Mula bandha. I remember the first time I heard a yoga teacher use this odd term. Fortunately, she didn’t assume the class knew what it meant. My teacher explained that mula bandha is one of three yoga bandhas — areas in the body where we can use muscle contractions to strengthen and power up the body.
Mula bandha is the root lock located at the perineum. To engage this yoga bandha, think of doing Kegel exercises. Or think of the muscle contraction you’d do to “hold it in” when you can’t get to a bathroom right away! Mula banda gives the body a lift that helps you flow through a vinyasa practice with ease.
Four inches above the navel is uddiyana bandha. This is the core. Engage it by pulling your belly button up towards your spine. This will help you move the breath through your body with more ease. Together, mula banda and uddiyana bandha engage when you practice ujjayi breathing.
The third bandha — jalandhara bandha — may be the one you’re least familiar with. Jalandhara bandha is the throat lock. To find it, drop you chin to your chest. Contracting this bandha is said to keep energy from escaping through the top of the body.
The Yoga Bandhas in Practice
If you practice Ashthanga Yoga, you’re probably very familiar with the bandhas as well as how and when to engage them. In fact, you should engage the first two — mula bandha and uddiyana bandha — throughout the entire practice. This will help protect the lower back, sustain length in the spine, and power up the entire body.
Of course, for most of us, it’s easy to lose the connection with the yoga bandhas, but this provides a good opportunity to practice mindfully. We can continually bring our attention back to the bandhas to engage the root and core.
If you’re not familiar with the bandhas, it’s a good idea to practice engaging them separately from your yoga practice. It can be tricky at first, but once you learn to engage these important muscles, you’ll notice a big difference in your practice.
Using the Yoga Bandhas Off the Mat
Learning to engage the core and root lock has benefits off the mat as well. Even when you’re not doing a vigorous Asthanga or vinyasa yoga practice, it’s important to maintain a lift in the spine and a strong core.
Think about the bandhas as often as possible. When you do, notice if they’re activated. That is, notice your posture. If you’re slumping, you can bring your attention to mula bandha and uddiyana bandha and straighten up!
And don’t forget the throat lock — jalandhara bandha — which tones the neck muscles and activates the fifth, or third eye chakra. You can practice jalandhara bandha along with slow, deep inhales and exhales to regulate circulation and breathing. Jalandhara bandha also good for the thyroid and metabolism.
Advanced yogis are able to practice all three bandhas together. This is called maha bandha, which means great lock (or seal). While it’s a bit challenging to master, maha bandha has enormous physical and mental benefits, including elevating consciousness and boosting mental clarity.