Bandhas for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know

Here's everything you need to know about bandhas for beginners, the three types, the different benefits, and how to do the combination of all three bandhas.

A woman in a white sports top and printed yoga pants, practicing uddiyana bandha at the beach as part of her yoga routine.

“Bandha, what?” I asked my yoga teacher during my first-ever yoga class. 

The teacher kept on saying, “engage your mula bandha,” and I had no idea what it was. 

My friend who was with me in the class was shushing me. But If you know me, you know I tend to ask a lot of questions. So, if you are like my old self who doesn’t know anything about bandhas, you’ve come to the right place. 

In this article, I’ll explain everything beginners need to know about bandhas. 

What Does Bandha Mean?

Bandha is a Sanskrit term that means “to lock, hold, or tighten.” It is an internal body lock. Bandhas can mean locking or engaging your muscles, but it can also mean locking your attention or prana on one point. 

The Three Types of Bandhas

In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, there are three types of bandhas. Here they are: 

Mula Bandha

A pregnant woman doing yoga in Lotus Pose and praying hands, while practicing mala bandha to strengthen her pelvic muscles.

In traditional yoga, the primary bandha is mula bandha. Mula is the Sanskrit term for “root.” It refers to engaging your perineum, which you can find between the anus and the genitals. In layman’s terms, mula bandha is a kegel exercise. 

How to Practice Mula Bandha

Mula bandha may be difficult to practice at first, especially if you don’t know where your perineum is. So, when you go to a yoga class, many yoga teachers explain it through a metaphor, such as holding your pee or your period. Then, on your own, here’s how you can practice it.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your legs crossed. You can sit directly on the floor or mat. If you cannot keep your back straight, sit on a block or a cushion to bring the hips higher than your knees. Doing this will help in keeping the back in a neutral position.
  2. Inhale at the count of four and contract the muscles in your pelvic floor. You will know you are doing this correctly if you notice that your pelvic floor is lifting. Hold this for five to ten seconds.
  3. Exhale for four seconds and slowly release and relax your pelvic floor.
  4. Repeat for as many times as you can. 

Benefits of Mula Bandha

Practicing mula bandha can give you a lot of benefits, not just in yoga. They are as follows:

Strengthens Pelvic Floor

Strengthening the pelvic floor is essential as it consists of muscles. Practicing mula bandha can give stress and strengthen these muscles. 

Fixes Urinary Incontinence

Urinary Incontinence or involuntary urine leakage is very common in people with weak pelvic muscles. You can fix this by practicing mula bandha.

Improves Your Posture and Back Pain

Engaging the pelvic floor supports the spine and therefore improves your posture, which reduces back pain.

Improves Your Yoga Asanas

It’s possible to practice yoga asanas without engaging in mula bandha. But when you use the root lock, you will feel lighter and stronger in yoga poses

Jalandhara Bandha

A woman in Lotus Pose with praying hands, seated on a yoga cushion, while practicing jalandhara bandha or the throat lock for her yoga routine.

Jalandhara bandha is the throat lock. The name comes from the Sanskrit words jal, meaning “throat,” and dharan, meaning “stream.” Unlike Mula bandha, jalandhara bandha is practiced with pranayama during breath retention and most of the time with yddiyana bandha. It stimulates your visuddha or throat chakra.

How to Practice Jalandhara Bandha

Here are the steps on how to perform jalandhara bandha:

  1. Sit in a cross-legged position. Keep your spine upright and press your hands to your knees.
  2. Take a deep inhale through your nostrils and retain the breath. Drop your chin to your chest while lifting the sternum toward your chin. You will have a double chin here, and that’s fine. Hold this pose for a few seconds.
  3. Exhale slowly and bring your chin to the neutral position. 
  4. Relax with a few rounds of breath following the normal rhythm of your breath before attempting for another round.

Benefits of Jalandhara Bandha

The purpose of jalandhara bandha is to lock up the energy that comes out of the throat. Locking up this energy comes with benefits.

Improves Communication

Jalandhara bandha stimulates and clears the visuddha chakra or the seat of communication. Thus, it improves how you communicate with yourself and the world around you.

Enhances the Throat and Vocal Organ

Practicing jalandhara bandha directly influences the throat and vocal organs. So, by doing it, you are improving your throat and vocal organ health. It can also treat allergic rhinitis, sneezing, and running nose.

Reduces Stress and Resting Heart Rate

A study shows that participants who practiced jalandhara bandha for eight weeks showed an improved blood flow and decreased sympathetic nervous system. These results in lower stress levels and heart rates.

Uddiyana Bandha

A woman in a black sports top and printed yoga pants, practicing uddiyana bandha or the abdominal lock for her yoga routine.

Uddiyana in Sanskrit means to “fly up” or “rise up.” It is the abdominal lock that happens when you firm up and lift your abdominal wall. In modern practice or in the weight lifting community, they call this the stomach vacuum and they claim that even Arnold Schwarzenegger practices it. 

How to Practice Uddiyana Bandha

You should practice uddiyana bandha with an empty stomach. Since it contracts your abdominal muscles, you have a risk of vomiting if your stomach is full when practicing it. You also need to do it only after exhalation and never before an inhalation. Lastly, start practicing standing. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hinge from your hips. Let your hands rest on your lap. 
  2. Start by taking five rounds of deep belly breathing and then relax.
  3. Now, inhale deeply through your nostrils. Exhale through your nose completely. At the end of your exhale, perform jalandhara bandha by bringing the chin to your chest and slightly contracting the throat. Then, draw the belly button in toward your spine and up toward your chest. Hold this for four to five seconds. 
  4. Take a rest and do a few rounds of your normal breathing pattern before attempting another round.

Benefits of Uddiyana Bandha

Practicing uddiyana bandha comes with the following benefits:

Strengthens the Core

Contracting the abdominal to perform uddiyana bandha strengthens the core muscles and your diaphragm.

Aids in Digestion

Doing uddiyana bandha stimulates intestinal activity, which helps with your digestion. 

Improves Blood Flow

Practicing uddiyana bandha with pranayama or a breathing exercise improves blood flow

Maha Bandha – The Combination of All Three Bandhas

A woman in matching black yoga pants and top, seated in Lotus Pose and practicing the great lock, or a combination of the three bandhas (mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara bandha) in succession.

Maha bandha is the “great lock.” It is the combination of three bandhas: mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara bandha. In classical yoga books, Hatha Yoga Pradeepika and the Gheranda Samhita, it is considered a mudra that channels your pranic energy (life force) in a particular way. 

How to Practice Maha Bandha

To practice maha bandha means to practice the three bandhas. You start with mula bandha, then jalandhara bandha, and lastly, the uddiyana bandha. To release, you do the bandhas in reverse order.

Benefits of Maha Bandha

Practicing maha bandha gives the combined benefits of the three bandhas: mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara bandha. It also provides the following benefits:

Activates the Chakras

Practicing maha bandha activates three chakras: Mooladhara (the root chakra), Manipuraka (the solar plexus chakra), and Vishuddhi (throat chakra). 

Improves Endocrine System Health

Interlocking the three bandhas helps improve your blood flow and brings more oxygen to your brain. Doing this improves the whole endocrine system, which controls your hormones, mood, metabolism, and more.

Bandhas are locks that help you direct and secure your prana and energy. They can help you control your movement, breathing, and mind.

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