The True Significance of Bandhas in Yoga Practice
Sadhguru looks at the significance of bandhas or locks in the yogic system, and how they are a step towards total control of your energy.
Question: Namaskaram, Sadhguru. What is the significance of the bandhas we do at the end of certain asanas and kriyas?
Sadhguru: Let’s first talk about bandhas in general. The ones you are doing are first steps. Essentially, bandhas are about slowly getting control and locking your energy the way you want. Bandhas are employed to gain control of your energy system. First you practice it physically for some time. If one day, without employing your muscular or skeletal system, you are still be able to do it, then your bandha is good. Then you can lock it wherever you want and direct your energies according to whatever action you want to perform. After some time, you will not even have to think about locking it – it will simply happen. If you want to perform a certain activity, your system will start responding to the requirements by itself.
One important aspect of yoga is to gain similar control over your energy body or Pranamaya Kosha, and your mental body or Manomaya Kosha, as you have over your physical body or Annamaya Kosha. As an experiment, you can try this using your hand. Initially, physically make a tight fist and open it again – do this three times. Then do the same mentally. You should become conscious of the sensations that are caused by this activity. You only know that your fist is closed because of the sensations you experience – there is no other way for you to know. As you mentally do this, at least to some extent, you should feel the sensations of closing the fist. To this extent, you have control over your physical body. Yoga means you want to get to a state where you can exercise all three of these koshas as you wish. If you really want to perform at your peak, it is important that your energy and mental body do the same thing as your physical body. Otherwise, there will be friction.
If your Annamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, and Pranamaya Kosha are not properly aligned and synchronized, your actions will not be smooth, easy, and effortless. There will be a lot of effort to do simple things. How much sleep you need is determined by this alignment. If you need eight hours of sleep – unless you have performed an extraordinary amount of physical activity – it means the three types of bodies are not in proper alignment. They are in friction. You need this amount of rest to heal all the friction that has happened within yourself. If these three aspects are well aligned, even if you are highly active physically, you will only need four-and-a-half hours to five hours of sleep. If you are less physically active, you will be fine with even lesser because everything is in proper alignment.
This is what we want to bring to the world – that human beings perform at their peak. The efficiency of any machine essentially depends on the level of friction within it. If you reduce the friction to the minimum, the machine will be superefficient. When the friction is minimal, with the same amount of power, it will do much more work. On the other hand, if there is more friction, the internal loss is higher. That is what is happening to a lot of people. If you have the necessary perception, you can clearly see which bodies are in sync and which ones are not. You should be able to look at people, whoever they are, not in terms of their body parts, but in terms of the alignment and the geometry of their bodies.
You will see there is much more beauty in the geometry than in the shape and form of the outer body. There are many far more exciting things happening in the geometry of the person. The shape and size of the body or body parts is only exciting if you are poisoned with hormones. Without the hormonal poisoning, looking at any kind of body means nothing. We do not have to physically eliminate it, but you must be able to eliminate it through awareness. If you look at something, simply look at it without being influenced by whatever is happening within you. Learn to see everything the way it is.
Directing Your Energies
This is important because yoga is not just about learning 33 or 84 asanas – it is about the mechanics of life. There is so much to the mechanics that even if you spend a hundred lifetimes on it, you will still not know all of it. No one can say they know the whole of it. You know it to the extent it is relevant for you. But if you want to delve deeper, there is much more to it.
The bandhas are a dimension of yoga where, to go back to our example, you learn to hold a fist without employing the body. Initially, you employ the body. But slowly, you should come to a point where, without doing anything with your body, you can hold any lock, anywhere you want. There are eight types of locks, but generally, we teach only three because for most people, only three are relevant. It will take a certain amount of practice before you can go into other aspects. If you have sufficient movement in your energy body, if it has become malleable enough, then you can employ all eight types of locks, which will allow you to do things that most other human beings have not even dreamt of.
Even with the three basic locks you do, we slowly want to take you to a place where you are able to lock them without using the muscular system. Do not try that right now – you would waste your time and energies. First, you must get the locks perfectly physically. Then if you wish, you can come to a point where, without using your muscular system, you can employ any lock you want. You can employ a certain lock so that the energy is focused towards the particular activity that you want to do. This activity will happen wonderfully well because your energies are focused on it and are not being wasted elsewhere. So bandhas are essentially your ability to lock and direct your energy where you want it.
