The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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The Bandhas, Part 2: Neck Lock (Jalandhar Bandh)

This post is about Jalandhar Bandh, or neck lock. If you’d like to read more about the bandhas or body locks, read Part 1 here.

Unlike the root lock, neck lock is quite simple, so simple that I had been doing it without even realizing it. You probably have too. It is done during most meditations. When, in the meditation pose description, you hear lift your chest and tuck your chin, this is neck lock, simple as that.

How to do Neck Lock

Here’s a more detailed description (from The Aquarian Teacher Training Manual):

  • sit comfortably with a straight spine
  • lift the chest and sternum upward
  • gently stretch the back of the neck straight by pulling the chin toward the back of the neck (in other words, “tuck your chin” as it is commonly described)
  • the head is level and centered, the muscles of the neck, throat and face are loose and relaxed
  • don’t force the head forward or down; your neck shouldn’t feel sore

What Neck Lock Does

  • Just as the root lock helps contain and circulate the energy of the lower chakras so that energy can flow up, neck lock helps contain the energy of the upper chakras. Without neck lock, this energy could just kind of disperse willy-nilly through the upper body, but we want to direct it up through the central channel where it is most useful in awakening the kundalini energy.
  • Neck lock calms the heart and creates a natural flow of energy
  • It helps concentrate secretions from the pituitary, pineal and hypothalamus glands, and systematic practice of it can lead to creating an interconnectedness between these glands
  • It makes it easier to focus on internal sensations and perceptions without distractions from the peripheral senses
  • It prevents undue changes in blood pressure that can sometimes be induced by exercise and breathing. It acts as a safety valve that regulates that pressure by reducing dizziness that can result from a practice.

How to Experience Neck Lock

Neck lock can and should be done during all pranayam and meditations (unless otherwise specified). To experience neck lock you may want to do a few minutes of silent meditation, with the usual points of focus –breath, third eye, but also add the neck lock. Come back to this focus, checking in with your body to see if your head has moved out of the position. You can also engage the root lock as well, to experience the sensation both of these body locks has on your meditating mind and body.

The chin tuck is pretty slight. It may help to visualize bringing the chin down and in just until your neck is straight. There is this spot that just kinda feels right, so you may have to play around with it a bit. I had a teacher once use the analogy of a garden hose. We can think of our spine or that central channel as a garden hose. We want it nice and straight without any kinks in the hose, to let that energy flow up and out. That’s why we sit with a straight spin and tucking the chin creates that straight line at the top of the spine as well.

My head tends to slowly drift back up from the chin tuck. That’s why being conscious of this lock is important. In fact, when I first started meditating I preferred this little lift of my head. I had this lovely vision of lifting my head to the light. I had a teacher that would remind the class throughout meditation to tuck our chin, bow our heads (probably looking at me specifically, as I often chose not to listen to this). I used to get a little annoyed, not understanding why this was important. Now I like the visualization that I am humbly bowing to the light above.

Update (2/22/14): Sally Kempton, meditation teacher and author, describes neck lock (without calling it that) in her meditation in March’s Yoga Journal, like this: “let your chin move back so you feel as if your head is being suspended by a cord from the ceiling.” I really liked that image, and thought it may be helpful in visualizing the head position.

Resource: The Aquarian Teacher Level one Instructor Text Book, by Yogi Bhajan, PhD

I love this tree I found in the yard. I like to think that's what my third eye looks like.

I love this tree I found in the yard. I like to think that maybe that’s what my third eye looks like.


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The Bandhas, Part 1: Mulbandh (Root Lock)

Body locks, or bandhas are an integral part of yoga poses, though not a lot of time is devoted to working with them or talking about them (perhaps more so in Kundalini yoga than other forms though). So today I thought I would start a conversation on the topic.

There are three body locks, so this will be the start of a series of posts. I would consider bandhas more of an intermediate to advanced level focus, so if you are just beginning a yoga practice, it’s good to be aware of their existence, but I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about them. Focus, instead, on the poses themselves.

There are three different body locks: neck lock, or jalandhar bandh; diaphragm lock, or uddiyana bandh; and root lock, or mulbandh, which I’ll talk more about today. When all three locks are applied together the great lock, or mahabandh, is created.

So, what are body locks? And why would you want to do them?

Physically, body locks are simply tightening certain muscles and/or positioning your body in a specific way, each lock is different and works in a different area of the body to direct the flow of energy. They are not really considered poses or postures, but rather an action done during or after a pose.

Metaphysically, they get at the real purpose of yoga:

The central aim of the physical efforts of yoga is to generate a special capacity and flow of life energy within the body and aura…In this state of inner health and clarity, the sense of being and spirit awakens. (The Aquarian Teacher Level One Instructor Text Book, by Yogi Bhajan, PhD)

Let’s back up a step and talk about what this flow of energy is. Let’s talk about prana and apana. Prana is the energy that flows into the body. We can think of it as the breath, as inhale, but it is more than just the air we breathe. It is that life-giving energy all around us.

Apana, then, is it’s opposite force. Apana is the energy that flows out of the body for cleansing. Prana is generative, where apana is eliminative. “They are the positive and negative sides of the life force.” But we aren’t really talking Star Wars’ The Force –apana is not evil. Negative does not mean bad, it is just opposite.

