Bandhas in Pranayama

All classic Yoga texts insist that Pranayama practice cannot be done properly without using Bandhas. The Yoga Rahasya of Sri Natamuni for example repetitively warns us:

If a person doesn't fully understand the subtle aspects of the three Bandhas, the benefits of Pranayama cannot fully be obtained” (Sloka 60) and that “Pranayama without the three Bandhas is of no use... “ (Sloka 95).

However, the instructions in these texts are not always clear, so hopefully the following article will help clarify the use of Bandhas in Pranayama practice. It assumes a basic understanding of Bandhas.

The three bandhas in common use in Pranayamana practice are:

These three Bandhas have effect on the circulation of pranic energy, and therefore on consciousness.

The table below summarizes the use of the Bandhas in the four phases of Pranayamana practice:

Mula Bandha Udhiyana Bandha Jalandhara Bandha
No No except in Ujayi No
Antar kumbhaka
(retention on full)
Yes No except in Ujayi Yes, necessary
Yes Yes No
Bahia kumbhaka
(retention on empty)
Yes Possible (this is called Maha Bandha) Possible, but not necessary except if doing Maha Bandha

A full breathing cycle goes like this:

Therefore Jalandhara Bandha is only needed if one practices with retention. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that: “Jalandhara is to be done at the end of inhalation, Udhiyana is to be done at the end of Kumbhaka and the beginning of exhalation “ (HYP, 2, 45) and advises: “At the end of inhalation, hold Jalandhara tightly.” (HYP, 2, 69).

Jalandhara Bandha must be mastered before one starts to practice with retention. The other Bandhas can be explored in Anapanasati and perfected during simple Pranayama practice without retention.

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