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What Is It And How To Practice It
2 min

Mula bandha, the root lock, is an important yoga practice, but one that is often not taught in regular yoga classes. In Ashtanga and Ashtanga based classes, it is something you learn from the very start.

The Sanskrit word mula refers to the root of a plant or tree, but also base of an object, or the origin of a thing. In yoga, mula indicates the base of the torso, the perineum, and it is associated with the muladhara chakra, lowest of the energy centers along the spine.

The word bandha too has many meanings, some contradictory. For example, the word has been translated as “fetter, block, check, obstruct, restrain, lock.” That gives rise to an explanation as an energy lock. But it also translates as “bond, connect, put together, unite, combine, join.” In this sense bandha points to its function as a mechanism for joining the prana and apana energies in hatha yoga. And yes, it can get confusing, so let’s examine the practice of mula bandha and perhaps the answer will reveal itself.

Why yogis practice mulabandha?

Mula bandha accompanies both pranayama and meditation, and in some styles of yoga – asana. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the classic texts on hatha yoga, states: “There is no doubt that by practicing mula bandha . . . total perfection is attained.” This is a wow-claim, isn’t it?. But can it be taken seriously, or is it an exaggeration employed to encourage us to learn the practice?

Prana, our life-supporting energy, is thought to travel along the body’s axis – the spinal column in which the central energy channel, called sushumna, is said to lie.on both sides of sushumna, there are two more energy channels, ida and pingala that are described as twining upward from the base of the spine to the left and right nostril respectively. There are many more energy channels in the body, yet these three are considered the most important.

Most yoga texts say that the aim of hatha yoga is to unite the energies passing in the ida and pingala since these energies are by nature opposite. Actually, this is the literal meaning of ha-tha yoga (ha-right and tha- left), yoga that brings the breathing cycle into unision. Once left and right breaths are united, they ensue up the sushumna to pierce the sahasrara (the crown chakra) and that is the moment of enlightenment.

What does that have to do with mula bandha?

Well, naturally, it is considered that the two breaths or the two energies do not meet so there must be something to make them get into contact. In addition, energy, too, is believed to escape the body through its orifices (the sense organs). Mulabandha is the mechanism that will stop the life-force leaking through its lower openings (physically and mentally). By containing the energy inside the body, the natural downward movement of Apana is reversed, energy is lifted towards the abdomen where it meets its opposite – Prana. The meeting of the two ignites agni (the internal fire) and the process of going up begins.

Besides the mula, the yogis describe two more bandhas – uddiyana (the flying upwards) and jalandhara (the net). Uddiyana bandha in the lower abdomen catches the united energy lifted up by mula and carries it upwards as the name suggests. Jalandhara keeps that energy from escaping through the upper openings of the body.

Of course, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and its author Svatmarama maintain a certain mystery about all three of these practices. He implies that in order to achieve their full effects they must be completed in a precise yogic manner (taught through the grace of one’s teacher) and not as mere physical manipulations. He states that the full sadhana, or practice routine, associated with these techniques should be kept secret, “just like precious stones, and not be talked about to anyone, just as one does not tell others about his intimate relations with his wife.”

Symbolism and mystery aside, all three bandhas have their anatomical explanation which – it’s no surprise – doesn’t contradict the ancient descriptions. Without getting into much detail, mula bandha are the pelvic floor muscles, uddiyana – the lower abdominals (mainly the lower fibers of the transverse abdominal muscle) and the jalandara – the glottis. (More on bandhas in another article).

But no matter that the physical effect of applying the bandhas is easily felt and the results are obvious, the bandhas are not the muscles themselves but the feeling and sensation they produce. That, of course, requires some practice.

So let’s start with the mula.

  • The first step is to develop the ability to contract and relax the perineal (pelvic floor) muscles. To begin, sit in an erect, cross-legged seated pose. Close your eyes; rest your body; and relax your breath, feeling the sides of the rib cage expand and contract while releasing tension from the upper abdomen. Breathing freely, and without coordinating the breath with your muscle contractions, squeeze the entire perineal region—anus and pee-muscles—inward and upward. Keep the breath as steady and smooth as possible, without pausing. Press in slowly, and when the contraction is complete, release it slowly. In this exercise you are not trying to discriminate between individual areas, but to strengthen all the muscles of the perineal region while increasing awareness of them. Repeat 25 times.
  • Next, contract all the muscles of the perineum and hold to your comfortable capacity. While the tension is being maintained, continue to breathe slowly and smoothly. Sense the area around the anus, then move to the central contraction at the perineal body or cervix, and finally examine the contraction in the urogenital area. Tighten each area as you focus on it, feeling the sensations there. Then release the entire contraction slowly, and relax.
  • Now coordinate contractions of the entire perineum with the breath. Inhaling, contract the perineum, and exhaling slowly release the tension. Time the contractions so that they coincide with the breath. Jerkiness or loss of control can be gradually reduced over time. During this practice, begin to focus on the central region of the perineum, giving special attention to sensations that will be associated with mula bandha. Repeat this exercise 25 times.
  • Finally, when you are ready, center your attention on the center of the perineum, and contract the muscles there tightly with minimal involvement of the anal and urogenital areas. This is the initial version of mula bandha, and it will take some time to accomplish it. There is no hurry, and it is better to prolong the practice rather than rush it. Once you can hold it, hold it during your entire yoga practice – pranayama, meditation and even asana.

The benefits of this mula bandha practice are many. Physically, mulabandha strengthens your pelvic floor muscles, protects from prolapse, helps with bladder leakage and urinary incontinence and may regulate unstable menstrual flows. By drawing the coccyx slightly down and towards your pubic bone it also helps maintain neutral pelvic and even lumber positioning that gives stability to those areas. It also gives the feeling of rooting through the base of the spine and centering. By practicing mulabandha regularly, sexual desires are regulated and transformed into creative energy. By applying mulabandha in asana practice, great power is developed in the body’s center and less effort is wasted in even the hardest of poses.

Ancient texts say that mulabandha and its practice destroy all diseases and although there isn’t enough scientific proof for that, those practicing (mulabandha) for long can readily advocate for that. That is why yoga is a practical discipline – you practice, you see for yourself and then you know.

About the author

Irina Bachvarova

Yoga Guru

Master in Sports Pedagogic and director at Bulgarian Ashtanga Yoga Academy.

Irina is the author of the first Bulgarian book for Ashtanga Yoga and trusted Yoga Guru for TV series, produced by Bulgarian National Television.

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