Let’s say you want to speak – your energy need not flow all over the place for that. If you have control over your energy, you could just hold it where you need it for a particular activity. Unnecessary movement of your energy makes you inefficient. If you want to go in one direction but your body goes somewhere else, is this efficient? Similarly with the mind, unnecessary movement of your mind makes you inefficient. If you want to do something but your mind is somewhere else, you cannot do it well. When the physical body does not do what you want, you are totally out of control. When the mental body does not do what you want, you are somewhat out of control. The more refined your activity is, the more you will notice that without entirely being focused on it, you cannot do it. Yoga is a very refined activity.
A Question of Evolution
If you want to do meaningful action in your life, you need not only strength but perseverance of strength, so that your strength can endure without letting you down. For refined activity, your Annamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha and Pranamaya Kosha should be able to act the way you want. Like you can move your finger, you should be able to move your energy body. Then your ability to act will be greatly enhanced. Human beings are a crippled lot right now. There is a huge difference between what they could be and what they have made themselves. When a tiger, a monkey, or any other creature is born with all its efficiency, why is it such an effort for a human being? This is an evolutionary problem.
The difference between your DNA and that of a chimpanzee is very minimal, but in terms of consciousness, awareness, and intelligence, there is a world of difference. The physical body tried to evolve to match this awareness and intelligence, but it is not on the same level because human consciousness was influenced by other things, while the physical body is entirely the making of the solar system in which we live. Adiyogi said many millennia ago that unless some dramatic change happens in the solar system, our physical body cannot evolve any further. But we can make it into a stable, balanced platform to ensure that our intelligence and awareness does not go waste.
From Bandhas to Bliss
Another dimension of the bandhas is – when you stay in an asana for a certain period of time, in a way, in its own nature, it becomes a bandha. You hold the posture because you want to get the right geometry where Annamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, and Pranamaya Kosha are aligned. All three – the physical, mental, and energy body – are physical in nature. You are trying to adjust the physicality. What is beyond that – the Anandamaya Kosha or “bliss body” – needs no adjustment, you just have to experience it. But to access this, your physical, mental and energy body have to be in alignment. In our Bhava Spandana programs, you will see a whole lot of people in a state of blissfulness because we create a situation where we get these three into alignment. Suddenly, there will be an explosion of blissfulness within them. But to maintain it, to be able to experience and access it all the time, you need to work towards aligning these three.
This is what Hatha Yoga is about. You experience this burst of bliss without emotion. This is important because you cannot rev up your emotions beyond a certain point. But you can rev up your energies further. Life is not limited to the psychological scape. Yoga means you do not want to be limited by your thoughts and emotions. You do not want your physical body and psychological limitations to define the boundaries of your life – you want to go beyond them.
Going beyond Limitations
Once you are able to use the energy body the way you use your physical body, there is no limit. There is a limit to the physical, but there is no limit in terms of experience and exploration. That is what a yogi is trying to achieve through bandhas. You may have heard of yogis in India who have been holding their hand up for decades. This is a bandha. After some time, the hand will wither away because the heart cannot pump blood up into the arm anymore. Slowly, the whole arm will become like a dry stick, but he will not take it down because the idea is to hold the bandha and go beyond the physical and mental limitations.
When you cross the psychological and physiological limitations, you will come to a space that is pure energy. If you exist here as a piece of energy that is not different from the rest of the universe, becoming one with it, experiencing it, mingling with it, and knowing the creation and the Creator becomes a possibility. Bandhas are geared towards this.
Editor’s Note: Isha Hatha Yoga programs are an extensive exploration of classical hatha yoga, which revive various dimensions of this ancient science that are largely absent in the world today. These programs offer an unparalleled opportunity to explore Upa-yoga, Angamardana, Surya Kriya, Surya Shakti, Yogasanas and Bhuta Shuddhi, among other potent yogic practices.
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A version of this article was originally published in the January 2016 edition of Isha Forest Flower. Download as PDF on a “name your price, no minimum” basis or subscribe to the print version.