To be able to develop and access the higher function of the energetic system is one of the most beautiful realisations I have gained from the practice of Hatha Yoga. Aside from supporting my asana practice, they have greatly improved my physical health and wellness. Without them, I would not be able to sustain the challenges of the advanced elements of breath regulation and meditation. I owe everything I have accomplished in my practice to my energetic system.
There are three primary Bandhas, Mula (root|hips), Uddiyana (core|abdomen) and Jalandhara (throat|neck). They could be accessed individually or simultaneously in different levels of intensities as required in the elements at hand. When these Bandhas are accessed in equal levels, they form what is called the tri-bandha or the Maha (great) Bandha.
More subtle bandhas shall manifest as the energetic body becomes more developed. I truly believe that a bandha is present in every hollow spot or cavity of the inner body. The Khechari Mudra is the most powerful of all the bandhas for by itself is already enough to render all the other bandhas non-essential once it is mastered.
Bandhas are electrical valves of the energetic body. They allow the energy to flow through the area(s) of concentration to activate the dormant potential of the subtle body. Essentially, in the latter stages of the practice, the Bandhas shall stimulate the Kundalini energy to flow out of the hips. The bandhas direct the kundalini through the central channel of the energetic system, the Sushumna Nadi. The heaviness (tama guna) of gross body is lifted so we can attain our natural opennes. As a result, prana flows abundantly (raja), quickly providing the pathway for us to reconnect to our unblemished spiritual identity (satwa guna).
Rewiring Our Energetic Circuitry
Generally, the life force that flows through our bodies has downward and outward flow. This is essential to keep a healthy level of electrical force to sustain our autonomic function. Too much leads to electrical overload which could overheat and burn the nervous system. Bandhas or the energy locks reverse this outward flow. They bound/bind back the dissipative energy and bring the subtle force back from sides toward the centre line of our energetic system (spine). This confinement of higher energy load in the system is normally useful for practitioners of meditation and energy-channelling for healing. Still, we need to control the electrical loads and the bandhas, aside from locking the subtle force, maintains the pressure in healthy and balanced levels.
In conjunction with the various Kriyas (cleansing observances) and Pranayama (breath control exercises), the utilisation of the bandhas shall essentially lead to union later on. The development of the bandhas is the beginning of the meditative stage of the practice. They are the fundamental aspect of pratyahara (sense withdrawal and energy- restraint). This shall lead to the powerful production of the tapas (the spiritual fire) which inevitably will not only affect the body and the energy but also the mental and spiritual centres because the mind goes along where the prana flows. When the energy begins to flow inwards, our minds attain one-pointedness.
The Kapalabhati Pranayama and the Nadi Shodhana
Amongst the many breath regulation techniques, I consider the Kapalabhati and the Nadi Shodhana the most effective in dissolving blockages and energetic stagnation. These two are simple to learn, yet highly effective.
The Kapalbhati Pranayama
Kapalbhati is a vigorous technique which invigorates the entire brain and awakens the dormant centres which are responsible for refining awareness. Due to its very energising and warming effect, it is sometimes called ‘breath of fire’. Kapalbhati breath is a quick and continuous breath, the rhythm is strong and confident.
It activates the frontal part of the brain. Kapala means skull Bhati means light. Kapalbhati stimulates the nervous system and gives the practitioner tremendous energy. It cleanses and expels the unwanted energy blocking in the nasal region. Always practice this pranayama with care, be aware of the inner body and any strain or unnecessary pressure or lightheadedness. If you feel any discomfort or shortness of breath, stop. Take recovery breaths before practising again.
- Find a comfortable seated position. Gently exhale all of the air from the lungs then inhale lightly but generously. The inhalation here is not too full that the body will feel tight. If the inhalation is taken too sudden and fully, the pressure will be too much to control the expelling of the breath through the nostrils as this will require a bit of extra space in the lungs to perform.
- Exhale rapidly like a gentle sneeze making a sound with the mouth closed. The belly quickly pulls in and up at the exhalation like a thrusting action. Then inhale passively and begin to exhale and inhale in quick, confident tempo.
- The active use of the diaphragm forces the air out on the exhalation and the passive inhalation allows the air to come in.
Start easy with five repetitions or as many as you can comfortably do, doing recovery breaths in between sets. Work progressively to increase to 10 repetitions each set. The advanced technique is 20 rounds or more repetitions per set. It is important to keep the rhythm uniform all throughout the practice. Stop if the chest fatigues.
