One of the prime benefits for people who have made Yoga as part of their lifestyle, in this chaotic modern world, is finding that calmness within. The medium by which those few minutes of blissful calmness can be achieved is meditation. A few factors come into play if you want to be able to sit in Meditation, without being distracted. Firstly, physical fitness is essential, i.e a strong back to be able to sit still and straight. Secondly a healthy well being, i.e a calm and stable mind. The body needs to achieve Homoeostasis.
Homoeostasis is defined as the property of a system in which variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant. If we apply this definition to ourselves, we need to achieve internal stability within the body, by regulating the variables that affect us, the concious and subconscious reactions of the mind, hormonal changes, blood pressure, sugar levels and so on. So how do we go about regulating these conditions.
As a start hormones play a vital role and have a big impact on our bodies. Hormones affect almost all physiological and behavioural activities in our body. It affects digestion, metabolism, sleep, growth, reproduction and much more!
By the use of Bandhas (hormonal locks) in Yoga, one can try and regulate hormones quite easily. Bandha means to close off or lock, but it is important to point out that Bandhas are not physical locks but energy locks that block energy within a particular part of the body. Bandhas are used in the areas where the Endocrine glands reside. Endocrine glands are glands of the endocrine system that secrete their products, hormones, directly into the blood rather than through a duct. The major glands of the endocrine system include the pineal gland, pituitary gland, pancreas, ovaries, testes, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, hypothalamus and adrenal glands. Bandhas are used to squeeze the Endocrine glands and secrete the hormones directly into the blood stream, thus getting an immediate benefit once the Bandhas are released.
There are three main Bandhas within Hatha Yoga.
The Jalandhar Bandh, chin lock, is practiced by locking the chin to the chest whilst holding the breath within the body. Whilst locking the chin to the chest, the windpipe and the oesophagus are closed and the thyroid and parathyroid glands are squeezed. When the lock is released, the thyroid gland secretes thyroxin directly into the blood stream thus regulating the hormone levels in the body. The Medical benefit of practicing this Bandha, is that it regulates thyroxin thus curing any thyroid and throat related issues. It improves concentration, ability to hold the breath for long periods of time and increases metabolism. From the yogic angle, Jalandhar Bandh activates the Vishuddhi Chakra. It also prevents the prana shakti to rise upward when practiced with Mool Bandh. Mool Bandh locks Apana (downward moving energy) and Jalandhar Bandh locks Prana (upward moving energy) in the abdomen area, thus awakening the Manipura Chakra. Jalandhar Bandh should be practiced after asana practice and before sitting in Dhyan (meditation) because it works on channeling energy in the body and makes the body conducive to meditate. People who suffer from high blood pressure and heart issues must be cautious when practicing Jalandhar Bandh because of holding the breath during practice. People with Cervical Spondilitis should also take care and can practice its variations.
Udiyan Bandh, upward abdominal lock or lifting the diaphram is practiced by pulling the stomach inward and upward towards the spine. This lock massages the organs in the abdomen and improves the functions of the adrenal gland regulating adrenalin. People with stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, hyernia should not perform this Bandha. Ladies who are pregnant or are in their menstural cycle should also refrain. This Bandha is performed on an empty stomach and before asana practice to stimulate energy resident in the belly. Benefits include regulated adrenalin, stronger abdominal muscles, improved digestion, purified digestive tract by releasing toxins. Uddiyan Bandh can awaken the Manipuraka Chakra, the energy centre at the navel region. Performing this Bandha, the practitioner is able to move the prana into the Sushuma Nadi, the central pranic channel.
Mool Bandh, root lock is practiced by contracting the anal area and the genital area. Beginners can start with practicing Vajroli Mudra (genital contraction) and Ashwini Mudra (anal contraction) before moving to Mool Bandh. Moola Bandha massages the entire pelvic region including the urinary, excretory and genital organs and regulates estrogen in women and testosterone in men. Moola Bandha releases lot of energy and this effects the body and the brain. It can help to relieve depression. It helps to channel the sexual energy upwards for spiritual growth. Mool Bandh is practiced after asana and before Dhyan as it activates the Mooladhara Chakra, awakening the Kundalini Shakti residing in the base of the spine.
Maha Bandha or the Great Lock is done by performing all the three bandhas together. It is practiced by performing the Moola Bandha first, then the Uddiyana Bandha and lastly the Jalandhara Bandha, in that order. The breath is held outside when all the 3 locks are applied. To release, first Jalandhar, then Udiyan and then Mool Bandh is released. It regulates all the Endocrinal glands. It helps to rejuvenate the cells in the entire body and can cure both a wandering and a sleepy mind. It can awaken the Prana Shakti and also the sleeping Kundalini Shakti and brings about heightened levels of awareness.
Hormonal imbalance is very common occurrence, in today’s generation and is a result of the kind of lifestyle being led, food habits, stress levels, sleep patterns. Yoga if adopted as a lifestyle, allows us to realign
priorities in our life and can also bring about a physiological and psychological well being. A good regular yoga practice with the inclusion of Asanas, Bandhas and Dhyan, will start to make a world of a difference to our behavioural patterns, moods swings, attitude to life, productivity and general well being.
Happy Practising Yogis!