-BREATH & BANDHA: SEAL, SHIFT AND SENSE-
There are many fine layers and interesting pathways to yoga that go way beyond the form of the asana and start to reveal themselves to the student over time. With persistence and regularity in practice you may come to realise that there is both an inner and outer form and function to the posture- that positioning the body into specific shapes creates an energetic alignment that opens the gates release to that which is stuck creating inner flow and offers support to that which needs strengthening and energising. Infusing these asanas with your heartfelt intention to be present, having your awareness in the sutra of the breath and opening to a state of relaxation ( not trying to be anywhere other than where you are) create a profound shift in our relationship to and experience of yoga. This is part of the process of deepening your connection to your physical, energetic, emotional, mental and consciousness/heart bodies ( layers of being or kosha’s).
In a yoga class as well as being instructed in breath and asana you may hear reference to three main bandha’s - mostly moola, uddiyana or jalahara bandhas. Bandhas are a small but important group of yoga practices that are an essential part of kriya yoga where they are combined with other techniques to powerful effect. Sometimes they get explained and sometimes they don’t- this is something I feel really passionate about ! Abstract or confusing notions going unexplained without being given the space to be felt and experienced have there potential to be a huge distraction that will get you thinking instead of feeling. The following information and perspective disclosed here is based on a couple of workshops I held on ‘Breath and Bandha’.
Bandhas can be considered the intelligence of a yoga practice. The three bandhas or "locks" are called: Mula Bandha Uddiyana Bandha Jalandhara Bandha These locks help guide energy (Prana) through the body. They also work as vital cues for correcting alignment in physical yoga postures (asana). The application of bandhas during asana practice can help the practitioner balance in standing postures, find stability in inversions and maintain energy during seated poses. Taps you into the natural core strength- power centres helping to control the length of the breath - Kino Macgregor - Ashtanga Yoga Master Teacher
A translation of bandha is lock, restrain, hold, tighten or shut and this is describes the action of performing bandha. The three main bandhas mentioned above can be used in isolation or together to form mahabandha- the great lock. The body parts that are contracted or tightened in the practice correspond to the three ‘diaphragms’, energetic and nerve plexus within the body. These areas are : the pelvic floor which also relates to root chakra for Mooladhara ( adhara translating as base) : the thoracic diaphragm and Manipura chakra for Uddiyana ( translating as to raise or fly up- prana distributed throughout the body and toward Sahasara) : and the hollow at the base of the throat between the collarbones and Vishuddha chakra for Jalandhara ( translating as flow, stream and catch). The conscious or automatic muscular contraction and release of these centres stimulates the bandha- this can be done physically or on the psychic plane. ‘Engaging moola bandha’ or ‘pull the navel to the spine’ are common instructions that often have the intention to help support certain actions and postures in a yoga sequence. For example moola bandha can help bring lightness to the body and uddiyana can help support the more flexible lumbar spine. The use of Jalahara bandha is more specific to energy practices such as retaining the breath inside/outside the body in pranayama .
The downward action of apana should be directed upwards by the contraction of the perineum…
Drawing the abomon backwards and upwards in the navel region is called uddiyana. Its is the lion that challenges the elephant of death.
The contraction of the throat during jalandhara bandha prevents amritat falling into the digestive fire. In this way prana is conserved…
Scriptural references from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
The true purpose of bandha is to direct, redirect or stem the flow of prana ( see what is prana) into the sushumna nadi so that it flows upwards toward the crown until cosmic awareness is attained. Sushumna is the subtle pranic pathway said to be in the spine by some and in-front by others. Described as a fine silvery thread passes through the chakras which are resident in the energy body- pranamaya kosha. We do this through manipulating the physical body- the annamaya kosha. This has profound effect of the mind & wisdom bodies- the manomaya and vijynamaya koshas.
The inhale is sometimes referred to as prana and the exhale apana. The spaces between the breath - Kumbhaka. It is in this space of breath retention or suspension (conscious or sponteneous) where prana flows towards sushumna.
Pranayama breathing techniques and bandha are often used together as this is where we find the most profound tranquilising effect on the mind- opening to broader awareness of consciousness. Infact the root of the word breath in latin and greek translates as spirit or spiritus. In yoga it is considered that the individual spirit ( jiva) moves up and down in the breath. In the state of yogam individual consciousness is united with cosmic consciousness following its journey upwards through the sushumna. Through the various practices of B&B, blockages at the root, heart and throat are cleared to allow the free flow of this energy. These are psychic and mental blocks or knots that prevent us from entering meditation ( or even concentration!) and are called granthis : brahma ( root) vishnu ( heart) and rudra (throat). The body itself is also made vibrant, cleansed and healthy - fresh blood and oxygen flows into areas through the pulsating action of lock and release, organs are massaged and toned and the nerve and neural pathways are strengthened - one has more control over the body.
…due to the kindling of this fire, apana and prana, the sleeping kundilini is awakened: it becomes strait like a snake beaten with a stick’
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
In the Gherandha Samhita the body is referenced as a vessel- ‘Gata’ - a pot made of clay. I love this analogy. Everyday we fill our pot body with the sacred current of breath and essential nourishment, though due to environmental stressors such as city living, poor air quality, chemical pesticides and lack of access to healthy choices and nature, levels of toxicity can build up depleting our life force. In Kumbhaka with moola and jalandhara bandha’s one can deeply sense the body as a container of pulsing life energy and become sensitised to the movements and alchemy within. Combining with uddiyana to create mahabandha fiercely ignites energy in the heart. PLease note these practices are done without force and in comfortable duration, especially holding the breath.
From my personal experience in these practices and from teachings by Elizabeth Garvey of London Fields Yoga I have come to sense the bandhas as similar to beads on a mala string. Engaging the root draws energy up the inner seam of the body- making the sutra taught and able to tune into conscious resonance as if it was being plucked at certain points to produce vibrational frequencies that help loosen the granthis. With time I hope you find ways to connect to the inner landscape through these sacred practices.
It is important to digest information and provide space for it to be experienced so simply a few final notes on the purpose and then sequence of breath and bandha-
*Control of breath and body leading to expansion of breath helps expand awareness
* Bandhas are a means of extending control over the breathing and thus a mean to extend our knowledge of prana and absorbtion into truth
*Bandhas can be open or sealed- shutting the gates intensifies and directs prana: release flushes prana throughout the whole body, the body is relaxed rejuvenated and consciousness can expands through the body vessel
Sequence of events! as taught by Rod Stryker of ParaYoga.
Activation- awareness and attention, activities third eye. midbrain, root
Churning- the alchemy , moving navel centre, kriya
Ignition- pranic force moves to a point of transformation- an intensification- rudra
Concentration- create a sense of the building of prana ( potential ), mudra, vessel
Directing- awareness, pranayama, mudra
Always find an experienced guide for these teachings and explore them stage by stage without force.