Classically tri-banda or bandhas three (traya-bandha) is the utilization of the three major bandhas of mulabandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha within an overall sequenced order. Classically mulabandha is usually performed first, then uddiyana, then lastly jalandhara. Most often we release jalandhara first and mulabandha last (the reverse order of application). This is a good rule to learn at first, with the foreknowledge that all these rules are artificial, they are to be broken as one advances and authentic wisdom through functional and effective practice supplants mere rules of thumb. Also the advanced student should realize that there exist many variations of the bandhas in conjunction with the various pranayama, mudra and visualization techniques. For example we have already previously stated that an energetic mulabandha can and should be held all the time, but in the beginning the bandhas are given both in their coarse external form and in a sequential order. Indeed it assumed that the beginner has already learned the kriyas, especially aswini mudra, vajroli mudra, sthula basti, agni sara, and nauli kriya.
At the end of this chapter we have introduced additional adjunctive bandhas, so while utilizing these additional bandhas a rule of thumb is to apply the bandhas from the bottom up, and release them from the top down. Thus first mula, swadhi, nabhi, uddiyana, hri, jalandhara, and ajna bandhas — in this case the order is usually best initiated from a firm base upward. If performed energetically the bandhas need not be a strain at all and can be held indefinitely, however such a presentation is not the classical written presentation (which is the gross and external). Especially jalandhara bandha is only given during kumbhaka (retention) and never held while the breath is moving i.e., it is released at the end of retention before the breath starts to move. In this section we will discuss
Here we will limit our discussion to the various implementations of tri-bandha which is a very valuable application for pranayama, pratyhara, dharana, mudra, and meditation practice. It cures both a wandering mind and a sleepy mind (both diseases of either rajas or tamas). Try doing all the bandhas all together in the following sequence, not only during meditation, asana, and pranayama practice, but even during the day while walking, sitting, and working.
Again the general rule of thumb is to perform mulabandha first. Most of the time perform uddiyana second. Then jalandhara lastly. Always release jalandhara first and mulabandha last. As we reiterate often the subtle form of mulabandha can be done anytime/all the time (in other words we do not release mulabandha at all). It doesn’t ever have to be released, while classically jalandhara is usually not recommended while the breath is moving (only applied during retention (kumbhaka). The preceding is good advice for the beginner who may first learn to apply a tight jalandhara bandha which restricts the breath at the throat and neck in practicing kumbhaka (breath and energy retention), but we wish to point out at the same time the existence of a more subtle and energetic jalandhara bandha, which also can be applied anywhere/all the time. For example, the subtle motion of jalandhara bandha can be applied in any asana so that one who may have the tendency to jut out their too far forward and upward (which causes an undesirable compression at the back of the neck) will benefit by bringing the chin inward and down toward the throat and at tech same time creating more space between the occiput and the top of the shoulders. This movement of jalandhara bandha can be used to alleviate neck tension when done with a soft throat, but if one already has a flat neck, a reversed curvature at the neck, or other abnormalities of the s like curve at the cervical region, then more customized directions are suitable, thus the above can only be stated as a general rule of thumb. For example many people tend to compress the back of their neck in backward bends, but not all while some people may overly flatten the back of their necks in sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and halasana (plough pose), but their are many exceptions. In this regard a a “good” teacher may be a reasonable substitute until the lacking “self knowledge” is attained. This is true for all kriya, asana, bandha, pranayama, and mudra practice.
Tribandha is very valuable for mudra, pranayama, pratyhara, dharana, and meditation practice. As mentioned above, tribandha not only cures both a wandering mind and a sleepy mind (both diseases of rajas or tamas) and thus is excellent as a counteractive remedy in meditation practice, but it goes further in balancing the doshas and winds, balancing prana and apana — the ha and the tha of hatha yoga. It increases rajas energy if it is lacking and moves it through the system if it has accumulated to excess in any one spot and been blocked. Bandhas help to move the energy through all the energy centers and as mentioned above can be said to pierce the three psycho/physical knots (granthis) which block the three realms of existence. Tri-bandha or trayabandha specifically draws the energy into the the muladhara chakra and from there into the sushumna (central column) and it is thus the forerunner of the advanced pranamaya practice of vase breathing and the mudra practice of tummo heat. As such the practice of the bandhas are often called a fire practice. Indeed it is closely related to tapas (turning up the heat) in many respects.
As indicated throughout this book. Traya (traya means the three) bandha in its subtle energetic form can be implemented throughout asana practice and throughout the day and night. They also occur spontaneously when one is naturally aligned with Source or as Grace. Traditionally the three bandhas (Traya bandha) as used in pranayama practice is as follows.
