When I started with Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga I was thoroughly excited by the practice of the asanas, the physical exertion, and the challenges. The profound sense of peace and stillness at the end of a practice got me hooked instantly. I never worried about the Bandhas too much, they didn’t seem so important. Then I started to feel some discomfort in my lower back, and my teacher directed me to focusing on my muscle seals. What a blessing this was! Up until then, no one had explained them thoroughly to me. Preventing lower back issues is the most known and approachable reason for why we use the Bandhas, but in truth, there is so much more to them!

What are Muladhara Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha?

Physical aspect:

There are different approaches to the understanding of Muladhara Bandha; MB. Some think of it as an anal lock, which is called ‘Ashvini Mudra’; therefore it appears to be a different seal. ‘Mula’ is the root, the area in between anus and genitals: – the perineum. A gentle contraction and lift of this area feels like you are sealing the orifices of the base of the body. There is a muscular link between the perineum and the lower back, which in return provides your movement with more support and stability.

Uddiyana Bandha; UB, has a similar effect on your lower back increasing safety in the practice. Picture a wide belt wrapped around your hips below your navel, which when tightened, encourages your transverse abdominis – TA – to contract. The TA is the deepest layer of the abdominal muscle groups, which wraps all around your waist like a corset. When contracted, you are experiencing a sense of drawing in, of a hollowing of the lower belly. This helps to stabilize and protect your back.

Energetic aspect:

If you have ever felt drained after an asana (posture) practice, the likelihood is that you have lost your bandhas on the way. The effect of the continuous application of your seals or gateways on your energy level, is remarkable. It makes all the difference. They make you feel stronger, lighter, and simply more energetic. You feel rejuvenated after a yoga practice.

Mental aspect:

Here is where it is getting truly interesting. The asana practice is one of the tools used to gain more control over our mind; it is one of the steps up the ladder to ‘ecstasy’. We shall be the master of our mind, not its slave. It is the same mind that causes us endless grievance – with its obsessive nature and non-stop unwanted chatter – that can actually lead us to spiritual freedom. Practicing postures in the Ashtanga system with its clever use of the breath, dristi, and bandhas, is a fun way to engage the mind, and train it to focus on what we want it to focus on. We have to become its master. The asana practice gives us the opportunity to direct the attention of all of our senses inward. There is a certain amount of willpower required to stay inside our bodies, with particular focus on our pelvis. The mental effort necessary, can sometimes create resistance in us. The mind doesn’t give up that easily, after all, its nature is to run wild, and it doesn’t want to be restricted in this way. If we continue to draw its attention inward, we can be faced with the quality of laziness, or mental discomfort. We don’t really want to go there and stop thinking about all the things, which currently entertain and occupy our mind: – that’s the key! Here you have the opportunity to get a break from those obsessive thoughts. The movements linked to the breath help to make it all easier, the mind is ‘entertained’ and soothed in a good way.

To power up the beautiful focus the use of the bandhas can give us, try the following: each time you are inhaling, picture a line from your base, MB, drawing upward to behind the navel, right along the centerline of your body. Then do the same when exhaling.

You will have the chance to experience the feeling of true connectedness, to get that wonderful sense of being inside yourself, feeling that amazing lightness, truthfulness and centeredness, which a yoga practice – when making use of the bandhas – can enrich you with.

Then when practicing Pranayama and using your bandhas: – imagine these wonderful effects to be exponentially increased… and that’s another even more exciting story.

OM Shanti,
Angelika