WHAT ARE MUDRA AND BANDHA?
If you attend a yoga class you will frequently hear yoga teachers refer to mudra and bandha. In this blog we explain what these two concepts are.
“The Sanskrit word for Mudra is translated as “gesture” or “attitude”. The Kularnava Tantra traces the word Mudra to the root mud, meaning “delight” or “pleasure” and dravay, the casual form of dru which means to “draw forth”.1 Mudras can be seen and have been used in most cultures and religions through-out history.
Many ancient yoga texts did not always make a distinction between mudras and bandhas and as a result there are differing explanations on how mudras and bandhas are to be taught and sometime very little explanation of specific mudras such as Shambavi – this is perhaps because mudras and bandhas are so powerful and can release Kundalini that the writings were not detailed as ancient yogis felt that these practices should only be taught by a guru and as a result kept secret.
“Everyone uses mudras unconsciously, it is part of body language. Those gestures are not a language developed in the Indian society, they are international, common human reflexes. The meaning of a rising of a fist or opening the arm in a hugging gesture or folding the hands in front of the chest is clearly understood by all animals and humans as well). With a change in the state of mind the posture, face features and hand positions change. It also works the other way around: Applying gestures consciously can change the state of mind.”
“Mudras are higher practices which leas to awakening of the pranas, chakras and Kundalini which can bestow major siddhis, psychic powers, on the advanced practitioner”.
IN WHAT WAYS ARE MUDRA’S USED?
Mudras on a practical level are a gesture made with hands, fingers, arms and other parts of the body being linked together and are used to connect the subtle energy through the nadis within the body and re-direct the energy around the body through joining the nadis rather than it being wasted or expelled.
Mudras can be used by most people practicing yoga, however, it will take some time for most students to develop an awareness of their energy bodies and, therefore, actually receive, feel or become aware of the effect the Mudra is having on their body – for example chin Mudra can be used to help stimulate ajna chakra but most new students will not be able to feel or even know what ajna chakra is but instead may use this practice to relax, unwind, focus or help them settle for class.
“Mudras are a combination of subtle physical movements, which alter mood, attitude and perception, and which deepen awareness and concentration. A Mudra may involve the whole body in a combination of asana, pranayama, Bandha and visualisation techniques, or it may be a simple hand posture”
“The attitudes and practices adopted during mudra practices establish a direct link between annamaya kosha, the physical body, manomaya kosha, the mental body and pranayama kosha, the energy body. Initially, this helps the practitioner develop awareness of the flow of prana in the body. Ultimately, it establishes pranic balance within the koshas and enables redirection of subtle energy to the upper chakras, inducing a higher state of consciousness”.
“Mudras provide a means to access and influence unconscious reflexes and primal, instinctive habit patterns that originate in the primitive areas of the brain around the brain stem. They establish a subtle, non-intellectual connection with these areas. Each Mudra sets up a different link and has a correspondingly different effect on the body, mind and prana. The aim is to create fixed, repetitive postures and gestures which can snap the practitioner out of instinctive habit patterns and establish a more refined consciousness.”
Swami Muktibodhananda explains that “Mudra is a specific body position which channelizes energy produced by asana and pranayama into the various centres, and arouses particular states of mind. Some mudras can be done separately after asana and pranayama and others are performed with asana and pranayama and others are performed with asana and pranayama to help awaken the chakras and arouse Kundalini shakti”
HYP also states that mudras and bandhas are bestowers of the eight divine powers – siddhis (Verse 8, Chpt 3). Swami Muktibodhananda explains that “Patanjali emphasizes that siddhis should not be sought and, if they develop, they should be virtually ignored. Accordingly to him, they are obstacles on the path to Samadhi and they can hinder one’s spiritual evolution.”
`Mudras can be practiced on their own, with asana and/or used as pranayama practice. They can also be used as part of a meditative practice – chin Mudra/ajna chakra.
APMB lists five groups of mudras:
- Hasta (hand mudras)
- Jnana Mudra
- Chin Mudra
- Yoni Mudra
- Bhairava Mudra
- Hridaya Mudra
“The hand mudras…are meditative mudras. They redirect the prana emitted by the hands back into the body. Mudras which join the thumb and index finger engage the motor cortex at a very subtle level. They generate a loop of energy which moves from the brain down to the hand and then back again. Conscious awareness of this process rapidly leads to internalization”.
