A bandha is a breath lock commonly practiced in yoga. The word originates in Sanskrit and may be loosely translated as meaning a bond, a type of binding, or an attachment to the physical world. Multiple positions exist which utilize this technique and may be used in conjunction with other yoga poses. Each position typically involves the participant taking in a deep breath, or fully expelling it, and holding the position for an extended period of time while focusing on different muscles of the body.
This technique is typically used in the type of yoga known as Hatha. This is the most frequently practiced form of yoga, and is different from other types, including Power Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. Practitioners of Hatha focus on the asana and pranayama aspects of these exercises and meditations. Asana refers to the physical positions assumed while meditating, and pranayama is the name given to the breathing techniques simultaneously used.
Bandha is the term often used to refer to the pauses in breath which occur intentionally during pranayama. When performing each technique, the breath is intentionally held to prolong the pause. Air is not allowed in or out of the lungs during these pauses, and is often focused in different areas of the body by the practitioner.
The main parts of the body used while performing these exercises are the lips, palate, glottis, chin, and diaphragm. The lips and palate work together to stop air leaving through the mouth and nose in a manner similar to swimmers holding their breath before going under water. The glottis stops air in the throat, and may be closed by beginning a swallowing motion and stopping just as the muscle tightens. The chin, when pressed tightly to the chest, also stops the flow of air in and out of the lungs. The diaphragm muscle is the center for controlling breathing movements and may be expanded to adjust the amount of air taken in and how long it may be held.
The two primary forms of bandha are Jalandhar Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. Jalandhar Bandha involves sitting in a cross legged position on the floor with the shoulders relaxed and hands resting lightly on the knees. A breath is taken in slowly without completely filling the lungs, and held in place by locking the chin to the chest gently and elongating the neck. This posture should be maintained for as long as is comfortable before releasing the chin, filling the lungs to capacity, and exhaling slowly. This position may be used to tone the neck and upper shoulder muscles, and is also believed to aid in curing ailments of the throat and thyroid.
Uddiyana bandha focuses on the abdominal muscles of the torso and involves the expulsion of air from the lungs. Many yoga teachers recommend that this technique be performed while standing, though it may also be used while seated. All air is pushed out of the lungs before the passageways are shut off. The abdominal muscles then expand in a mock breath which carves out the belly and brings the naval up towards the spine. This position may be used in conjunction with Jalandhar Bandha, and both locks can be maintained between 15 and 20 seconds before releasing and returning to normal breath.