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By Hari Kaur Khalsa
The Bandhas—Gateways to Developing Core Strength, Sensitivity, and Subtlety
“What is that personal self-sensory system? There will be no need for cosmetic makeup. People will be open, straight, and simple, and their beauty will be internal, not external...Men and women are going to reach out with such dignity, such devotion, such an elevated, lofty sense of self, and the beauty of the human character will be so bewitching, that not only will the one who is willing be enjoying and realizing, but their realization will be so profound that no destructive temptation by another person will work.” -Yogi Bhajan, August 1, 2000
The sensory human is a person who has the capacity to use intuition and sensitivity amidst the chaos—a person who can make decisions based on core values and lives a destiny that shares light and hope with the world. When speaking of our evolution toward becoming sensory humans, Yogi Bhajan is speaking to the very core of our practice, the core of our actions, the core of our development as spiritual beings in a human body. Kundalni Yoga has the depth to help bring us to this evolution.
The bandhas, or locks, are fundamental to Kundalini Yoga. Learning and developing the skill and internal awareness necessary in the practice of the three body locks brings both depth and effectiveness to yoga practice. The locks, specific contractions of core areas of the body, are indicated in many Kundalini Yoga meditations and kriyas (sequenced yoga exercise sets). Applying the body locks properly will help you clear blocks that impede the open flow of energy through your physical body, chakras, and subtle bodies. With a steady flow of energy, you can bring harmony and balance to your life, you can have access to your core values, and you can express yourself with integrity. The body locks heighten your awareness.
Neck Lock—Jalandhar Bandh
The neck lock, jalandhar bandh, is a basic lock applied throughout yoga exercises unless you are moving the head, as in neck rolls, or are otherwise instructed. Apply the neck lock during most pranayam practices, meditations, and while chanting.
To apply the neck lock:
- Sit comfortably with a straight spine.
- Lift your chest and sternum upward.
- Stretch the back of your neck gently straight by pulling the chin toward the back of the neck.
- Keep your head level and centered without tilting forward or to either side.
- Keep the muscles of your face, neck, and throat relaxed.
The neck lock is automatically applied by the shift of relative position between the chin and chest. Do not force your head forward or down. It is common for new yoga students to stretch the neck when other parts of the body are not flexible. When you apply the neck lock, you allow your neck to be open and maintain its natural structure, which helps you maintain better spinal posture in general. The neck lock also seals the energy that is generated in the upper areas of your brain stem so it becomes easier to focus and meditate.
The Knot of Shiva
Jalandhar bhand, applied consciously and correctly, is said to help “untie the knot of Shiva.” This “knot” or gateway is located at your brow point. When the energy of this knot is untied and flowing, you feel free of time and space. You associate yourself with the timelessness and non-duality of the soul and the Divine essence.
Diaphragm Lock—Uddiyana Bandh
Your diaphragm muscle forms both a physical and energetic barrier between your heart and your lower torso. Below this barrier are your lower chakras, the ones that relate to behaviors that are more unconscious or reactive. Above this barrier are your upper chakras, the ones that relate to behaviors that are more conscious and aware.
To apply the diaphragm lock:
- Be sure you do not have a full stomach.
- Apply this lock only with your breath fully exhaled—holding your breath out.
- Sit comfortably with a straight spine.
- Inhale deeply and exhale completely through the nose. Hold the breath out.
- Pull your entire abdominal region, especially the area above your belly button, back toward your spine.
- Keep your chest lifted and do not allow your chest to collapse downward.
- Press the lower thoracic spine forward gently.
- Keep the lift strongly applied for 10-60 seconds, according to your ability, without strain, and maintain a concentrated sense of calm.
- Release the lock by relaxing your abdomen and gradually inhaling.
The diaphragm lock, uddiyana bandh, helps to strengthen your digestion by increasing the fire element, the element of transformation in your abdominal region. This helps your heart center—your heart chakra—to open and flow with energy. When your heart chakra is open, you have the ability to be sensitive, compassionate, and kind.
The Knot of Vishnu
When you apply uddiyana bandh correctly and consciously, it is said to “untie the knot of Vishnu.” The knot of Vishnu is located at the heart chakra, the area of your rib cage, heart, lungs, and thymus gland. When the energy is no longer knotted at this center, but is flowing and open, it is said you can feel the playfulness of your life and the larger cosmic plan with perspective and relaxation.