- Mana (head mudras)
- Shambhavi Mudra
- Nasikagra drishti
- Khechari Mudra
- Kaki Mudra
- Bhujangini Mudra
- Bhoochari Mudra
- Akashi Mudra
- Shanmukhu Mudra
- Unmani Mudra
“These practices…are meditation techniques in their own right …they utilize eyes, ears, nose, tongue and lips.”
- Kaya (postural mudras)
- Vipareeta karini Mudra
- Pashinee Mudra
- Prana Mudra
- Manduki Mudra
- Tadagi Mudra
- Bandha (lock mudras)
“These practices combine Mudra and Bandha. They charge the system with prana and prepare it for awakening Kundalini”.
- Maha Mudra
- Maha Bheda Mudra
- Maha Vedha Mudra
- Adhara (perineal mudras)
“These techniques redirect prana from the lower centers to the brain. Mudras concerned with subliminating sexual energy are in this group”.
- Aswini Mudra
- Vajroli/sahajoli Mudra
As I explained above, in the old texts mudras and bandhas were referred to as the same practice. The bandhas have now been separated from mudras in the modern texts but can be used together.
“Mudras connect energy lines whilst bandhas open up dormant areas and actively move prana around”12
“Bandhas are extensively incorporated into Mudra as well as pranayama techniques. Their locking action, however, reveals them as a fundamentally important practice in their own right”.
“The Sanskrit word Bandha means to “hold”, “tighten” or “lock”. The bandhas aim to lock the pranas in particular areas and redirect their flow into sushumna nadi for their purpose of spiritual awakening.”
IN WHAT WAYS ARE BANDA’S USED?
There are three main bandhas – moola bandha, uddiyana bandha and jalandahra bandha. When all three bandhas are combined there is a fourth bandha called maha bandha – which is referred to as the great lock.
Bandhas are really strong practices and help release Kundalini up through sushumna.
“That leads to the higher state of consciousness, which is the discovery of the immortal part of oneself; so the fear of death is eradicated. Older texts state that bandhas conquer death. All yogins having perfected the practise of bandhas have died. But having been aware of the immortal self, death is not death, as an annihilation, but a mere transformation. The practice of bandhas leads straight to the goal or yoga. Bhandas are therefore held in the highest of esteem.”
“The three bandhas act directly on the three granthis or psychic knots. Moola bandha is associated with brahma granthi, uddiyana bandha with vushnu granthi and jalandhara Bandha with rudra granthi. The grantis prevent the free flow of prana along sushumna nadi and thus impede the awakening of the chakras and the rising of Kundalini.”
Moola bandha is located in the perineum and involves the contraction of muscles in the pelvic floor but does not involve contraction of this whole area. “The Sanskrit word moola meas “root”, “firmly fixed” or “source” or “cause”. In this context it refers to the root of the spine or perineum where mooladhara chakra, the seat of Kundalini, the primal energy is located.”
Moola Bandha can be used on its own as part of pranayama or meditative practices or as part of asana practice. In some yoga practices such as ashtanga, it is recommended to engage Moola Bandha as part of daily life to lock the energy into the body and avoid the energy being lost during daily life.
Moola Bandha is regularly used by many teachers as part of asana practice to help lock the energy within the body and prevent is from escaping during asana practice. I regularly apply Moola Bandha during my own asana practice. I also use it during pranayama and meditative practices.
Uddiyana Bandha is an abdominal contraction and involves contracting the abdominal muscles inwards and upwards. “The Sanskrit word Uddiyana means “to rise up” or to “fly upward”. This practice is so called because of the physical lock applied to the body causes the diaphragm to rise towards the chest. Uddiyana is therefore often translated as the stomach lift.”
Uddiyana Bandha can be used as part of pranayama or meditative practices but can also be applied in a lesser form during asana practice. In Ashtanga practice a different form of Uddiyana Bandha is applied which is described as being two inches below the belly button. In asana practice this lower form of Uddiyana Bandha can be applied during practice.
Jalandhara Bandha is located in the throat. “The Sanskrit word jalan means “net” and dhara means “stream” or “flow”. One interpretation of Jalandhara Bandha is the lock which controls the network of the nadis in the neck. The physical manifestation of these nadis is the blood vessels and nerves of the neck. The alternative definition is that jal means “water”. Jalandgara Bandha is therefore the throat lock which holds the nectar or fluid flowing down to vishuddhi from bindhu and prevents it from flowing into the digestive fire.”