It would make sense that we want to balance these forces. That’s what many poses and counter-poses in Kundalini Yoga do. For example, cobra pose is a great pose to balance prana and apana (even better when we end it with a body lock, but we’ll get to that later).

The aim of Kundalini yoga is to blend these two different aspects of energy, which creates “a neutrality and calmness that allows the life force to flow in a different manner.” Establishing this energy flow is the first step in awakening the Kundalini energy.

This potential for awareness and spirit first manifests as increased concentration and clarity. This is taken to all the different areas of your functioning, as the energy travels through the chakras…This produces a blissful and super-conscious state in which it is easy to distinguish the real from the unreal and to direct the play of the senses. (AT)

That’s a mouthful –I want you to read that quote again.

Put simply, the body locks deepen and enhance the energy work you’ve created within your body through yoga poses or meditation. It’s almost like using body locks can speed up the process of deepening and awakening we are trying to get at through our yoga practice.

This is a lot of information already, but I want to go into describing one of the locks, so that you can try it out and make practical sense of this concept.

Root Lock (Mulbandh)

I’m going to start at the bottom with root lock, because for me it was the easiest to achieve, or at least conceptualize. It is more complicated than the other locks, because you have a little more going on, but I feel it’s the most concrete, or as concrete as you can get when you’re dealing with such concepts.

The root lock is dealing with the lower triangle of chakras, at the base of spine. I often describe it as tightening and lifting the muscles of the pelvic floor, but I’m going to get a little more specific today. Yes, this language will be a bit jarring, especially when you hear it for the first time in a class, but take it for what it is –precise language needed to describe an action of the body, no other connotations.

The root lock is three separate actions that kind of happen all at once, but when you are practicing or just learning, you can separate them out a bit.

  1. The first action is to tightening the anal sphincter.
  2. The second is to tighten or contract the area around the sex organs.  This is like stopping the flow of urine mid-stream.
  3. The third action is contracting the lower abdominal muscles, drawing them inward towards the spine.

 

All three of these actions are done smoothly as one. In fact, when you’re first starting to work with them, you may not be able to separate the different muscle groups you are contracting. It is a subtle movement, and no one will be able to see it to tell you if you are doing it right or wrong. It feels a little different at first, but as you work with it more, it feels more natural.

Root lock is often done at the end of a pose or meditation, and can be done with the breath held in or out. Even if not specified in the kriya’s directions, it is implied that at least a slight root lock will be done at the end of each pose to contain and help circulate the energy you just created in that pose, usually after the inhale, locking the air in.

As you practice root lock more, it can also be applied during many poses. For me, this becomes another point of concentration, another way to deepen into the pose, to focus into my practice. You may want to try it with some familiar poses and see how it feels.

adding root lock into my practice helped me experience this

adding root lock into my practice helped me experience this

Benefits of Root Lock

  • It stimulates the proper flow of spinal fluid
  • It blends the energies of prana and apana at the navel center in order to begin opening up the central channel for energy flow up the spine.
  • “It starts the process of transformation from gross to subtle” In other words, by working on balancing the energy of the lower three chakras, which are associated with our base “caveman” instincts, it moves us from mere animal survival to our greater potential as humans. One of these being self-awareness, observation of our actions, rather than always moving from action and impulse.

2 Exercises to Master Root Lock

Exercise 1

  • Sit in easy pose (cross-legged) with a straight spine, hands relaxed at the sides
  • Concentrate at the lower pelvis, and inhale and exhale deeply
  • Hold the breath out. Pull the root lock by contracting rectum, sex organs, and lower abdominals. Hold tightly for 5 seconds. Relax with the inhale
  • Repeat several times for lengths of 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds

Exercise 2

  • Sit in the same manner with chest lifted and shoulders and face muscles relaxed
  • Inhale and exhale completely. As you suspend the breath out, pump the navel point in and out 26 times. Isolate the motion to the lower organs. Each contraction will tighten the root lock. Each relaxation will loosen the root lock.
  • After the 26 pumps, inhale deeply. Exhale and continue this pattern for 3-5 minutes
  • Relax

These exercises are from The Aquarian Teacher Text Book, along with the above quotes and descriptions.

The comments the book gives for the exercises: Regular practice of these exercises gives you mastery over the root lock. It improves longevity, and improves the digestion. It provides a massage for the liver, kidneys, and the spleen. If you do not pull the navel point and root lock 26 times a day, it is very difficult to adjust digestion and the lower spine. When beginning to learn the root lock, there is a tendency toward morning constipation. This can be avoided by choosing a light diet full of vegetables and grains when you initiate the practice. Be sure to take at least 8 glasses of pure water per day.

My comments: I haven’t experienced the morning constipation, but if you are prone to this, drinking warm water with lemon in the morning before eating or drinking anything else will also help.

The locks are an interesting concept, and I myself am still working with them to gain a better understanding of them, but if you have any questions please let me know, and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2: Neck Lock, which should be a much shorter post. Thanks for sticking with me!

Resource: The Aquarian Teacher: Level One Instructor Text Book, Yogi Bhajan, 4th ed, 2007.