The root lock, mulbandh, is a powerful contraction of muscles and stimulation of energies that helps to redirect sexual energy into creativity and healing energy. The root lock is often applied at the end of exercises and meditations to seal the healing and uplifting effects and stabilize your senses. Root lock is a smooth motion that consists of three parts.
To apply the root lock:
- Contract the anal sphincter and feel the muscles lift upward and inward.
- Keep these muscles contracted and then contract the area around the sex organ. (You will experience a slight lift and rotation inward of the pubic bone that is like trying to stem the flow of urine.)
- Contract the lower abdominal muscles and the navel point toward your spine.
- Apply these three actions together in a smooth, rapid, and flowing motion.
- The root lock can be applied with the breath in or out and is sometimes held during and throughout a meditation or exercise. This can be done because the muscles used in the root lock are not the muscles used for breathing or the movement of your upper torso.
The root lock blends the energies of Prana and Apana, the energies that generate and eliminate, respectively. By mixing these energies, a pressure is created that helps direct your energy upward and through your physical body and your chakras in a moderate, stable, and balanced way.
The Knot of Brahm
When you apply the mulbandh consciously and correctly, it is said to “untie the knot of Brahma.” The knot of Brahma is located at the first chakra, at the base of your spine. When the knot is untied and the energy is flowing smoothly, you feel balanced and free from your attachments to form and the senses.
The Great Lock—Mahabandh
The great lock, mahabandh, is the application of all three locks at the same time, with your breath held out. Mahabandh is practiced after many meditations, exercises, and pranayam exercises, in various postures, and with different mudras and mantras.
When the great lock is applied consciously and correctly, the body is said to enter into a healing state of balance. Yogic tradition tells us that the healing effects of this lock may help with menstrual cramps, poor circulation, and preoccupation with mental fantasies.
To feel our movement toward becoming Sensory Humans, we must apply discipline to work through the blocks that keep us from moving towards consciousness and kindness. The practice of these locks can help. Apply them consciously whenever indicated and feel the effects.
Practicing the Locks
Sit on the heels and spread the knees apart. Put the palms on the thighs.
- Inhale, exhale and apply the root lock, then inhale and relax it.
- Inhale, exhale and apply the diaphragm lock, then inhale and relax it.
- Then apply the neck lock and relax it.
- Repeat exercises 1 - 3 in a continuing series. The body will sweat. The breath naturally goes out on the first two locks. Continue for 3 minutes. This will give you the ability to distinguish the locks from each other. You will also develop a sense of how the energy moves in the pranic nadis (nerve channels) and spine.
Food for Thought
As you learn the basic body locks, are there some areas of your body that are more stiff or feel more blocked than other areas? Take your time and meditate on the benefits of each lock in the physical, psychological, and energetic realms as you practice them. This practice may reveal new or old aspects of your body, mind, and energy that need attention or healing. Allow the body locks to work over time, and incorporate them into your yoga practice.
How do you feel after practicing the body locks? Can you feel the effect of the locks on your yoga practice? Keep a journal as you learn to master these locks and benefit from their powerful effects.
“Our creativity will be our sensory system. And through this sensory system we will be overflowing with energy, touching the hearts of people, feeling their feeling, and filling their emptiness…We will create a new humanity that will have the new sensory system and thus we will establish the Age of Aquarius.” -Yogi Bhajan, August 1, 2000
Hari Kaur Khalsa directs and teaches Kundalini Yoga Classes and Teacher Trainings, Level 1 and Level 2, in the US and abroad. Hari is co-author of “A Woman’s Book of Yoga: Embracing Our Natural Life Cycles” (Penguin 2002) and author of “A Woman’s Book of Meditation: Discovering the Power of a Peaceful Mind” (Penguin 2006). Hari and husband Dave Frank, world- renowned Jazz pianist, founded Hari NYC—Kundalini Yoga, Meditation, and Jazz. This cozy NYC loft is dedicated to the expression of the creative Spirit through the arts, yoga, meditation, and music. Prior to that Hari taught classes and training programs to all ages and levels. Inspired by years of study with Yogi Bhajan, Hari is a caring, inspiring, and down-to-earth teacher, making the powerful and healing teachings of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan accessible to students of all levels. www.HariNYC.com