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5 Key Yoga Anatomy Insights on Bandhas, Breath and Posture

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you’ve heard the teacher ask you to engage your bandhas. What are bandhas? Why are they important?

Bandhas are known as locks or seals. When you contract your pelvic floor and core muscles you are engaging your lower two bandhas.  When these are engaged, you are supporting your pelvis to help keep it stable as you are moving your body. This protects your lower back and helps you move with more stability.

On an energetic level, the bandhas create a seal to direct the flow of energy.

There are three main bandhas Mula bandha (root seal), Uddiyana bandha (diaphragm lock), and Jalandhara bandha (throat lock).

Maha Bandha (the great seal ) is the fourth bandha that involves the engagement of all three bandhas. 

In a discussion from the Lila Wellness Summit with Ramesh Tarun Narine, we learned about the yoga anatomy of each of the bandhas and how they support the body’s physical, mental, and emotional health. 

In this article, you’ll learn the yoga anatomy of the three main bandhas and how bandhas relate to movement and breath on and off your yoga mat.

All About the Three Main Bandhas 

Bandha translates from Sanskrit as ‘lock’ or ‘seal.’ 

Physically, the bandhas support our physical and physiological well-being. Energetically, the bandhas assist in directing Prana (energy) in the body. 

The bandhas work against gravity to draw the Prana (energy) upwards around with surrounding tissues. 

The three main bandhas discussed in yoga are:

  1. Mula Bandha – pelvic floor muscles
  2. Uddiyana Bandha – diaphragm muscles
  3. Jalandhara Bandha – throat muscles 

Other bandhas in the body, such as Hasta Bandha (hands) and Pada Bandha (foot), are used to prevent injury and bring awareness to that location of the body. 

Understanding how each bandha is used and why we work with them in yoga is one way to bring awareness to the physical and subtle properties.

1. Mula Bandha – root seal

Mula bandha engagement at the pelvic floor’s base by the coccyx lifts the pelvic floor muscles. The coccygeus, iliococcygeus, and the pubococcygeus make up the diamond shape sheath of muscles that hangs like a hammock from the pubis (front) to the coccyx (back) at the base of the torso. 

Mula Bandha contains the hammock of muscles that supports our reproductive and digestive organs. 

These are the muscles strained in childbirth. Mula Bandha has been scientifically proven to reduce the symptoms and improve the quality of life of women with pelvic prolapse post childbirth.  

To engage Mula Bandha is the sensation of a Kegel exercise or making your pee stop mid-stream. 

2. Uddiyana Bandha – diaphragm seal 

Uddiyana bandha translates as ‘flying upwards’ due to the direction of the diaphragm moving up and under the ribcage. Uddiyana bandha is the engagement of the diaphragm muscles. The location is at the navel.

To engage the uddiyana bandha, draw the navel in and up. This action encourages the diaphragm to move up and under the rib cage. 

Contracting the abdominal muscles in uddiyana bandha the diaphragm muscles and clears the body of stale/stagnant air and energy.

Uddiyana is initiated after the exhale breath- pressing all the air out and then drawing the navel in and up prepares the body for uddiyana bandha. 

A study on the ​​Positive Effects of Yoga found that kumbhaka (breath retention) and uddiyana bandha (diaphragm lock) benefited patients by improving inspiratory muscle strength and global body flexibility.
3. Jalandhara Bandha – throat seal 

Jalandhara Bandha is the throat seal. It can be translated as ‘cloud holding water’ or ‘chin lock’ as it involves drawing the chin toward the chest. 

The European Journal of Medical Research shared a study that shows Jalandhara Bandha as an effective method to improve and support the thyroid gland’s function.

The thyroid gland’s main function is to regulate metabolism, growth, and development in the body. 

Maha Bandha, aka the Great Seal, is the contraction of all three bandhas. 

Take a class on Practice with Clara to embody the bandhas:
Neck and Hips (30-min) Hatha 
A Hatha class stretches the neck, chest, and shoulders to relieve the muscles strained by working at a desk. 
This class works with Jalandhara Bandha, the throat seal. 
Wisdom Center (45-min) Slow Flow

A slow flow yoga class with twists, lunges, backbends, and a brief meditation.

