After mastering the three main energy locks – Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Jalandhara Bandha – individually, you are ready to combine them in the practice of Maha Bandha. This “great lock” is an advanced technique first mentioned in ancient texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, and Shiva Samhita where it’s described as the conqueror of old age and death. Read everything you need to know in our Complete Guide to Maha Bandha:
What is a Bandha?
The Sanskrit word bandha translates to “lock” or “bond.” In yoga, bandhas are performed in order to restrain, collect and direct the flow of life force energy. This energy, called prana, runs through thousands of energy channels in the body. The main energy channels are the following:
- Ida Nadi – This is the “lunar” energy channel associated with feminine qualities. It is located to the left of the spine and has a cooling and soothing effect.
- Pingala Nadi – This is the “solar” energy channel associated with masculine qualities. It is located to the right of the spine and has a stimulating effect.
- Sushumna Nadi – This is the central channel that is associated with energy in its non-dual state, free from masculine and feminine qualities. Sushumna Nadi is located from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
Unless it is consciously activated, Sushumna Nadi stays dormant, as most people live their lives through the duality of Ida and Pingala only. Thus, the central aim of the Hatha Yoga practice is to direct prana into the central channel. Then, this energy is forced upward through a process of sublimation. Because our state of mind is linked to the flow of energy within, the expansion of prana leads to a rise of consciousness – liberating the practitioner from their limited dual state toward a state of oneness.
If you want to consciously control, shape, and expand your internal energy, you need to master the practice of bandhas. There are three major bandhas in the Hatha Yoga tradition. They are called Jalandhara Bandha (throat lock), Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal lock), and Mula Bandha (rot lock). Combined, they form Maha Bandha, the great lock.
When practiced correctly, bandhas collect and restrain energy in specific areas of the body. They also work to connect and consolidate the different qualities of life force energy: Prana Vayu, the generating principle, and Apana Vayu, the energy of elimination. If both of these qualities are blended together, we induce a state of calmness and neutrality that allows the energy to flow into the central channel and rise upwards.
What is Maha Bandha?
Maha Bandha is a powerful combination of all three energy locks practiced by yogis: Jalandhara Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Mula Bandha. The Sanskrit word maha means “great” or “supreme.” Since Maha Bandha involves all three main bandhas, it is also referred to as the tri-bandha or triple lock.
Maha Bandha is explained in important yogic texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipia which states that it “is the most skillful means for cutting away the snares of death.”
When performing Maha Bandha, start with Jalandhara Bandha, then engage Uddiyana Bandha and finally Mula Bandha. Release in the opposite order. Read our full step-by-step guide below:
Step By Step Guide To Maha Bandha
Step 1: To begin, sit in a comfortable meditation posture, preferably Padmasana (Lotus Pose) or Siddhasana (Accomplished Pose). If these asanas are not accessible or feel uncomfortable, sit in any easy cross-legged posture like Svastikasana (Auspicious Pose), Sukhasana (Easy Pose), or Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose).
Step 2: Keep your spine erect. Rest your hands on your knees or in your lap. Cose your eyes, then take a few minutes to let your whole body relax. Breathe normally.
Step 3: Take a deep inhalation, then exhale completely until your lungs are empty. At the same time perform Jalandhara Bandha, then Uddiyana Bandha, and finally Mula Bandha. Keep holding the breath outside – this void retention is called Bahya Kumbhaka. Retain the breath for as long as you are comfortable. Do not strain your lungs. Even a few seconds are sufficient if you are new to the practice.
Step 4: To release the great lock, start by releasing Mula Bandha, then Uddiyana Bandha, and at the end Jalandhara Bandha. After lifting the head back to its neutral position, inhale slowly.
Step 5: This makes up one round of Maha Bandha. Repeat the practice as many times as you feel comfortable. Give your body ample time to rest between each round by taking relaxing breaths until you are ready.
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Benefits of Maha Bandha
Maha Bandha, the great lock, gives the combined benefits of all three energy locks – Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Jalandhara Bandha. On the physical level, Maha Bandha strengthens the autonomic nervous system, regulates endocrine glands such as the thyroid, increases core strength, tones internal organs and improves intestinal function, promotes immunity, and energizes the body. While the void retention can be uncomfortable in the beginning, with regular practice Maha Bandha greatly increases the capacity of holding the breath.
Practicing Maha Bandha concentrates and moves the internal energy upwards. The apana vayu is pulled up to the abdominal area where it merges with the prana vayu. When these different qualities of energy are blended together, they can rise up along the central channel. This leads to heightened levels of awareness, boosts mental clarity, and eventually leads toward self-realization. It also activates the root chakra (muladhara), navel chakra (manipura), and throat chakra (vishuddha).
Contraindications of Maha Bandha
Maha Bandha is an advanced yogic practice. Therefore, beginners should only perform it under the supervision and guidance of an experienced teacher. Furthermore, before taking up the practice of Maha Bandha you have to master the three basic locks – Jalandhara Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Mula Bandha – individually. Start by practicing all three bandhas separately, then combine them in Maha Bandha.
While holding the void retention, you should not feel any strain. If you experience any discomfort – such as dizziness or pain – release the bandha and breathe normally. When you resume the practice, do so with less force and more awareness.
Contraindications for Maha Bandha include high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, hernia, stroke, and paralysis. Last but not least, it’s important to note that all bandhas should be avoided during menstruation or pregnancy.
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