GloForward Feature: Bandhas
The Root of Our Power
by Satya Robin Patino
September 25, 2020
There is a vitality that some women seem to exude, no matter their age. From Halle Berry to Reese Witherspoon to Eva Longoria, these women are owning the aging process with the inner glow and beauty that comes from a strong yoga practice.
While most women don’t have the time or resources to rock it like these celebrities, there are practices we can do to amp up our own vitality throughout life.
To explore these practices, we need to have a frank discussion about an essential part of our health that is often little known or neglected. For some, discomfort can arise when discussing the anatomy and sensations of this particular part of our body – the pelvic floor. However, its health plays an integral role in maintaining our well-being, strength, and enjoyment as life’s experiences make their marks on our bodies and spirit.
By owning all parts of ourselves – even the most private ones – we can accept and embrace the innate strength and power of being a woman. This allows us to shed the shame that comes from diminishing something core to who we are.
The pelvic floor contains important muscles that support our bladder, bowels, and womb. Ignoring them creates the risk of serious health consequences as we age which can impact our quality of life. Common issues during our menopausal years include not only ‘hot flashes’ but also overactive bladders or incontinence, atrophic vaginitis, and constipation.
The strength of our pelvic floor plays an important role not only in our physical health, but also in our mental well-being, self-image, and overall vitality. In yoga, this is developed through a practice of muscular contractions during breathwork and asana poses to engage the Bandhas, which are muscular and energetic locks that reside in the pelvis, abdomen, and throat.
The Bandhas contain and focus the flow of energy in the body, in a manner similar to a system of waterway locks that enables a boat to rise up an incline by concentrating and leveling the flow of water. Activation and engagement of muscles in these three strategic “locks” in the body lifts and tones its systems against the natural downward flow of gravity.
The Root Lock
The source and root of our strength comes from a toned pelvic floor - where life is created and birthed, sexual pleasure is experienced, and bodily waste is eliminated. It provides an essential structure to support our pelvic organs, abdominal core and spine, as well as ensuring the vital flow of our life force and sexual energy throughout life.
From an anatomical perspective, the muscles of our pelvic floor form a diamond-shaped hammock that spans the space between the bones of the pubis, the two ischium (sitting bones), and the coccyx (the tail bone).
Activating these muscles (using a subtle lift action) brings awareness to the space between the pubis (front) and the coccyx (back). During yoga practice, engaging these muscles enhances alignment and can help alleviate pre-existing tightness, tension, and lower back pain and can counteract any future possibility of lower back injury – both on and off the mat.
Physically, the root lock (Mula Bandha) resembles a Kegel exercise. Kegels involve contracting the muscles at the center of the perineum and “lifting” the pelvic floor. One way to get the feel for this exercise is to engage your “stop-pee” muscles.
Along with strengthening the lower back, practicing the root lock can also provide more mobility in the pelvis, support the lumbar spine and lengthen the psoas muscle. All good things to counterbalance our sedentary lifestyle.
Make Kegel exercises part of your daily routine. You can do Kegel exercises discreetly just about any time, whether you're sitting at your desk or relaxing on the couch. Check out how here.
From the stability of a strong pelvis, two additional Bandhas strengthen the abdomen, torso, and neck. These move the flow of energy up from the root to the solar plexus to the heart, where it is clarified, and then on to the throat and brain.
The abdominal lock (Uddiyana Bandha) is frequently referenced in yoga class with the instruction to “draw your navel in towards your spine and up towards your ribcage.” Along with toning, this creates space for the abdominal organs as the diaphragm is drawn upwards under the ribcage. It also increases the efficiency and productivity of the diaphragm muscle. It draws the life force up out of the primal root and links it with the higher energy of the heart.
The throat lock (Jalandhara Bandha) has been said to connect the body and the heart to the mind. The muscles of the front of the neck draw the chin towards the sternum, which brings the back of the neck/cervical spine into alignment. One of the main physiological benefits of the throat lock is the stimulation of the thyroid which balances the regulation of hormones responsible for an efficient metabolism.
When all three Bandhas are practiced together (Maha Bandha), the practice enhances the overall wellness and efficiency of the body’s natural ability to grow, mature, and heal itself. It strengthens the diaphragm and the efficiency of the respiratory system, tones the heart and the cardiovascular system, stokes the digestive fires and tones the abdominal organs, optimizes the systems of assimilation, digestion and excretion, and stimulates the thyroid and other endocrine glands.
More Than Just Physical
To understand the deeper benefits of the practice, it is important to address the concept of energy. Energy is our experience of vitality – our life force. When we feel depleted, we recognize ourselves as “low energy.” And these days, we can all relate to the buzz of nervous energy, or anxiety, that floods our systems at times.
When energy is unfocused, it can feel overwhelming, as we see in a panic attack, or when we experience the depths of despair. Engaging the Bandhas enables us to channel our energy for release or into something more productive. When we concentrate, pull up from the pelvic floor, it lifts up the energy. When we engage our abdomen, we can further lift the energy out of our pelvis and up into our heart – which is a higher center of consciousness. We then come out of the base energy of fear and up into the power center of our heart, which is based in love.
By activating the throat lock, we can utilize our breath to further concentrate the flow of energy into the support structure of our spine. From dissipated energy singing along our nerve endings, we pull it into our core spinal channel. This more focused stream of energy, which has been clarified in the heart, then flows up into the brain. Rather than the racing thoughts caused by unfocused nervous energy, our mind is fed by the balance of the heart’s wisdom.
Here’s an easy practice to get started, inspired by my teacher, Amba Stapleton:
Come to your favorite seated position, with your sitzs bones grounded, using a pillow if needed. Ensure that the three segments of the torso (root, solar plexus, upper chest) are stacked one on top of the other in alignment.
Begin to breathe slowly and mindfully. Notice the way the inhale has 3 parts: filling the belly, then the side ribs, and finally the upper chest. As you exhale, feel the breath deflating the upper chest, the side ribs and finally the abdomen.
As you slow down and concentrate on the 3 part Exhalation, begin to notice 3 things:
As you begin your full exhalation from the upper chest, notice the relaxation that occurs in your pectoral or upper chest muscles. Begin to draw your chin down, elongating the back of the neck. This is the natural Jalandhara Bandha.
As you continue this exhale, contracting your side ribs and solar plexus area, your diaphragm begins to lift up into the upper cavity of your torso. This is a relaxed Uddiyana Bandha.
As you continue to exhale, contracting your lower abdominals, if you hold this contraction without immediately inhaling, you will discover a natural tendency to lift the pelvic floor, creating the Mula Bandha.
Repeat this practice for 5-10 minutes, to increase your awareness of the subtle action of the Bandhas.
Practicing the Bandhas ultimately enables us to center our power in the heart and choose more wisely from a place of higher connection.
And it gives us the glow of magnetism, with vital energy flowing from root to heart to crown. This enables us to burn brighter than any star with the power of love.
If you would like to explore a more in-depth and active practice of the Bandhas, it is important to follow the guidance of a qualified teacher. Check out our online course - Core Stability in a World of Wobble - to begin your practice now.