All classic Yoga texts insist that Pranayama practice cannot be done properly without using Bandhas. The Yoga Rahasya of Sri Natamuni for example repetitively warns us:
If a person doesn’t fully understand the subtle aspects of the three Bandhas, the benefits of Pranayama cannot fully be obtained” (Sloka 60) and that “Pranayama without the three Bandhas is of no use… “ (Sloka 95).
However, the instructions in these texts are not always clear, so hopefully the following article will help clarify the use of Bandhas in Pranayama practice. It assumes a basic understanding of Bandhas.
The three bandhas in common use in Pranayamana practice are:
The root lock is the contraction of the muscles of the perineum or in women of the cervix. It occurs naturally during exhalation.
The abdominal lock, is an inward (or backward) pull of the muscles of the lower abdomen, compressing the digestive organs.
In the throat lock, the chin is pressed down on the upper chest and the throat is locked as if swallowing. This stretches the neck and compresses the throat.
These three Bandhas have effect on the circulation of pranic energy, and therefore on consciousness.
The table below summarizes the use of the Bandhas in the four phases of Pranayamana practice:
|No except in Ujayi
|Possible, but not necessary
(retention on full)
|No except in Ujayi
(retention on empty)
|Possible (this is called Maha Bandha)
|Possible, but not necessary except if doing Maha Bandha
A full breathing cycle goes like this:
- Inhale slowly (all Bandhas relaxed).
- At the end of inhalation, close and pull up Mula Bandha.
- At the end of the retention, open Jalandhara Bandha and pull in Udhiyana Bandha, then exhale (Mula Bandha still on)
- At the end of exhalation, relax Udhiyana Bandha (or, if practicing Maha Bandha, close Jalandhara Bandha and pull in Udhiyana Bandha).
Therefore Jalandhara Bandha is only needed if one practices with retention. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that: “Jalandhara is to be done at the end of inhalation, Udhiyana is to be done at the end of Kumbhaka and the beginning of exhalation “ (HYP, 2, 45) and advises: “At the end of inhalation, hold Jalandhara tightly.” (HYP, 2, 69).
Jalandhara Bandha must be mastered before one starts to practice with retention. The other Bandhas can be explored in Anapanasati and perfected during simple Pranayama practice without retention.