Jalandhara Bandha is the throat or chin lock, one of the three major bandhas (locks), that serves to engage the upper lock of the energetic pathway called sushumna. It is performed by slightly dropping the head down, putting the chin towards the chest and pushing up the tip of the tongue against the palate in the mouth. It is not dropping the head down but keeping the torso long, the crown at its highest position and stretching the back of the neck long, then placing the chin towards the chest so that it is possible to pull the brain and lengthen the spinal cord.
Then one may ask:
(1) How is Jalandhara Bandha possible in asanas?
(2) Why is Jalandhara Bandha important in asanas? What happens if it is ignored?
Jalandhara Bandha in Asanas
Jalandha Bandha can be performed by means of drishti – “gaze at the nose; nose observes the heart” – meditation technique. How can the nose connect to the heart? Well, it means to put awareness on the nasion of the nose and extend the focus to Anahata (the heart charka) then the physical chest is naturally lifted long and up.
While sitting down, sit upright to keep the torso long, shoulders relaxed and look forward. As Jalandhara Bandha is gradually engaged, the eyes start from gazing forward to the nose, softly through the nasion of the nose, finding the heart. Hence the chin is comfortably tucked close to the sternum and the back of the neck is lengthened. This activates the Jalandhara Bandha.
Samasthiti, looking at the nose. Look through the nasion of the nose towards the heart.
1. Ekam, inhale, reach up, looking at the thumbs. Keep looking at the nose while reaching the arms up, then through the nasion of the nose looking towards the thumbs.
2. Dve, exhale, fold forward, looking at the nose. Keep looking at the nose while coming down so as to uplift the chest and lengthen the spine. And once the standing forward bend reaches its maximum, look at the nose and through the nasion of the nose to find the heart to avoid rounding the neck.
3. Trini, inhale, lift half way up, looking at the third eye. Keep looking at the nose while stretching the spine forward. When looking forward through the nasion of the nose, then the heart, the eye gaze naturally to the third eye. This movement aims at stretching the whole spine long and bringing the chest up, which is a lot different from just raising the head up to look forward, which only arches the neck.
4. Chatvari, exhale, hop back into chaturanga, looking through the third eye. Keep the chest long as developed from above; hop back with heels pushing back but maintain the gaze at the third eye so that the awareness is still kept somewhere between the front and the nose, then lower down to chaturanga dandasana. The neck is neutral; neither looking back which puts too much bodyweight on the shoulder blades nor looking forward which arches too much on the neck. The chin is slightly forward instead of lifting the head up.
5. Panca, inhale, roll to upward facing dog, looking at the nose. Keep looking at the nose and through the nasion of the nose, attempting to find the chest (even though it seems impossible) so that it opens more on the thoracic. Avoid the tendency of looking at the sky as this only arches the neck.
6. Sat, exhale, roll to downward facing dog, looking at the navel. Instead of just looking at the navel with round neck, keep looking at the nose for the movement and finally look through the nasion of the nose to find the navel (or pelvic, thighs or knees for bodies less open). This helps to keep the back of the neck long and allow more space to lengthen the whole spine.
7. Sapta, inhale, hop forward, looking at the third eye. Same as Trini, look forward through the nose, the gaze will naturally go to the third eye.
8. Astau, exhale, fold forward, looking at the nose. Same as Dve, look at the nose and through the nasion of the nose, finding the heart.
9. Nava, inhale, reach up, looking at the thumbs. Gaze at the nose until the thumbs are found through the nasion of the nose. Again, this helps to bring the chest high.
Samasthiti, looking at the nose. Look through the nose towards the heart.
Adopt the “gaze at the nose, nose observes heart” technique, then the back of the neck is long, neither arching nor rounded. This enhances at all times the uplifting of the chest, the lengthening of the spine and allowance of more prana to flow along the spine in such a simple move. Practise more until these becomes smooth, then apply the same principle to standing, sitting or other advanced postures.
Standing backbend is like performing either cobra standing up or upward facing dog with the arms reaching up. Hence, the drishti should be the same as Panca (point 5) above.
Employ the “gaze at the nose; nose observes the heart” technique. Place the hands in front of the heart, looking at the nose, through the nasion of the nose to find the hands. Keep this gaze to go further and then gradually stretch the arms out, maintaining the awareness so that the hands are at all times being gazed through the nose and only until the nasion of the nose is no longer seen, then (bending the knees) land on the floor. Ideally keep gazing at the nose and through the nasion of the nose to find the mat to place the hands. Alternatively, just go back half way if the hands are still too far away from the mat. The chest is kept long and up in the whole process.
Why Jalandhara Bandha?
Breathing, bandha and drishti differentiate yoga from gymnastics, contortion or other sports. Jalandhara Bandha ensures the upper energetic lock is sealed to avoid the leak of energy and internal fire. It helps to enable ujjayi, a breathing method, to ensure lengthening of the spine in inhalation before any bends or twists in exhalation. Using the “gaze at the nose; nose observes the heart” drishti to engage Jalandhara Bandha, thereby inducing concentration and senses of tranquility into the body and mind.
Once the gazing points no longer stay within the body (the nose, heart, hands etc), In the case of a backbend, ego takes over. The ego dominates, leading the awareness outside – to the sky, the back wall etc. Together with the weight of the head, the neck initiates the backbend without the heart responding. Neck or low back injuries may happen. In the most dangerous situation, either the body or head drops onto the floor!
Yoga is an amazing journey of self inquiry. “Gaze at the nose; nose observes the heart” is a Pratyahara technique to bring the awareness back to the body, then the mind and the Self. Incorporate these elements into your asana practice so that it becomes a beautiful moving meditation. Take your time and enjoy the journey!