Contraindications for the Kapalbhati Pranayama:
Pregnancy – Menstruation – Ulcer or any digestive disruption – Hypertension – Hernia or Hemorrhoids – Recent surgery in the thoracic region – Emphysema
The Nadi Shodhana
The most effective pranayama though, in cleansing and purifying our deep energy channels is the Nadi Shodhana. It is a complete meditative practice which has many long-term healing benefits if we would just allow it to grow within us. Personally, the Nadi Shodhana is the only pranayama which we should keep valuable after finishing the preparatory elements leading to a spiritual practice later on.
Once this method is mastered, no other cleansing practice is needed. Nadi Shodhana is so encompassing in purifying both physical and energetic stagnations. This alone, if practised regularly and progressively could easily lead to Samadhi, later on, once we do stillness and silence. It purifies all the chakras of the astral system. It is the most simple yet the most challenging of all pranayamas. The secret is hidden beyond the simplicity of the technique. Be patient. The reward of this method is complete and meaningful.
Below are the full lecture and tutorial for the Nadi Shodhana.
The Primal Force which is within
As I have mentioned, the internal subtle force has an innate outward flow. This entity that inevitable exits the body has a potent healing property which we never fully utilised. Unlike the animals which possess the innate function of storing this subtle force, we, as humans beings are not just designed to do like that. The bandhas, once they become sensitive, make this extra sensorial skill to manifest within us over time. They pave the way for the activation of the healing energy points in our subtle body (chakras) which could powerfully amplify and propel the levels of the healing force to flow through our system. This can easily be implemented consciously through the practice of hatha yoga, mantra yoga, and the various energy-channelling methods.
I did not specifically learn how to develop my bandhas. It just happened to me one day, unknowing that I was using them already to support my practice. Just for nothing, I tried to jump up to stand, and there I was floating my way through it. I just explored from that time on. I did not even know anything about them before they happened to me. Looking back, they are stimulated through elements which mobilise the hips and the spine, both statically and dynamically. However, experience also made me realise that this is not always the case as I have seen students who find it elusive to develop their bandhas even after many years of yoga practice. On the other hand, I have seen students who, only after a few months of the practice, begin to show signs of the bandhas manifesting in their practice.
I truly believe that a big part of it is grace or as a result of unavoidable action or karma from past and present life cycles. These events are not necessarily physical but could be the spontaneous co-arising intrinsic result of the creative and evolutionary activity which acts both inwardly as well as throughout all of nature. In simple terms, some people are just born with already a well-developed set of bandhas. They just have it. It would only require a single unexpected instance for it to happen. This is so true for people who are inherently sensitive to electrical vibrations. They do not have the outward energy flow, thus, for these, highly gifted individuals, the activation of the bandhas may not be necessary at all or may have of little or no effect at all.
Spiritually, the bandhas translate the energetic sensations into astral, psychic and spiritual realisations that our energy is no longer dissipated nor distracted into dualistic externalisations and wanderings (sense-perceptions).
Bandhas are not muscular in nature neither they are about contracting, clenching and squeezing.
Aside from locking and confining the subtle prana, the bandhas act as electrical valves during deep internal cleansing as they direct the internal energy flow to irrigate the energy pathways (nadis) and awakens the subtle body. The bandhas promote a progressive, safe and meaningful practice of asana, pranayama, mudra, kumbhakas, kriyas and meditation.
Although bandhas are commonly associated in terms of their relationship to certain body parts, muscles, glands, and organs, bandhas are inner sensations hidden in the deepest parts of the internal body which in normal circumstances are not sensitive. While they are still developing, their manifestations are predominantly within the realms of the spine and the hips. Later on, in the deeper meditative practices, the bandhas could be accessed while the body is steady and still. They are not muscular activation. They are not about contracting, squeezing, clenching, forcing and tightening. Bandhas are like the internal hollow spaces which could only be switched on and opened up by a combination of distinctive internal bodily adjustments and specific breath patterns done in perfect unison and synchronicity.
A more meaningful way to appreciate the bandhas is that they could entirely change how our nervous system functions. They have the potential not only to reset our bodily and energetic function but also to transform our entire system, physiologically, psychically, astrally and spiritually. They provide an organic energy re-configuration which in turn creates an entirely brand new energy pattern which aligns and activates the full potential of the body and its inner organs (body and breath), strengthens emotional predisposition, increases intuitive and psychic sensitivities, and awakens the spiritual realms.