Very Simple traditional tribandha (trayabandha)
- Exhale all the breath out applying mulabandha, uddiyana bandha, and cap it off with jalandhara bandha in that order. Play with accentuating mula and uddiyana bandha here. Hold the breath out while the torso and spine remains long.
- Release jalandhara first, then uddiyana, then mulabandha, as you inhale drawing the air down into the lower abdomen as the diaphragm and abdomen expands.
- At the end of the inhale apply mulabandha first and then cap it off with jalandhara bandha (binding the prana inside) while lifting the spine and torso (crown raises up toward the heavens).
- Increase this inner and feeling of internal space playing with mulabandha and jalandhara bandha while holding the breath in (antar kumbhaka) without any strain.
- Before any tension or stress (or when the lift has peaked) , then release the jalandhara bandha first, then the breath and mulabandha, while implementing uddiyana bandha slowly until all the air has been expelled.
- Repeat as in 1 above 10 times.
- Be gentle and go for the vital healing energy.
Sequence of traya bandha with antar kumbhaka (internal retention) utilizing mulabandha throughout:
- Exhale all the breath out applying mulabandha, uddiyana bandha, and cap it off with jalandhara bandha in that order. Play with accentuating mula and uddiyana bandha here. Hold the breath out while the torso and spine remains long.
- Release jalandhara first, then uddiyana as you inhale.
- At the cap of the inhale, bind it with jalandhara bandha and lift the spine and torso even more with an uddiyana bandha and gentle accentuation of mulabandha.
- Release the cap of jalandhara bandha first, then the breath
- Repeat as in 1 above
Another way to perform the above is to hold the jalandhara bandha all the time (never unlocking it). Just make sure that the glottis is open and the throat and neck muscles are not tight nor stressed. In other words both jalandhara and mulabandha are implemented throughout and the practice becomes more of a pranayama practice. Some schools teach jalandhara bandha to include the forced closing of the glottis, but in this specific version there is no tension or holding at the throat or glottis, but merely the chin comes in toward the sternal notch while the back of the neck elongates.
This is the simple version that I like to give in a mixed class:
Here mulabandha is implemented throughout, but jalandhara is manipulated, while uddiyana bandha changes from a subtle implementation (on the inhalation) to a more physical coarse implementation on the exhalation:
- Inhale through the nose while visualizing the prana coming in from Infinite Source through the crown of the head through the entire body down into the muladhara in a subtle wavelike motion.
- After the full inhalation is complete apply mulabandha and then top off the retention of breath with jalandhara bandha to hold the breath in (antar kumbhaka).
- Then smoothly release the jalandhara bandha first, while spontaneously starting a gradual uddiyana bandha to expel all the air out moving the apana in an upward motion starting in the lower abdomen, through the torso, to the top of the head melting any hardness and purifying any poisons.
- Inhale again as in one and repeat this tribandha visualization practice 10 times
Since uddiyana bandha is always best implemented in conjunction with mulabandha, the above did not recommend releasing mulabandha before the exhalation (after releasing jalandhara bandha), but please note that many schools advocate releasing the mulabandha during exhalation (right after jalandhara bandha is released). It is advantageous to keep the spine long throughout as if the crown were raising toward the heavens while the pelvic diaphragm simultaneously merges/connects with the center of the earth. On the inspiration eventually visualize the muladhara chakra sucking in the cosmic prana through the implementation of mulabandha while on the expiration the apana returns upward to Source through the a very fine channel approximating the spinal spinal column. If you like establish conscious rapport with the self supporting pillar (lingam) that exists between heaven and earth.
At the end of the inhale compound the muladhara region allowing for a more reflexive, efficient, and spontaneous simultaneous implementation of both mulabandha and uddiyana bandha and extend the antar kumbhaka (internal inhalation). The belly slightly expands during the inhalation, but at the end of the inspiration the lower belly goes inward toward the sacrum as the floor of the pelvic diaphragm spontaneous lifts through mulabandha, and the spine lengthens. This is the beginning of classic vase breathing (discussed in the pranamaya section).
Optionally, after the exhalation when one visualizes the apana rising through the very thin central threadlike channel which ends at the brahmarandhra (hole of brahma at the vertex) one can practice external retention of the air (bahya kumbhaka) external retention. This is the hole where the spirit in the form of vital life supporting prana leaves the body at death and is part of more advanced practice called Phowa in Tibetan. It should NOT be practiced by beginners (external retention) and focus at the crown because of the danger of premature death.
In general, if you have not learned the subtle practice of mulabandha (see above in the mulabandha section), then it is best to make sure that you release mulabandha before the exhalation. Make sure that after the practice any tension in the pelvic and urogential diaphragm regions are released. However if you have learned the energetic aspect of mulabandha without contraction, then it is better to hold mulabandha in that way throughout the pranayama practice never releasing it. The practice itself puts us “in touch” with the energy and it is this pure awareness that continues to instruct. Without this awareness we resort to general rules of thumb (which are merely temporarily compensatory in nature. In more advanced practice occurs when the energy no longer leaks outside (bound inside activating the subtle energy body) — all three bandhas as energy valves directing the energy into the evolutionary body is simultaneously occurring continuously — all the time.
