The other day I was walking past Camden Lock while a boat was being uplifted to the next part of the canal, through blocking and opening the flow of water. As I watched the boat being lifted, I thought that this is the kind of ‘lock’ we are talking about when we talk about bandha. They are like gates that either allow energy to flow, or block it in precise ways for desired effects.
So what are bandha? Some people describe using bandha as a muscle action, tightening the anal sphincter or the urogenital muscles, as if you are stopping the flow of urine. I’m not sure if you’ve tried to hold those muscles for the duration of an hour long practice, but I am not sure it is possible, desirable or effective. (I mean think of the common usage for someone who is tight a**ed!) Is that how we want to feel practicing yoga? And furthermore, are your poses better, lighter and stronger because of that tightness (Mine are definitely not!)
Bandha in Hatha Yoga
I am beginning to feel the bandha are not something we do, but something we create in the body through conscious tone, movement and breath. Bandha are a consequence of our awareness of movement: a spontaneous action within that can be controlled and used. Instead of a tightening action like a constant constriction, the correct use of bandha is like tuning a drum or stringing a trampoline. Changing the tightness on the skin of a drum or the trampoline and you get more bounce, height, or sound and energy in movement. And by engaging that energy or lift can enables us to lift our bodies with ease or to change the energy and vibrancy in our yoga poses. The can also create different pressures in the body which can change the quality of an exercise and effect our ability to maintain a desired pranayama. Because of how muscles work, you can have tone and awareness without having to be in a constant state of tightening.
Like the boat on the canal, bandha are created by pressure differentials in the body: they happen naturally in certain poses and can affect both physical and energy bodies in movement. I have written more about the three primary bandha in hatha yoga practice here.