Carl G. Jung the eminent Swiss psychologist, described yoga as 'one of the greatest things the human mind has ever created.' Yoga sutra consists of two words only: yogash chitta-critti-nirodah, which may be translated as: “Yoga is the cessation of agitation of the consciousness.”
The word yoga is derived from the root yuj, which means to yoke, unite or to join together. Hence, the practice of yoga leads to the union of the human with the divine - all within the self.
Hatha Yoga is a development of which its fundamental objectives are the same as that of any authentic form of Yoga: to transcend the egoic consciousness and to realise the Self, or divine Reality. However the psychospiritual technology of Hatha Yoga is particularly focused on developing the body's potential so that the body can handle the onslaught of transcendental realisation. Mystical states of consciousness can have profound effects on the nervous system and the rest of the body. After all, the experience of ecstatic union happens in the embodied state.
Hence the central aim of the physical efforts of yoga is to generate a spacial capacity and flow of life energy, known as prana, within the body and aura. This energy is both increased in quantity and quality. It is then directed into a natural pattern of circulation and flow that releases the healing powers of the body's natural intelligence and the discerning functions of the mind. In this state of inner health and clarity, the sense of being and spirit awakens.
"Hatha" has a symbolic meaning derived from it's sanskrit translation of Ha, 'sun', and tha, 'moon', symbolising opposites - passive and active, female and male energy - coming together in balance.
Prana, the energy that flows into the body and aura, and apana, the energy that flows out of the body for cleansing, are the generative and eliminative qualities of energy. If both of these qualities exist in sufficient amounts, and blended together, a new phenomenon is created. The yogis described this as the opening of the flow of energy into the sushumna, the central channel up the spine to the brain (see image).
A dormant reservoir of vital energy known as Kundalini (meaning the 'coiled one') at the base of the spine is awakened and directed upwards toward the eyebrows said to be the seat of wisdom. On its journey, it purifies the body - physically, mentally and emotionally - and on arrival consciousness expands and all is revealed.
Practically, a fundamental aspect of one's yoga practice is to be aware of the three inner locks known as Bandhas. These are special bodily maneuvers that are designed to confine the prana (life force energy) within the trunk and thereby stimulate it.
The combination of opposing muscles forms these “locks”, stimulating nerve conduction, illuminating the chakras and initiating the opening of the energy channels (Nadis) that distribute vitality around the whole body.
Moola bandha / Root Lock
This is the most complex of the three locks. It is like a hydraulic lock at the base of the spine. It coordinates, stimulates and balances the energies involved with the rectum, sex organs and Navel point. It redirects sexual energy into creativity and bodily repair. Moola bandha contracts the muscles of the pelvic floor lifting and toning the organs of the pelvis including the bladder and genitalia. The pelvic floor muscles are recruited and awakened by contracting associated muscles such as the iliopsoas. This focuses the mind on the first chakra at the base of the spine and stimulates the proper flow of spinal fluid.
Udyana bandha / Diaphragm lock
Udyana bandha contracts the upper abdominals in the region approximately two inches below the solar plexus and focuses the mind on this third chakra. Only apply this lock with the breath fully exhaled and never do it on a full stomach. This lock vertically integrates the emotional qualities of the mid-body and allows circulation of the pranic energy into the central channel, sushumna. Whether applied sitting or standing, this lock directly massages the heart muscle and intestines. It stimulates cleansing and is associated with youthfulness and the slowing of all degenerative ageing processes.
Jalandhara bandha / Neck Lock
This is the most generally applied of the locks. It is a general rule to apply it in all chanting and meditations and during most Pranayama meditation exercises. Jalandhara bandha contracts the anterior neck muscles, flexing the neck and drawing the chin to the sternum. The head stays level and centred and the muscles and throat remain loose. This focuses the mind on the fifth chakra and creates nerve reflexes that stimulate and balance the thyroid and parathyroid glands.
Maha Bandha - Practicing of all three Bandhas at the same time. With all locks applied (with the breath out) the body is in the perfect healing state. The practice and perfection of this lock is said to cure many ailments such as menstrual cramps, improper blood pressure, poor circulation. The glands, nerves and chakras are rejuvenated.
Generally, the breath is held during practice of the Bandhas. Mula Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha can be performed after the inhalation as well as after the exhalation. Uddiyana Bandha and Maha Bandha are only performed after the exhalation.
Maha Bandha is an advanced practice and should be learnt under the guidance of an expert. There should not be any strain while holding the breath outside. If there is any discomfort, release the lock and breathe normally.
The benefits of bandhas:
As the Bandhas momentarily stop the flow of blood, there is an increased flow of fresh blood with the release of the Bandha, which flushes away old, dead cells. In this way all the organs are strengthened, renewed and rejuvenated and circulation is improved.
Bandhas are also beneficial for the brain centres, the Nadis (energy channels akin to Meridians that run through the body) and the Chakras. The Nadis are purified, blockages released and the exchange of energy is improved.
Bandhas alleviate stress and mental restlessness and bring about inner harmony and balance.
Try to bring more awareness of these inner locks during your yoga practice and notice the subtle difference it makes to the integrity of your asanas (postures) and the subtle energies you feel within the body during your practice. While the benefits and yogic knowledge can be explained in theory; it always comes down to your own experience and realisation of these benefits.
By Jessica Brookes
Yoga Teacher / Founder at The Shanti Space
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Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff
Asana Pranayma, Mudra, Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
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