All aspirants are strictly advised not to practice the exercises of kumbhaka (retention of breath) without applying the bandhas. Bandhas are locks, and there are three of them: jalandhara bandha (the chin lock), uddiyana bandha (the abdominal lock), and mula bandha (the anal lock).
Bandhas and Their Application
Jalandhara Bandha (Chin Lock)
The internal and external carotid arteries, which bring the blood supply to the brain, lie on both sides of the neck. When pressure is applied to these arteries through the chin lock, the nerve impulses traveling to the brain attenuate body consciousness and bring about a trancelike condition. This stimulation also slows down the heart, and the vijnani nadi, which can be translated as “channel of consciousness,” can thus be brought under conscious control. It is said in the Shiva Samhita that by putting pressure on the carotid sinus nerves, a blissful state of mind is experienced. In other words, when the chin lock is practiced, both in exhalation and inhalation, control of the vijnani nadi becomes easy. But it takes a long time—sometimes years—for the yogi to gain mastery of jalandhara bandha.
When the chin lock is not applied after the retention of the breath, the air wants to rush out after deep inhalation, even if the glottis is kept closed. So it rushes through the auditory tubes and disturbs the inner ear, causing various disorders. Therefore, jalandhara bandha is applied to prevent such disorders. The glottis is first closed; then, by proper application of the chin lock, practicing kumbhaka becomes easy.
A few doctors in India put pressure on the carotid arteries and thus give yogic anesthesia to the patient. They even perform minor surgery with this “anesthetic.” The same principle has been adopted by martial arts experts, especially in the school of kung fu. Children often experience that pleasant feeling of “passing out” when they unconsciously learn to put pressure on the carotid artery. Through jalandhara bandha, yogis bring about conscious control of this phenomenon and thus attain a state of joy before meditating.
To do jalandhara bandha, sit in a meditative pose with your head, neck, and trunk erect. Slightly elevate the sternum and upper rib cage, bringing them toward the chin. Lower the chin and jaw, placing them onto (or near) the area of the upper chest at the notch between the two collarbones. If you cannot touch the upper chest, you can place a rolled washcloth under the chin. Do not tense any part of the neck, tilt it to the side, or strain to force the chin to the chest. Breathe evenly for five breaths, then raise the head back to the starting position.
Uddiyana Bandha (Abdominal Lift)
Uddiyana bandha is an exercise that involves the diaphragm, ribs, and abdominal muscles, and it can be practiced either standing or sitting in one of the meditative postures. In the standing position, place the feet approximately two feet apart. Keep the spine straight, bend the knees slightly, and lean forward from the waist far enough to place the palms of the hands just above the knees. Exhale completely, and place the chin on the hollow of the throat. Without inhaling, suck the abdominal muscles in and up, pulling the navel toward the spine. This motion pulls the diaphragm up and creates a cavity on the front side of the abdomen under the rib cage. The back will curve slightly. Hold this position for as long as it remains comfortable. Then slowly inhale and relax.
Never force the abdominal muscles outward; use force only in pulling the muscles in and upward. Do not practice this exercise if there is any problem with high blood pressure, hiatal hernia, ulcers, or heart disorders. Women should not practice it during menstruation or pregnancy. Uddiyana bandha is one of the finest exercises for the abdominal organs.
Mula Bandha (Anal Lock)
Mula bandha (the anal lock) is an exercise in which the sphincter muscles are contracted. Both the external and the internal sphincter muscles are contracted and then held. This bandha is used during pranayama and meditation.
Mudra means “seal.” There are a number of mudras mentioned in the yoga texts, including maha mudra, khechari mudra, ashvini mudra, yoga mudra, vajroli mudra, jnana mudra, Vishnu mudra, and others.
One mudra used during meditation is jnana mudra (the finger lock). Once the student has arranged his feet and legs and has placed his body in a comfortable sitting posture, it is important that the arms, hands, and fingers be arranged accordingly so that they do not become a source of distraction. Jnana mudra is then applied. Although there are various ways of placing the fingers, the simplest is to place the thumb and the forefinger together and rest the hands, palms downward, on the knees. Vishnu mudra, which is used during pranayama exercises, is described in the nadi shodhana section.
Editor’s note: In the next post in this series, Swami Rama explains how a steady, comfortable sitting posture serves as the foundation for breath awareness, an essential step in meditation.
Source: Science of Breath by Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine, MD, and Alan Hymes, MD