What is Mula bandha?
Seriously though, what is Mula bandha? Does it really exist?
Yes it does.
However, this root lock is a very complicated concept to grasp in our asana practice. The problem is many teachers avoid explaining it because:
1. It’s difficult to explain and teach.
2. Truthfully they don’t really understand or use it themselves.
So what is Mula bandha? Why do we use it in practice?
Lets start at the beginning.
Bandhas are a series of internal energy gates within the subtle body, which control pranic flow. Bandha is connected to the English words to bind, lock or connect. Bandha connects movement, breath and awareness. There are 4 bandhas that are used in Hatha yoga:
Mula bandha (root lock), Uddiyana bandha (flying upward lock), Jalandhara bandha (throat lock) and Maha bandha (combining all 3 locks at the same time).
Mula in Sanskrit it is defined as “root.” It is a contraction of the Pubo-Coccygeal muscles; A refined lift of the pelvic floor. It is located somewhere in between the pubic bone, the coccyx and the 2 sitting bones (ischeal tuberosities). This area is slightly different in men and women due to our incongruent anatomy. In layman’s terms, in a yoga posture, mula bandha is a lift of lower belly toward the navel. I say this because hardly anyone’s knows what the hell you are talking about when you say “contract your pubo coccygeal muscles.” And also because it can be confused with a Keigal (in women, when in fact its higher up) or a mere contraction of the anal sphincter muscles (in men).
To become familiar with mula bandha sit in an upright position and send your inhalation all the way down to the pelvic floor. When it reaches the pelvic floor contract the lower belly region and feel an upward suction that creates an energetic lift through the torso. This is the essence of Mula bandha.
Why use Mula bandha? It creates stability and balance in asana practice. Mula bandha provides the foundation of stability and lightness in arm balances and gives us the ability to float in transitions instead of landing like an elephant.
On a physical level, Mula bandha is said to lower respiration, heart rate and blood pressure. It calms sympathetic nervous system arousal (fight or flight), improves digestion, and harmonizes urogenital issues. Mula bandha creates a sense of calm in the body and mind because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is generally referred to as “rest and restore”. This is where that feeling of balance, presence and inner peace comes from. It gives us the ability to reflect inwards creating a physical practice that envelops moving meditation (dhyana). In this way, this mysterious root lock controls, and over time, diminishes the fluctuations in the mind.
For yogis Mula bandha is of great importance because it lifts downward moving energy, called apana, located at the Muladhara chakra (root energy center) and unites it with the upward flowing energy (prana) at Anahata Chakra (the heart energy center). Earth energy, if left to its own accord, likes to stay put to linger in physical survival mode. It makes us feel stuck and fearful. By reversing the energetic flow and uniting apana and prana, Mula bandha helps us use the grounding earth energy as a gateway for spiritual exploration.
Two weeks ago, Sharath spoke about the three elements that are essential to one’s physical asana practice. These three elements make up what is called yoga tristana. The tristana assumes that asana practice must involve correct alignment (achieved through correct repetition) to bring stability to the body and mind; Rhythmic, even breathing that is synchronized with movement to remove toxins (ie vinyasa); And proper gaze or dristi (there are 9 of them) to bring concentration.
Momentarily I thought what about the bandhas?!? Well he immediately answered my question without me saying one word. He said, that bandha is always expected to be there no matter what. In order for the tristana to exist, bandhas must be present and engaged. Sharath said “Bandha is always there, just as God is the source of the 5 elements Mula Bandha is the source of controlling the mind.”
He also added if mula bandha is engaged properly then all of the bandhas will follow in the same manner.
So thats it: Mula bandha demystified in simple terms. Really the only way to get, it is to practice it. Once you begin to feel the upward suction from the pelvic floor through the torso in downward facing dog you will know you are on the right track. Do know that mastering Mula Bandha can take many life times. Have patience and slowly, slowly you will begin to feel it work it’s magic. So good luck and happy practicing.
For some inspiration, here is Mula bandha in action in my Gokulam apartment: