महामुद्रा महाबंधा महवेधशच केचरि
उद्दियनम मूलबंधशच बंधा जलंदरबंध 
करनी विपरीताकया वज्रोलि शक्तिचलनम
इधम ही मुद्रदशक जरामरनानशनम 

Maha mudra, Maha bandha, Maha vedha, Khechari, 
Uddiyana, Moola bandha, Jalandara bandha,
Vipareeta karani mudra, Vajroli, Sakthi chalana; 
These 10 mudras and bandhas defy cell degeneration and aging!
- Svātmārāma

The sheer purpose of mudras (gestures) and bandhas (knots) are to redirect the energy flowing through the nadis (subtle energy channels). For example, with jalandara bandha (throat lock), we lock at throat and restrict the prana vayu from flowing upward, forcing it flow back downward towards apana vayu. Similarly, with mudras like chin mudra (tips of index finger and thumb touching each other), we redirect vayu energy dissipating out through the index finger back into the body.

In ancient india, these mudras were practiced regularly in day to day life. Any form of idol worship is a mudra. The famous namaste is anjali (offering) mudra. Bringing eyeballs towards the center of eyebrow is called shambavi (tranquil) mudra, which is practiced as worship in many religion. Making a fist is called adi (hit) mudra. The classical dance forms of the east are full of mudras and the importance of perfect mudra during the dance is heavily emphasized. Any enlightened deity across the world is portrayed with index finger and thumb touching each other, which is the famous chin mudra.

Before we dwell into different mudras and their need, lets understand the basics. Mudra is any gesture using the movable body parts to direct the prana explicitly or to cleanse the nadis (energy channels) for proper channeling of the prana. Hands play the major role in them. Then comes the foot, eyes, tongue, reproductive and excretory organs.

The hand gestures (butha mudras) are build on this basic principle, that five fingers represents the five elements of the universe and controls the corresponding five elements in our body.

Using combinatons of these 5 fingers 108 mudras were defined. when the tips of fingers touch it is vardhak (increases) and when the finger to folded to touch its own base and thumb is pressing is, it is shaamak (depleting).

Thumb controls the fire element. Thumbs-up is a gesture to increase fire element in the body, often used to greet each other in cold countries. Fore-finger controls the air element. when the tips of thumb and fore-finger are touching (gently, in a way you can feel the pulse rate at the finger tips), the air element is increased. When fore-finger to bent to touch its own base and thumb is resting on it, the air element is depleted from the body. Similarly, middle finger controls space (or ether), ring finger controls the earth element and pinky controls the water element.

In general, any mudra that increases (vardhak) an element is practiced for one muhurtham (48 mins) and any mudra that depletes (shaamak) is practiced for 1/2 of a na∂i (24 mins) i.e., 14 mins. There are several websites like mudraguide and yogawiz, which dwell into explaining each hand gestures (mudras) in details. These are very helpful while practicing meditating seated poses.

We'll discuss the yoga related mudras and bandhas, which are totally different from these bhuta shuddi mudras (5 elements balancing gestures).

Bandhas (locks)
Moola bandha (perineum lock)
Sit in siddha-yoni asana, with the heal of the leg below pressing the perineum. Contract moola (the perineum) ( two finger wide region between reproductive and excretory organ). Breathing naturally with no retention. The contraction automatically falls off after a couple of breaths. Contract again and keep repeating it 20 times till mastered. In the words of svatmarama;
  • Pressing the perineum with the heel and contracting the rectum so that the apana vayu moves upward is moola bandha.
  • There is no doubt that by practicing moola bandha, prana/apana and nada/bindu are united, and total perfection attained.
  • With constant practice of moola bandha, prana and apana unite, urine and stool are decreased and even an old person becomes young.
  • Apana moves up into the region of fire (manipura chakra, the navel center), then the flames of the fire grow, being fanned by apana vayu.
Jalandara bandha (throat lock)
In any seated asana, like padmasana or sidhasana with palms cupping the knees gently. Inhale slowly, retain breath and lower chin so as to touch the collarbone (with erect spine), simultaneously, straighten elbow and raise shoulders, hold concentrating on vishudhi chakra (Thyriod gland, the soft part below throat, known as jugular notch). Release the lock slowly by lifting the head back normal while exhaling in controlled way. Relax till breath comes to normal and do it again. 5 times with anthara kumbhaka (retaining breath inside) and 5 times with kevala kumbhaka (not retaining any breath, basically lock after exhalation) till mastered. svatmarama says;
  • Contracting the throat by bringing the chin to the chest is the bandha called jalandhara. It destroys old age and death.
  • Having done jalandhara bandha by contracting the throat, the nectar does not fall into the gastric fire and the prana is not agitated.
  • Thyroid gland secretes the hormone thyroxine (T4), which is responsible for the rate of tissue metabolism.
  • By firmly contracting the throat, the two nadis, ida and pingala are paralyzed and the sixteen adharas of the middle chakra are locked.

Uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock)
pre-requisite: This is done with an empty stomach and the bowels are preferably evacuated before attempting this lock.

Sit in padmasana or sidhasana with erect spine and open eyes. Inhale and exhale quickly, but not forcefully. Without any retention of breath, get into the jalandara bandha (throat lock). Pull the abdomen and stomach inward and upward toward spine. Concentrate on manipura chakra (navel) as long as you can hold. Release the jalandara bandha (throat lock) and inhale slowly with control. Repeat it 10 times till mastered.
  • Even an old person can become young when it is done regularly.
  • Of all the bandhas, uddiyana is the best. Once it is mastered, mukti or liberation occurs spontaneously.

Maha bandha (great lock)
This is applying all the 3 locks (Throat, abdomen and perineum) simultaneously. Sitting in siddha-yoni asana, padmasana, sidhasana or bhadrasana, with the palms cupping the knees gently with an erect spine. take a deep breath and exhale everything forcefully. Get into jalandara bandha (throat lock), then uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock) and moola bandha (perineum lock). move awareness from moladhara (perinium) to manipura(navel) to vishuddhi (jugular notch) up an down. Release moola bandha first, then uddiyana bandha and then the jalandara bandha. Wait till normal breathing is attained before repeating it. Repeat it 5 times.
  • Best practiced along with bhastrika pranayama in between.
  • This stops the upward movement of energy in the nadis. This maha bandha is the bestower of great siddhis.
  • Maha bandha frees one from the bonds of death, makes the three nadis unite in ajna chakra and enables the mind to reach the sacred seat of shiva (universal consciousness).
Mudras (gestures to induce a certain attitude in the practitioner)

Khechari Mudra (Swallowing the tongue)
Khechari mudra is a yoga practice where the tongue is rolled up to touch the soft palate. This is an advanced practice and the yogi is said to overcome thirst, hunger, decay and death by this practice.

For most people this needs prolonged effort. The tongue can be rolled up to touch the upper palate. Initially it may be able to touch only the hard palate. With practice, it can go further behind to touch the soft palate. Later it can touch the uluva at the back of the throat. With practice, the tongue can go beyond the uluva and enters the nasal cavity to stimulate certain points inside the cavity. This may take months or years of practice.

Eventually the yogi is able to taste the nectar (or amrit) which flows from the roof of the nasal cavity. This nectar energizes the body and helps to overcome the need for thirst and food.