The bandhas transforms the universal energy which is normally passive and sublime into something which is healing and energising, profound and potent, collecting all its force from the outside to the central axis, from the hips and up to the inner brain. And in the process of channelling this subtle life force, we shall be exposed to the many sub-physical and subconscious dimensions relating with the chakras, the sushumna, kundalini, the granthis, and out of body spiritual dimensions (lokas) so that we may be able to finally unite with our natural pure intrinsic state (supreme consciousness).
It thus should be made clear that the bandhas are not physical locks. They are an advanced skill we could develop to process the energy so that we could connect and harmonize our inner energetic dynamics (kundalini and the other internal wind energy or vayus), the cosmic nature which in the end, is the same world we hold inside our brain, and the universal eternal source of all energy which you may call as the grace of God.
The healthiest way to understand the bandhas is to have an open mind and acknowledge the existence of these sub-physical dimensions which science cannot explain. There is consciousness in all which energy flows and this force is universal and the same for all. It is present in all, outside, inside and that which is created yet.
After acknowledging its existence, the process of developing it shall begin with our bodies. There are many ways and yoga asana and pranayama practices are just two of the many ways and means. Later on, once we gained mastery of managing and utilising the bandhas in our bodies, we can already ease on the physical learning tools and begin its application in the meditation.
The Role of Bandhas in Meditation
Not only does our subtle life force inherently flows outwards, but our minds as well. The application of the bandhas in energy-channelling seals the subtle life force from leaking out. The bandhas connect the physical and all its internal forces into full accord with the mental faculties of our nervous system. By meditating upon their presence, we gain control of our autonomic functions and essentially gives us the power to regulate the fluctuations of our minds. At first, we shall utilise the bandhas in supporting the physical body (Annamaya kosha). The same awareness shall be used in gaining access to the higher functions of our breath energy (pranayama kosha).
This shall yield numerous health and wellness benefits which shall positively affect our spiritual development. We organically embrace all these beautiful and joyful changes. As our spirits grow bigger, so does our awareness of the subtleness of our existence. The inherently dormant kundalini shall gracefully awaken to provide us with more light and inspiration. Our Bhava (inner spiritual light), shall shine through, to light the path to our journey to exploring the deeper layers of our existence.
By harmonising the inner dynamics of our existence, it would be very easy to recenter the fluctuations of the wandering mind. This is not to be confused though with repressing our body energies, thoughts and emotions. All these organic changes are the by-product of the awakening of our dormant electrical circuits which in turn stimulates the parts of the nervous system responsible for increasing awareness, intuition, creativity, wisdom, and spiritual realisations. They are all-natural, spontaneous, transformative, all-encompassing and meditative effects of awakening the subtle body.
As we tackle this challenging yet meaningful journey, the bandhas shall further lead and support us. The power of the Kundalini, as she asserts her rightful place in the inner brain, shall burn all the energetic and spiritual blockages- adhi/vyadhi (physical malady and diseases), karma (spiritual heaviness of cause and effect), klesha (attachments, addiction, fear, ego and aversions), samskara (both pleasurable and painful subconscious imprints), and vasana (latent impressions of deep memories | excessive use of bodily energies), which are all getting in the way to seeing our pure spiritual nature.
When the kuṇḍalini is awakened properly, it could be directed to rise through the chakras and pierce through the successive veils of ignorance in the form of knots (granthis). The spiritual light shall illuminate the path which changes the perception of reality and consciousness.
The bandhas are the physical and energetic representations of the meditative practices of pratyhara, dharana, dhyana and even the samadhi for they are involved in all these processes in decreasing intensities. Our minds depend so much in the flow of our subtle life-force. Our mind goes where the energy goes. The mind cannot move without prana and bandhas are used to effectively and safely reverse the outward flow of the subtle force while harmonising the inner dynamics of the vital organs so they too can remain still and steady. This quickly leads to experiencing many meditative elements such as the Anahata nada and Yoga Nidra. They will further aid the restless mind to focus so that we could establish the objectless meditative state and finally enter the state of full absorption or samadhi.
The mind which at first is too focused on attaining the pleasures of the materialistic world shall go inwards with the development of the bandhas. Instead of attaining sense-filled pleasures, this ordinary mind can be trained to make use of this newfound energetic awareness in growing the practice of meditation which gives inner peace and long-lasting joy and fulfilment. The essence of the higher limbs of yoga – pranayama, pratyahara, Dharana, and meditation (dhyana and samadhi) can only be attained realistically once the bandhas are present. Without them, the mind will never be still. Without them, there can never be contentment.
