Uniting Our Energies with the Bandhas

This post is the fourth of perhaps five brief expositions of the bandhas or yogic locks.
Before I continue I’d like to say a few words about why I’m such an ardent advocate of these great yogic techniques. When I lived in Las Vegas, Nv. a dear friend of mine, Crispin Morrison, died at the age of 41 of ovarian cancer. My friends Emily, Jeanne, Helen and I watched helplessly as Crispin fought to avoid the “slow motion car wreck” of cancer (her words) from taking her life. Coupled with my own struggle with Crohn’s Disease I intuitively felt then, as I do now that Ashwini Mudra and the three bandhas have tremendous potential to cleanse and heal us from the inside out.
My practice and research of the bandhas began from my concern about the physical body as did my initial interest in yoga asana. As I soon learned the specific purpose of these techniques is to purify the astral body, unify our energies and direct them through the chakras toward the experience of samadhi or enlightenment. We can scarcely imagine what kind of world we might create if even a small percentage of humanity could attain this state. Our chances at peace, creativity and wise living would be greatly increased to say the least.
As an imperfect novice (I’m still a beginner) my practice of the bandhas began with the desire to heal myself from Crohn’s Disease. From the first time I exhaled and pulled Uddiyana Bandha (UB) I felt the power of this simple muscular contraction. I could feel the compression of my abdominal organs and immediately began to wonder at just what marvelous intestinal alchemy I’d initiated by this first intentional application of UB.
The word that comes to mind when I think of combining Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Mula Bandhas is vacuum. The combined muscular and mechanical contractions of Maha Bandha do indeed produce a strong vacuum action as the breath is suspended upon exhalation. The root lock is pulling up and down simultaneously as the anchoring sphincter muscles resist the upward pull of the lower abdominals. The upward pull continues with Uddiyana Bandha. Jalandhara Bandha causes a deep hollow at the base of the throat and is compressively dams up the energy as the chin is pressed firmly against the top of the sternum. The stretch and massage produced by applying maha bandha reaches into the deep cells of these tissues. This cleanses and purifies all the organs, glands, muscles, and nerves of the abdominal cavity. Not only are the abdominal organs fully massaged, the heart and lungs also receive a noticeable contractive vacuum. The application and release of Maha Bandha produce a physical, therapeutic wave of complimentary oppositional forces.
Additionally, as our awareness of our bodies’ increases with practice of the bandhas, we will be able to release unconscious stress that can take up residence in our organs. (Stress and tension hold toxins.) Indeed, this was one of the first things I noticed when I began my practice of the root lock. I was one of those proverbial “tight assed” guys who walked around with his sphincter in knot. This constant tension was a result of the worry, stress and anger I unconsciously carried around with me. I can remember feeling that tightness and releasing it consciously even before I knew about yoga, but I didn’t make the connection between that tension and my diseased mind and body.
I’m convinced that these techniques, when combined with asana, pranayama and a clean diet could decrease the incidence of many of our most deadly abdominal diseases like cancers of the colon, pancreas, liver, thyroid and stomach. The pulling, stretching, contraction and compression combined in Maha Bandha must surely deliver super oxygenating blood flow when contrasted to the comparatively stagnant state of our vital organs that we take to be normal.
Likewise, the subtle or astral body is being cleansed so our pranic energies can unite to flow through the chakra system. The union or yoga of these energies eventually creates a person who is balanced and able to access the entirety of human potential. These practices are the collective doorway to super humanity. They can help lift us out of the narrow, egocentric wallows that plague our species.
Study after study in recent decades has confirmed some of the many benefits of yoga. Alas, the bandhas have received little clinical examination. I hope this lack of research will be remedied in the near future.
I am sending out a call to yogis, medical practitioners and researchers alike to begin a thorough examination of these splendid techniques that have been handed down to us from antiquity. I would love to participate in such promising research.
Also, I would love to hear from yogis around the world about their personal experiences with the bandhas. Like me, I’m sure many of you can testify to the powerful effects of these ancient methods. I certainly owe much to the bandhas in helping me recover from and banish Crohn’s Disease from my life. Let me hear from you so that we may add our energy to what the yogis started so many thousands of years ago.