Maha Mudra (great attitude)

Seat the perineum on left-heal and stretch right-leg and don't bend at knee. With an erect spine, lean forward exhaling and grasp the right big-toe with fore-finger and middle finger of both the hands. Get in khechari mudra, Tilt the head back while inhaling and get into shambhavi mudra (eyes looking inward and upward towards the point between the eyebrows). Perform moola bhandha and antara kumbhaka (retention of breath). Hold breath as long as possible and release all in the reverse order. Wait till the breathing gets normal and try again with other leg. Practice it 3 times each side.
  • Simpler version for elderly is performed in siddha yoni asana and chin mudra, 5 times each side.
  • Maha mudra removes the worst afflictions (the five kleshas) and the cause of death. Therefore it is called ‘the great attitude’ by the ones of highest knowledge.
  • Maha Mudra rapidly eliminates mental depression as it removes all energy blockages which are the fundamental cause of the problem. The practice stills the mind and body and increases one’s sensitivity to subtle experiences. It is therefore a highly recommended and powerful preparatory practice for meditation.

Maha Vedha Mudra (great piercing)
Sit in padmasana or sidhasana, poraka (inhale) and antara kumbhaka (retain) breath. Steady the mind and stop movement of prana. Enter jalandara bandha set the focus on thyriod gland and with awareness in mooladhara, place palms on the ground and slowly lift the body (with folded legs grounded) and release as the gluteus gently beat on the ground, repeat it as long as you can hold the breath. Then release jalandara bandha and slowly rekshaka (exhale) completely. Wait till normal breathing is attained and repeat it for 5 times. 
  • This is the piercer that channels prana to susmana.
  • Bestows great perfections.
  • Wrinkles, grey hair and the trembling of old age are evaded.

Vipareeta karani mudra (reversing attitude)
This is the first kriya practiced in kriya yoga. From savasana, lift the legs, then lift the body so as the body is apporimately 45* to the ground. Lift the legs straight, perpendicular to the ground. This creates subtle pressure in the throat, simulating the thyroid and awakening the vishuddhi chakra. This is always done in empty stomach, at least 3 hours after a meal.

People with high blood pressure, heart troubles, enlarged thyroid and excess toxins in body should never attempt this or any other inverted asanas.

This is practiced daily increasing the duration day by day. After six months of regular practice the signs of aging reverses. When the practitioner can do this for one yama (3 hours) with ease, the perfection is attained.

Vajroli mudra (thunderbold attitude)
Vajra here denotes the vajra nadi, which governs the urogenital system. It is second innermost layer of the sushumana nadi (silver channel). Vajra nadi is the energy flow within spine which governs the sexual behavior of a person. The Oli mudras (vajroli, sahajoli and amaroli) sublimate the sexual energy into ojas (vitality) and kundalini shakthi (energy). Vajroli is practice of contraction of genital muscles, hence sucking up the liquids through them.

Over years, these practices were termed obscene, low caste tantics, unnatural and bad. This the the same crowd that has enforced celibacy in the name of god-men through repression. In yoga, celibacy is a spontaneous and natural occurrence, like in any form of art. A painter, writer or singer know this phenomena of naturally occurring celibacy. Tantric mudras like sahajoli (spontaneous) mudra and amaroli (immortal) mudra are extention of vajroli mudra.

Shakti chalana mudra (moving the energy)

This is quite advanced practice of churning and balancing the shakti (energy) in the body.

  • Seated in siddhasana, with closed eyes, inhale through right nostril (pingala) and retain breath. Perform moola bandha as tightly as possible while retaining breath as long as possible. 
  • Exhale slowly and enter into jalandara bandha and uddiyana bandha. Practice nauli, churning abdominal muscles left to right 10 times and come back to uddiyana bandha.
  • Slowly release uddiyana bandha and then jalandara bandha, rising the head upright. Then with usual composure, inhale slowly. This is one round.
Typically, it is practiced for 90 minutes by the dedicated yogis. Practicing this atleast 5 round is recommended for beginners.

Though these jargons might make them sound too advanced, always remember the only purpose of these locks and gestures are to redirect the prana (life source) and shakti (energy) explicitly as intended by the yogi. This imparts unimaginable strength, steadiness and psychological balance which are of utmost importance for further progress.

Next: Yoga: 6. Dharana (Concentration)