The Bandhas when applied in the practice of pranayama and meditation, function in two ways. First is to stimulate and trigger the release of the Kundalini energy thus activating its dormant spiritual potential. Second is that they act as energy valves to collect the unified form of the kundalini shakti to flow sushumna nadi. The bandhas shall then guide the kundalini as it pierces through the chakras of the astral system leading to the inner brain. The blockages are dissolved and spiritual disconnect which blocks us from experiencing our pure divine nature is finally cut-off.
Caution: How much is too much?
Yoga bandhas, if they become too dominant in our practice, could be as dangerous as they are so beneficial. The danger is that such high use of yoga bandhas could completely alter the functions of the nervous system. This shall change, to mention a few, the way we breathe, food intake, sleep patterns, muscular and skeletal dynamics, emotional and psychological states. A lot of ill-effects of excessive use of yoga bandhas could be permanent and irreversible.
The key to longlasting, safe and meaningful management of our energy is moderation. As long as you take a week or two of complete rest from your practice (or slowing down) shall allow you body and the nervous system to restore and recover. Do not worry, you won’t lose all the gains you’ve earned. They are already ingrained. Once you have it, you will always have it. We need to be in control of everything.
You are your best teacher
In the life of the student, the role of the external teacher diminishes and starts to lose grip once he starts to develop and feel his Bandhas. Bandhas are the best teachers. They are our the teacher within. When the full potential of the bandhas is mastered, they will just beautifully guide your practice; from asanas to pranayama, mudras and kriyas, through the meditative stages of yoga. Attaining union of Samadhi is easy to achieve with their guiding light, and with them, experiencing this wondrous spiritual experience is meaningful, longer, safer and more real-life.
Once fully developed, the bandhas become as present and as real-life as our normal functions. They bring the spiritually of the practice closer to life. We experience the grace of God so commonly, so openly and presently in our lives, in and all around us, without being esoteric and dramatic. Through them, the three granthis (spiritual knots) of the Brahma (body|earth), Vishnu (heart|heaven) and Rudra (inner brain|atmosphere) are easily untangled.
The three primary bandhas of mula bandha uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha, provide the key to unlocking these three granthis, respectively. Thus, we get in and out of the meditative realms of the practice safely and grounded for actually, there is nothing superpower about. The Khechari mudra is for me the highest bandha for it alone is enough to collect and ascend the absolute kundalini shakti to flow through the Sushumna nadi and while doing so, unlock and unknot all the granthis and lokas (earth, heavens and atmosphere).
To acknowledge that our spirits shall rise to unite with God is the most beautiful gift of Samadhi. This is expressed through breathing. As an element of fire, the Kundalini burns the blockages of our energetic system, thus, she could rise to the heart. The spiritual mind, on the other hand, is an element of water which cools the fire of the body. The Prana which is within the breath is made up of the elements of fire and water. When the Soma which is so abundantly flowing in the brain fully develops, it overflows and descends to loosen the spiritual knots in the brain and the throat, thus the grace of God can descend to the heart. In the heart, they dance, we experience the union.
You cannot go wrong with the Bandhas. The poses just feel so light and effortless with them. On the other hand, the body will hurt and complain if they are not present. Some days the Bandhas are strong and easily accessible, some days not. It is your body’s way of saying when to carry on and when to stop and rest. The best teacher is the one watching you from within.
Teachers are helpful to initiate the learning process while the student is still weak and vulnerable to pressures. Teachers know the safe way in and we are there to guide our students to an enlightening experience. We also make sure that they are safe and as well as provide a sustainable programme for them.
I didn’t have a teacher to guide me through all these advanced stages. I am the best learning on my own. I am naturally an introspective individual, which I am thankful for. However, looking back, I fully encourage you to seek guidance for your safety, health and wellness. The guidance of a teacher is so helpful especially in the first few years of the practice while building strength and awareness.
Then after that, I think yoga could be appreciated more if you explore it on your own, consult your teacher once in a while in times of doubt and difficulty, for they have been there. Our teachers develop too, so by keeping in touch with them, we grow as well. What is important is the application of the lessons. The number of hours of training to become one, then become a better one, even how many thousands of hours there are, would never suffice to match the learnings we gain on the mat.
Alliances are good to give guidance for the safety and welfare of both the students and teachers. Yoga is a practical discipline. The body is the starting point to gain access to its meditative components. As teachers, we plant the seed, our students grow it.
It is never meant to be studied by the books only. Like the rest of those who’ve been through the process, your best teacher is you.