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Bandha means “lock.” This kind of lock, rather than a closure, like the kind of lock a key is needed to open, was actually a farming term. These locks are like an irrigation ditch used to direct water to different parts of a field. Bandhas in the body are used to direct energy both physically and energetically. Physically, the bandhas work to maintain the lift and tone of our internal organs. Energetically, they assist the movement of prana, or energy, in the body. There are three main bandhas used in the asana practice:
Located between the anus and genitals, it is the perineal muscle for men. For women its location is near the top of the cervix. The engagement of Mula Bandha is not a hard contraction by force of the muscles surrounding it–it is more subtle than that.
Mula Bandha can be experienced by setting the thighs back, increasing lumbar curvature in the spine. Then allowing the tailbone to grow heavy, encouraging the abdomen to tone and the base of the pelvis to lift.
Setting the thighs back sets the femur heads back and creates expansion in the pelvic
area. Dropping the tailbone firms the buttock flesh. The lower abdomen lifts from the pubis to the navel.
The synergy created by these two complimentary, yet opposing forces, creates Mula Bandha. Rather than a hardening or bearing down on the pelvic floor area, a lift is created akin to drawing the last half-inch of a milkshake up a straw.
Located a little below the navel, Uddiyana Bandha means “flying upward” referring to its effect on prana. This second bandha is best approached in the same manner as Mula Bandha. With a minimum of outer hardness or contraction. In the process of performing this lock, the center of the solar plexus is drawn in and up and an abdominal lift and tone takes place.
In full expression it is performed by exhaling fully and then drawing the lower belly inward and upward while lifting the diaphragm.
This level of Uddiyana Bandha would be used in the practice of exhalation retention in Pranayama, but due to the inability to inhale while performing it to this level, simply maintaining a stillness about three fingers below the navel allows space for the diaphragm to drop during each inhalation.
As the diaphragm drops, the breath is encouraged to move into the side ribs, back and chest. On each exhalation the abdominal muscles encourage a complete emptying of the lungs. The procedure takes practice, and the subtleties of the relationship between breath and bandhas need to be explored experimentally.
This lock is created by lifting and rolling the shoulders back to first broaden and lift the chest. Next the back of the head extends toward the sky and the chin itself moves into thenotch, which is formed where the two clavicle bones meet. The lock occurs spontaneously insome postures such as shoulder-stand, but is not used as extensively as the other two locks.