If you’ve been to a yoga class, it’s likely you’ve heard mention of, or been instructed to do, the bandhas. It’s common for guests to come on retreat having heard of them but without having been given any real insight into what they are, what their function is, and also the impact they have.

In my experience they are very much misunderstood in the yoga world. I don’t profess to be an expert but I’ve been fortunate enough to have benefitted from the experience and insights of my teacher, who has spent decades exploring and clarifying them.

There’s nothing mystical or mysterious about them and they aren’t exclusive to yoga posture practitioners. They’re simple muscular contractions that happen spontaneously when we’re active (ie not horizontal) to support us in our verticality and movement. As a human being, your body will be accessing them, to the degree that they are available, as and when needed, of its own accord. So you don’t actually need to “do” them at all once somatic intelligence has been re-established in the body.

That said, the process of re-establishing somatic intelligence is supported by the exploration of the bandhas, in the whole of the body rather than apparently-separate parts. They are the key to inviting structural integrity; to the nervous system coming back to the relaxation response rather than fight or flight; and to the experience of wholeness within you.

So next time you are told to contract your anus/pelvic floor or pull your navel back towards your spine in the name of the bandhas, I invite you to do something different instead: release any unconscious tension held in the pelvic floor, abdomen and jaw, and simply lengthen your spine whilst allowing the muscles of your back and ribcage to be as relaxed as possible. It’s subtle, and perhaps at the beginning not even available to you, but keep extending the invitation for your spine to softly lengthen - over time your body will show you the way back to integrity, spaciousness, and wholeness.

More to come on the bandhas, but for further reading, I highly recommend The Little Book of the Bandhas by Godfrey Devereux.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Artem Bali