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Jalandhara Bandha: Health for the Thyroid Gland

The past two posts have addressed Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha respectively. To finish off this trio of discussions on the main yogic locks, we’ll take a look at Jalandhara Bandha or the throat lock.
Two of the most common interpretations of jalandhara focus on the Sanskrit meaning of “jal” or “jalan”. Jal means water and thus the throat lock retains the water or nectar from bindu flowing to vishuddhi chakra and prevents it from descending into the digestive fire. Jalan means net and dhara is interpreted as stream or flow. This lock is said to control the nadis or subtle energy channels in the neck whose physical manifestation are the blood vessels and nerves in the neck.
Jalandhara Bandha (JB) can be performed either seated or standing with the breath retained or exhaled. It is often combined with the root and abdominal locks to create the powerful maha (great) bandha that retains and distributes prana throughout the major chakras (nerve centers), organs, and glands. JB can also be practiced by itself, and indeed should be practiced alone so the student can master this lock before combining it with the other two bandhas.
Begin seated. Brace the palms of the hands against the lower inside thighs above the knees and push the arms straight. Take a deep but easy three part breath, hold the breath momentarily and exhale completely by using the abdominal muscles to help empty the lungs. Lower the chin and press it firmly onto the top of the sternum (breast bone). Maintain the pressure as long as you comfortably can. Focus your attention on the throat with the intention that JB will provide perfect balance of the glands and structures of the throat and opening of vishuddhi chakra. Do not strain. Release throat lock and inhale deeply.
There is also a subtler form of JB practice in some traditions where the chin descends about an inch as the back of neck extends. This method of JB can be combined with various pranayama techniques.
As the student applies the full JB the cervical spine is lengthened and pressure on the disks is momentarily released. With the chin pushed firmly onto the top of the sternum the right and left carotid arteries, the thyroid, parathyroid and other vessels and their respective sinuses or channels are strongly compressed. According to Swami Saraswati this decreases the heart rate and allows for longer breath retention.
Compressing the thyroid and parathyroid glands provides an effective way to massage these glands to optimize their function. The thyroid gland produces thyroxin which helps the body absorb and use oxygen more efficiently. The parathyroid gland assists in regulating calcium and phosphate levels in a very narrow range to help the nervous system operate properly. This has tremendous implications for our over all well being.
Practice of JB may provide a powerful technique to combat hypo or hyper thyroidism.
Along with the separate practice of JB a yoga practitioner may also perform halasana (plow pose), sarvangasana (shoulder stand), setu bandhasasna (bridge pose) and sasangasaga (rabbit pose) to achieve throat lock. Each of these variations will alter JB in their own unique ways. When JB is achieved in these poses the power of the full yogic three-part breath is harnessed to further enhance the massaging effect and benefit of the combined pose, breath, gravity and bandha. The power of these combinations to balance the thyroid and parathyroid should not be discounted. Each variation of JB supplies another aspect of its beneficial effect.
While practicing JB along with the poses listed above one may also use sound to penetrate the cells of this region with active vibration. The practitioner simply produces a long, slow hum during the exhalation. This vibration will be powerfully felt throughout the throat and brain. As I mentioned in my post about Sonic Massage, vibration helps to optimize the operation and organization of all matter. Hum with healing intention as you focus on the throat region.
As with the other bandhas there are some conditions of the neck and spine where JB is contraindicated. Practitioners with cervical spondylosis, high intracranial pressure, vertigo, high blood pressure or heart disease should avoid Jalandhara Bandha until these conditions have been successfully alleviated. As always, if you have any doubts consult a medical professional.
In my next post we will put the three bandhas together for the practice of maha bandha and perhaps consider the crown jewel of Hatha Yoga, nauli kriya.