The maha bandha is also known as ‘the great bandha’, and that’s no understatement! This is an advanced yoga practice, so if you’re new to bandhas it might be an idea to familiarise yourself with our earlier articles on the bandhas, start here.
As we have previously said, bandhas are a crucial part of the regulation of prāna. Prāna is a Sanskrit word describing the energy that is the foundation for all life. Prāna is also sometimes interpreted as meaning the breath but prāna is not just another word for the air that we breathe, prāna is much more than that, it is life energy.
In yoga, prāna is the one major energy flow that concerns us. Bandhas regulates the flow of prāna by moving it in a controlled manner and opening our energy channels.
Three Bandhas in One
Maha bandha is three bandhas rolled into one: the mūla bandha, the uddiyana bandha and the jalandhara bandha are all performed together in a cross-legged seated position. Yes, admittedly there is a lot to happening here in one go, so please take your time to absorb the information in the three comprising bandhas and become fully acquainted with them before attempting ‘The Great One’!
Accessing the Maha Bandha
To perform a maha bandha, sit in lotus, half lotus or cross-legged pose. Take a big inhale, then exhale fully through the mouth. Once your lungs are empty, hold your out-breath, place your hands on your knees, lift slightly in the chest and keep the back straight. Perform jalandhara bandha, uddiyana bandha and mūla bandha in that order. Remain in this position, with all three bandhas held, for as long as you comfortably can and as long as the held breath can be sustained without strain.
This may be as little as one or two seconds to begin with but you will quickly build this up with practice. To release the maha bandha, first release mūla bandha, then uddiyana bandha and then jalandhara bandha, and breathe in steadily without gasping.
As I say, plenty to think about in this one, it makes rubbing your tummy and patting your head quite simple in comparison!
Starting Slowly: Working up to Maha Bandha
As you’re already aware, maha bandha is not a beginners exercise. Building up to a full maha bandha can take time. It’s best to familiarise yourself with the component bandhas that make up a maha bandha, so let’s quickly revise these one by one:
Mūla bandha is the internal lifting of pelvic muscles without strain or tension. Activating the mūla bandha increases prāna flow in the pelvis.
Uddiyana bandha is a contraction and lifting of the abdomen causing a concavity between the pelvis and the ribs. It is said to push energy up toward the brain giving more vitality and endurance.
Jalandhara bandha is a lowering of the chin to the chest, preventing increased prāna from rising into the head and causing lightheadedness.
Study each one in turn until you have mastered them before attempting a maha bandha.
Maha Bandha On The Mat
Maha bandha is a wonderful way to transition from prānāyāma to meditation. After your prānāyāma practice, sit quietly for a moment and allow your whole system to settle down. Then perform a round (increasing rounds with practice and over time) of maha bandha before beginning your meditation session. Once mastered, maha bandha rounds can be increased to three to five rounds.
As with the other bandhas there are health benefits to be gained from practicing maha bandha such as soothing the nervous, endocrine, respiratory and circulatory systems and also creates a sense of clearheadedness. The throat, solar plexus and root chakras are also stimulated during the practice of maha bandha, and it may help to visualise these chakras activating as you hold your maha bandha.
A Word Of Caution
Please read these precautions and contraindications before practicing bandhas. Although they are a great tool, they are not appropriate for every practitioner. This does not restrict or limit your practice in any way, as there are many other ways to strengthen and deepen your yoga practice.
As we have said before in the previous bandha articles, bandhas are not suitable during pregnancy, for those with blood pressure problems, heart conditions, risk of stroke or thrombosis, glaucoma, an internal ulcer or any condition that may be aggravated by breath retention and increased internal pressure. It is always best to seek advice from an experienced yoga teacher and your doctor before embarking on bandha practice if you have any known medical conditions.
The Three “B’s”: Bandhas, Balance and… Take a Breather!
Practicing maha bandha will move energy, or prāna, around the body and can be very stimulating so be sure not to over-do your practice! As we have said before in your other bandha practices, build up gently, and be sure to rest in Śavāsana to allow your energies to return to normal afterward.
So, that concludes our introductory tour of the world of bandhas. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about them as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing them! Remember to have a look at the mūla bandha, the uddiyana bandha and the jalandhara bandha sections as you progress in your yoga studies towards maha bandha as each one is a jewel in and of itself. If you’re attempting bandhas in your yoga practice, why not let us know how you’re getting on in the comments below!