The ordinary use of the three bandhas are highly advantageous specifically in pranayama practice and especially, especially so in kumbhaka. So as we become more at ease in pranayama practice and more aware of the energetics we not only apply the mulabandha all the time, but actually we can apply the subtle energetic uddiyana bandha after the jalandhara bandha at the end of the INHALE. as well. This creates space in the torso and lengthens the spine facilitating traction and extension (ayama). Although this is learned sequentially at first, later the bandhas are practiced so that they are not applied mechanically, but rather gradually and softly and all together in a wave like or spiral motion in coordination with the lungs, ribs, spine, torso, head, and pelvis.
There exist external “rules” for beginners, but eventually they ALL have to be thrown away as we learn from the prana itself — as we form a living response-able partnership with the life energy. . Indeed progress means change and there are many planes and transitions/transformations to ALLOW for. How can this occur if we are tightly holding onto the past a authoritative, lawful, or “right”? Indeed how can we allow our sacred cows (false limiting beliefs) to fall away?
Utilizing the Three Basic Bandhas with the Breath, Pranayama and Advanced Mudra Practice:
The process is like a wave on the ocean — it is neither sharp angled nor flat — it is not even three dimensional — It happens fully when we drop the individual mind and will altogether and allow for it (through authentic isvara pranidhana). Thus the motions do not happen sequentially, but rather in mutual synchronicity. They are mutually synergistic. As practice increases the activity becomes ever more refined and subtle.
To avoid energetic and physical problems the bandhas are taught first. Then asana, then pranayama proper, then mudra (with asana, bandha, visualization, and breath). Utilizing traya bandha thus in pranayama assumes that we have done at least the preparations.
Thus in pranayama at first we teach beginning yoga students diaphragmatic breath (to be aware of moving the diaphragm while breathing). This is shown by the belly rising on the inhale and sinking on the exhale. Later once this awareness and ability is integrated we teach them three part breath (yogic breathing). First the belly inflates, rises, and widens; then the ribs, and then the apex of the lungs while upon exhalation the reverse occurs. One should notice how the ribs attach to the sternum in front and the spine to the back and how the breath thus lengthens the spine and moves the heart. This is as far as the majority of the yoga students go, but it is only a preliminary only.
Then alternate nostril breathing (nadis shuddhi), agni sara, kapalabhati, ujjayi, sitkari, sitali, and their variations are usually taught with their variations are taught. These are all very safe (as they are done without retention). Again we are assuming that the basic bandhas (mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara) are already familiar. In this regard the hatha yoga shat karmas (kriyas) are most synergistic. Likewise the bandhas are essential for the kriyas.
For example, traditional jal basti, vamana dhauti, nauli kriya, and agni sara kriya can not be done without first mastering uddiyana bandha. Thus these kriyas (along with the rest of the shat karmas) are taught at the very beginning of any traditional hatha yoga training. Unfortunately, it is not well known in the West that all the bandhas may be used very effectively during asana practice as well as well as pranayama and as a preparation for meditation.
The average student in the West are not interested beyond these preliminary stages. Then when there is sincere spiritual interest or passion (tapas) the more advanced pranayamas are taught which involve kumbhaka (retention) as the next step.
Always as we start to talk more “developmental”, there will arise contradictions as to the “rules” set out for the beginner. In other words the beginner is taught to perform nadis shuddhi (alternate nostril breathing) incorporating the three part breath noticing the duration and qualities of the breath. This is very instructive and beneficial — not a phase to be skipped.
Later nadi shuddhi is developed further to sukha purvaka where one applies mulabandha at the end of the inhale then jalandhara bandha (holding two bandhas). Then to exhale, release jalandhara bandha first, then implement uddiyana bandha, and lastly at the end of the exhalation the beginner is often taught to release mulabandha. Although some schools teach to hold mulabandha throughout, it is generally thought to beneficial for the beginner to alternately let go and implement mulabandha with awareness frequently, especially at first.
This same sequence can be used for internal (antar) retention (kumbhaka) after bhastrika or kapalabhati as well or any antar kumbhaka for that matter, but it is only preliminary and should not be held onto as if these bandhas were actually “performed” sequentially, linearly, or rigidly but rather more so smoothly, with kinesthetic feedback, energetically, wavelike, and naturally.