Jalandhara Bandha can also be used during pranayama or meditative practices and is also applied during asana practice. It is naturally applies during certain asanas such as halasana and sarvangasana.
Jalandhara Bandha is also said to stop the bindhu from dropping from the head. Angela Ashwin explains that “Nectar dropping from bindhu is a pranic process. The yogis perceived in meditation a trickling down of brilliant white reddish fluid, they called amrita, from bindhu. This substance is the nectar of immortality which is wasted by ordinary humans. By practices like jalandhara and in particular kechari its flow can be reversed and utilised.”
When working with the bandhas in order to rise Kundalini through sushumna a person needs to unblock the granthis.
“Brahma granthi is the first knot and it is associated with mooladhara and swadhisthana chakras. It is linked with the survival instinct, the urge to procreate and with deep, instinctive knowledge and awareness and desire.”
In order to progress Kundalini beyond this granthi and individual needs to be able to remove itself from the attachments linked to mooladhara and swadhisthana chakras.
“The second knot is Vishnu granthi, associated with manipura and anahata chakras. These two chakras deal with the sustenance of the physical, emotional and mental aspects of human existence. Manipura sustains pranayama kosha, the energy body, governing digestion and metabolism of food. Anahata sustains manaomaya kosha, the mental body and they both affect annamaya kosha, the physical body. ”
If an individual is able to pierce the Vishnu granthi it has been able to let go of physical, mental and emotional attachments.
“The final know is rudra granthi, which is associated with vishuddi and ajna chakras. Vishuddhi and ajna sustain vijnanamaya kosha, the intuitive or higher mental body and represent the transformation of an existing form, idea or individual concept into its universal aspect.”
In order for an individual to pierce the rudra granthi they will need to be able to let go of themselves, their ego, their identities and who they are physically.
When an individual has mastered all three bandhas they can then move to practice maha bandha. Maha Bandha is the great lock which combines all three of the above bandhas.
Swami Muktibodhananda states that “Mooladhara is the negative energy pole and ajna is the positive. If the negative pole is awakened, then the positive pole must also be awakended to create the force of attraction. It is the law of nature that energy of the negative pole is attracted to the positive. Therefore, when ajna awakens, the energy which resides in mooladhara will be awakened.”
In HYP Verses 23 and 24 it states: “Verily maha bandha is the bestower of great siddhis. Maha bandha frees one from the bonds of death, makes the nadis unite in ajna chakra and enables the mind to reach the sacred seat of Shiva, Kedara”
In applying moola bandha and ujjiyana bandha the prana is pushed up through the body. In applying jalandhara bandha bindu is also prevented from leaking. In verse 23 of HYP, it also states that applying jalandhara bandha stops the upward movement of energy in the nadis.
Swami Muktibodhananda states that “Moola bandha forces the prana upwards and prevents it from escaping through the lower outlets, and jalandhara prevents an upward leakage. When uddiyana bandha is added, prana and apana are forced towards each other, to eventually meet in the navel centre, they are forced upward to ajna. Yogi Swatmarama says that “the mind attains the seat of shiva”. Shiva is pure consciousness and represents the highest conscious capacity of man. It is also another way of saying that the individual soul, or jivatma, returns to the paramatma or that one attains cosmic consciousness.”
Swami Muktibodhananda then explains that “Maha Bandha is a complete practice which can awaken the entire pranic capacity in the main chakras but should be followed by another systematic practice, Maha Vedha Mudra. The purpose of Maha Veda Mudra is to channelize the prana accumulated through Maha Mudra and Maha Bandha. When Kundalini shakti has been awakended through Maha Mudra and Maha Bandha, it must be released and directed by the practice of Maha Veda Mudra.”
In verses 26-28 of HYP it is explained that in the position of Maha Bandha, the yogi should lift his body from the floor and slowly beat the buttocks on the floor. This practice enables prana to the leave the nadis and enter sushumna and ajna chakra. “Ida, pingala and sushumna become united and verily, immortality is attained. A death like state occurs; then the breath should be exhaled.” This practice does not take place in modern practice.
All the granthis are linked to attachments of one form or another. In the society we live in today we are all encouraged to have good jobs, have lots of possessions and be known or be famous in one way of another. The practice of the bandhas and mudras enable individuals to go directly to the goal of yoga, spiritual enlightenment. I believe that in today’s society, particularly for individuals who live in Western civilisation, it will become harder and harder to individuals to reach this goal. Although, I am sure that it would still be possible if individuals are able to devote themselves fully to these practices.
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