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Religiousness in Yoga Part 14: Bandha

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Definition

I have explained how prāṇāyāma helps the firs in the body, sūrya, to reduce the “dirt,” apāna. Bandhas are a means by which we can intensify this process. The theory is that the bandhas make sure the flame is brought exactly to where the apāna, “dirt,” is concentrated, so that the fire has more effect.

The term bandha means “to bind or to lock.” In this process we tighten certain portions of the torso in a particular way. We will consider three bandhas: … The jālandhara bandha involves the neck and upper spine. The uḍḍīyana bandha involves the portion of the torso from the diaphragm to its base. The mūla bandha involves the portion from the navel to the base of the torso. Jālandhara bandha positions the torso in such a way that the spine remains erect, keeping the draft in line with the fire. Uḍḍīyana bandha brings the apāna up towards the fire … we use mūla bandha to keep it [apāna] near the fire.

These three bandhas can be used in the practice of āsana and prāṇāyāma. Eventually … jālandhara bandha is maintained throughout inhalation, exhalation and holding the breath. Uḍḍīyana bandha is done only after exhalation is finished and before inhalation is begun; that is during bāhya kumbhaka … [and] mūla bandha is maintained throughout the prāṇāyāma.

Part2: Readiness

… Now, who is ready to do these bandhas? As uḍḍīyana bandha is done only on holding the breath after exhalation, one of the most important requirements is that we be able to do a long holding of the breath without sacrificing the quality of the inhalation and exhalation. If this is not possible we should forget about bandhas for the time being.

… We must begin to do these bandhas in some simple postures so that our bodies can get used to them …

Part3: Application Sequence

In teaching the technique of bandhas, we begin with jālandhara bandha. If we are not able to do that, we are not ready for the others. In jālandhara bandha, we lift up the back so it is very straight, pull the head back so that it is in line with the spine, then tuck the chin down …

The next bandha we teach is uḍḍīyana bandha … as we exhale we start contracting the abdomen. At the end of the exhalation the abdomen is completely contracted, lifted, and pulled back towards the spine; at the same time the diaphragm moves upwards. If we do this bandha very well, the navel goes back to the spine; the rectal and back muscles contract. At the completion of uḍḍīyana bandha the whole abdominal area is hollow. I want to caution you that this lifting of the abdomen is to be done very slowly, not rapidly.

… The mūla bandha is established after we have done the uḍḍīyana bandha. As we release the upper abdomen and diaphragm, we maintain a contraction in the lower abdomen, back and rectum … the portion of uḍḍīyana bandha below the navel is maintained in contraction while the portion above the navel is released.

… To practice these bandhas in prāṇāyāma we must first establish a ratio of breathing … that we can do comfortably at least twelve times without the bandhas. Suppose we pick a ratio of 6-0-12-06. I would do the following:

InhaleHoldExhaleHold
60126No bandhas for six breaths
60126Use jālandhara and uḍḍīyana bandha for six breaths
60126Use all three bandhas for six breaths
60120No bandhas for six breaths

The last six breaths of this prāṇāyāma serve as a counterpose. This introduction of bandhas is a very gradual process …

… We should anticipate a great reduction in our ability to do long breathing and holding the breath once we introduce the bandhas. There is quite a bit of effort involved in doing them. If a person can do 10-10-20-10, I have found that with bandhas the breath is reduced to 6-6-12-6 …

The best āsanas for doing bandhas are inverted, lying flat, or sitting with the back straight. A classic posture is mahāmudrā, which is, in fact mahāmudrā only if the bandhas are used.

There are many postures, however, in which the bandhas should not be done, for example, backbending and twisting postures …

Question: Should bandhas be a part of every daily practice?

Response: Yes, if we are ready to do them … don’t do them in all postures and prāṇāyāma. That will only be negative.

… I must caution you about the use of bandhas … Many of our internal organs are involved in the process of contracting, lifting and releasing. If we don’t know what we are doing we might develop some problems.

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