand on your belly and feel the belly rise with each breath. Then, feel how once the belly rises the breath expands the middle and upper chest as well as the sides. This is three-part diaphragmatic breathing.

Keeping the same slow and deep diaphragmatic breathing gently roll over onto your stomach. Because you’re lying on your belly, your stomach can’t actually push into the ground and rise. The belly is blocked yet you are still breathing deeply into the belly. Instead, the breath goes more up into the chest and expands the sides of the ribcage. This is the feeling you want to have throughout your yoga practice.

The important click you need to feel here is that you are contracting the abdomen but you should still be able to breath into your belly. It takes some feeling around for what all the different abdominal muscles do.

I’ve not mentioned Jalandhara Bandha, the chin lock, or Maha Bandha, the great lock, of all three combined. If you’re looking for more resources, BKS Iyengar has a clear and concise explanation in Light on Pranayama.

Of course, the bandhas are first and foremost energetic locks to move the prana and apana around.

In this sense they are not only physical contractions of the muscles. As we begin with the physical, these are experiments in body awareness that you can use in your yoga practice.

Do you have any other tips and tricks for fine-tuning our subtle awareness of the bandhas?

Courtesy of Shaz Jameson

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