Likewise for external (bahya) retention (kumbhaka), say at the end of bhastrika, we implement mulabandha, exhale all the air out with a strong uddiyana bandha. While maintaining mula bandha and uddiyana bandha we cap it off with jalandhara bandha, but instead of these being performed one at a time (sequentially) they can be done all in a gradual wavelike spiral movement and energetically. Then to inhale, we release jalandhara bandha first, then uddiyana, then mulabandha and engage in another round of bhastrika.
Yes, its best to have an experienced teacher observe and suggest, but they are rare… while the inner teacher of innate awareness is always available according to our passion and ability to apply sensitivity and awareness to our practice. But because pranayama is indeed a very powerful force, it is recommended that an experienced teacher be consulted (at least for pranayama practices that call for kumbhaka). Remember that the point is not to hold the breath as long as you can (in goal orientation, control, or will power — as that can be injurious), but rather attain that state where breathing is no longer called for (Kaivalya).
Now the above “guidelines” still are ONLY for the intermediate beginner and further practice REQUIRES that we give up these guidelines as well. This is called authentic PROGRESS or spiritual evolution. So there exist then further advanced practices which will contradict the above as we become more finer attuned to the ever present teaching/teacher — as we learn to listen in pure awareness and consciousness. It is my hope that the above will be sufficient to begin the journey of inner exploration, as it is not desired to add confusion nor rush the practice. It is very powerful at first to become aware of the breath and activate certain energy circuits. One learns to activate the breath and energy. When the nadis are open and the requisite awareness of the energy body is achieved , then most likely the inner wisdom and evolutionary consciousness so activated will lead the sincere seeker further by itself — we become breathed by that Source and know it directly.
As mentioned, these practices involve utilizing the energy of uddiyana bandha even on the in- breath so that instead of having the belly inflate, the back and pelvis fills while the torso and spine remain elongated. . This is also called back breathing and is the beginning of vase breathing (of the Maha Siddhas) which is a requisite preliminary to Tummo (Kundalini practice) and Phowa, which is itself a preliminary to the more advanced inner/outer tantric practices of aligning and synchronizing the inner constellations with the outer.
Thus it is best to start off with the clear understanding that all the bandhas are ENERGY locks on the subtle level, not necessarily muscle contractions (although their energetic movement may as a result shorten the spaces between two bones). For instance in mula bandha the perineal space must soften to be allowed to draw up (if it is drawn too far down), and thus with the softening of the area the space between the pubic bone and tail bone shortens. If we suffer from a lack of apana, then the perineum may already be drawn up too much in spasm and must be allowed to relax. The point being (see aswini mudra and mulabandha discussion), the bandhas are not done through normal muscle contraction as in the outer/gross form of aswini mudra or vajroli mudra. With all bandhas we establish flow and remove stasis and thus there is an absence of effort and force — it MUST become more than effortless — it must energize, balance apana/prana, and give us energy! This is being reiterated because it is the most common misconception.
Thus the bandhas create flow through and between the chakras, rather than restrict it. They loosen the knots, not worsen them. Thus they redirect dormant energize while liberating our higher embodied potential and evolutionary circuitries. What they do restrict is the outward dissipation of energy at the very chakras thus stopping the outflow and in this sense they are the energetic and physical correspondent to pratyhara and vairaga in these regions their ultimate purpose is to stop outward flow and dissipation while activating the evolutionary energy in the central nadis (sushumna) called kundalini (i.e., the purpose of hatha yoga).
All the above can be allowed to happen naturally — all the bandhas and breath can be implemented a little at a time simultaneously — all a little at once — synergistically, without rigidity, as the spine moves in a wavelike spiraling manner, rather than one at a time sequentially.
When the inner teacher takes over — all this happens not through the agency of the will or the intellect, but rather by the shakti’s grace – spontaneously.
More elaborate technique is not always better. The main thing is that the divine passion/longing is still beckoning us strongly, and we are moving in that direction through our yoga practice. Extensive techniques may be obtained in books or by external teachers, but the inner wisdom energy must lead. Authentic practice is based upon getting the inner guide activated and very much involved — know him/her as no other than the Self. All instruction is available in turiya. We can share some specifics, but such should not be limited to linear, flat plane, willful, external, or left brain dominated practice.
The best practice is one that is suited for our own unique constitution (which necessarily varies for each individual). What thus works best is to emphasize listening, observing, meditation, receptivity, receiving information (often in the form of positive biofeedback loops) and then acting accordingly and while augmenting innate “response-ability” until a direct positive feedback loop is created — self activated — spontaneous while still observing, but here the individual will and intellect is no longer the doer. In sahaj or natural yoga we are moved and breathed by “that” — that COMMUNION with nature in everyday life (as well as in sleep) is what my practice attempts to deepen, make more continuous, and whole. Thus it is very simple — requires no books, computer, or props other than a good blanket/mat or kusha grass, passion, and mother.