This class works with Uddiyana Bandha – diaphragm seal 

Drishti (60-min) Vinyasa 

A strong vinyasa practice that works with arm and leg balancing postures.

This class works with Mula Bandha, the root seal.

How the Bandhas Affect
Posture and Yoga Poses

When engaged, bandhas create tone in the muscle groups to support specific poses and direct energy flow to optimize how you move and breathe.

Effective use of the bandhas supports the body’s essential framework and improves the flow of Prana. 

The bandhas stimulate the endocrine system, aid digestion, increase muscular efficiency and develop respiratory and cardiovascular capacity.

The relationship of the bandhas to the thyroid gland results in an enhanced capacity for the body to grow, heal, and develop. 

The pineal gland’s main role is to regulate and control sleep cycles through melatonin secretion. The conscious contraction of Mula Bandha stimulates the pineal gland. 

Mula bandha, the pelvic lock, can be used in nearly every yoga pose to support the lengthening of the spine, support the low back, and contract the deep core stabilizers.

The bandhas may be used in yoga poses to enhance the ease and efficiency of muscles and breathing in each pose. These muscles also aid your movement while walking or performing simple day-to-day activities. 

Contracting Mula Bandha is a way for runners and athletes to support the spine and sustain movement without injury to the low back and the correlating muscle groups. 

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How the Bandhas Affect
Movement and Motor Control

According to Ramesh, without the contraction of the bandhas and proper alignment, energetically, your resources are going to be depleted a lot quicker because you have to spend more energy to hold yourself up.

When we engage the Maha Bandha, the three locks in tandem; according to Ramesh, this action locks all the energy, the positively and negatively charged ions.

“We’ve sent like a wave up to that bell that is the pineal gland to ring it and just send that awareness from the external deep into the internal.

Maha Banda creates a wave that extends from the base of the spine at the coccyx (Mula bandha) up to the diaphragm, where you draw the navel slightly inwards and up (uddiyana bandha) to the throat, where you just slightly take the chin in towards the chest.

This creates a wave that rings the bell of the pineal gland and allows the body to align using the correct muscle groups that do not strain or cause contradiction.” – Ramesh Tarun Narine.

 

Anatomy of the Lungs and the Alignment to Breathe Deeper

Deep, diaphragmic breathing is scientifically proven to enhance a person’s physical and psychological wellness.

It’s a wonderful way to prepare the body and mind for yoga and meditation and a simple method to decrease stress and anxiety no matter where you are. 

Harvard Medical School promotes breath control to quell errant stress responses and cites yoga as one of the primary tactics to elicit a relaxation response.

Various pranayamas featured in yoga work with the bandhas and retain the breath to enhance the capacity of the lungs to deliver more oxygen into the bloodstream.

A few common pranayamas featured in yoga practices include: 
  • Nadi Shodhana – balances the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
  • Kapalabhati – builds heat and stimulates the digestive system.
  • Brastrika – clears lethargy/stagnant energy.
  • Four Part Breath – strengthens the lung’s capacity to take in rich oxygen.

Explore the various breathing techniques in the Pranayama Collection

Read more about how you benefit from pranayamas and see the step-by-step guide to learning basic breathwork techniques: Power of Pranayama Blog Post

The 5 Key Takeaways on the Yoga Anatomy of the Bandhas:

  1. Bandhas are energetic locks that direct energy flow to support the body systems by strengthening the specified muscle groups. 
  2. Three main bandhas are used in yoga at the perineum, diaphragm, and throat that support the yoga poses and posture in day-to-day activities. 
  3. Engagement of the bandhas aid in movement and breath; how we move is an extension of how we breathe and direct energy flow in the body. 
  4. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing is supported by uddiyana bandha and has many physical and psychological benefits to the individual.
  5. Posture is affected by the bandhas, and those who practice good posture tend to have a reduced risk of physical, mental, and emotional stressors.

More About Ramesh—

Ramesh is an RMT and 3000-RYT whose interests include craniosacral work and Yoga Nidra. 
Ramesh taught his first yoga class in 2004 and returned to school in 2010 to become a medical massage therapist. Fascinated by his experiences working in those worlds, he became an osteopathy student in 2018. In addition, having spent decades working in diverse fields, he facilitates online development programs for personal growth.
Visit his website. 

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