What is Maha Bandha?

Maha Bandha
Thanks to absoluteyogacrosby.co.uk for the image.

When an individual performs Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Jalandhara Bandha at the same time, they are performing Maha Bandha. Maha Bandha translates from Sanskrit to English as the Great Lock.

With everything that’s happening in your body, Maha Bandha is like rubbing your belly, patting your head, and walking with a book on your head at the same time. To be able to perform all three Bandhas at once takes great concentration and lots of practice. You should not attempt to perform Maha Bandha until you have mastered all three other Bandhas.

Since performing Maha Bandha involves doing all three Bandhas at the same time, there are many health conditions that prevent people from performing Maha Bandha. If you have any of these issues, refrain from Maha Bandha practice:

  • pregnant,
  • menstruating,
  • full stomach,
  • high blood pressure,
  • ulcer,
  • hiatal hernia,
  • glaucoma, or
  • heart disease.

Here’s more information on the three Bandhas that make up Maha Bandha.

Mula Bandha

Mula Bandha, the Root Lock, is found inside your pelvis. The goal is to engage Mula Bandha and continue engagement throughout your practice. Ideally, you should be able to engage and hold Mula Bandha while moving for an hour to an hour and a half.

Basically, this Bandha asks you to lightly engage the muscles of the pelvic floor to help prevent energy from dropping out of the bottom of your body. This lift should come from the perineum in men and possibly around the cervix in women.

When I engage Mula Bandha, I imagine that I’m lifting up and fighting gravity. All day, gravity pushes us down, creating a stooped spine and compression in the pelvis. To find Mula Bandha, I start in a seated position.

There is a spot deep within me, and I ask it to lift away from the floor. As it does, I find that the muscles around that spot tone and lift. Also, my spine lengthens and my abdominals engage.

I feel like I’m being drawn through the top of my head to the ceiling. It feels like I’m floating.

The challenge comes when you try to take this lifting feeling and carry it throughout your practice.

For more information, ready my post on Mula Bandha.

Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana Bandha, the Rising Lock, is found in your abdominal cavity. Unlike Mula Bandha, you do not want to hold Uddiyana Bandha for your whole practice. Uddiyana Bandha is specifically helpful for inversions, jumps, and twists.

This Bandha should only be practiced on an empty stomach. It should be avoided by those who are pregnant or menstruating. Also, if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, ulcers or a hiatal hernia, don’t practice this Bandha.

Since this Bandha creates so much pressure on the abdominal organs, it can be very therapeutic but also very damaging. It is important to strictly follow the rules about practicing Uddiyana Bandha.

There are several way to approach engaging Uddiyana Bandha, but this is my favorite.

  1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart.
  2. Inhale through your nose and raise your arms above your head, in line with your ears.
  3. Make sure you’ve got a nice, deep breath here.
  4. Exhale through your mouth and forward bend. Place your hands on your thighs above your knees. The deeper your forward bend, the deeper your exhale. Be aware that this will create a more intense suction in step 6.
  5. Shut your mouth and don’t breathe through your nose as you straighten your arms and lift your torso so that it’s parallel to the ground.
  6. Don’t freak out. As you lift your torso, you will start to feel your abdominals and the organs in your abdominal cavity suck up toward your spine.
  7. Hold this for as long as you can.
  8. To come out, inhale through your nose as you stand up straight with your arms by your ears.
  9. Exhale and lower your arms by your side.

For more information, here’s my post on Uddiyana Bandha.

Jalandhara Bandha

Jalandhara Bandha, the Throat Lock, is only used when specifically performing breathing exercises. As with the other Bandhas, this Bandha should be practiced with caution. If you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, or have heart disease, you should not practice this Bandha. This is because pressure is applied to the carotid artery and other nearby blood vessels.

To activate Jalandhara Bandha:

  1. Begin in a comfortable seated position with your palms on your knees, shoulders away from your ears.
  2. Lift through the top of your head so that your spine is tall.
  3. Slowly inhale through your nose. Think about filling your lungs two-thirds of the way.
  4. Let your chin lower toward your sternum (breastbone), and your sternum lift toward your chin. Then, slide your chin toward your neck. Think about letting your chin and sternum move toward each other to meet. Maybe they won’t meet, and that’s okay.
  5. Check that the back of your neck is long. If you feel a curve, your chin needs to come in closer to your neck.
  6. Let your shoulders relax and slightly round forward to help you get deeper into the throat lock.
  7. Hold this for as long as is comfortable.
  8. When you’re ready to exit this lock, finish your inhale (that addition one-third of your lung capacity) as you bring your head up to neutral position.
  9. Exhale.
  10. Take some cleansing deep breaths.
  11. Repeat. You can do as many as 10 of these breaths in practice.

For more information, here’s my post on Jalandhara Bandha.

Practicing Maha Bandha

What does it look like to practice Maha Bandha? Here is a YouTube video to show you.

Again, let me emphasize that you should not practice Maha Bandha unless you have mastered the other three Bandhas.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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