Here is a detail of an illustration by Susan Chiocchi from ‘The Mirror of Yoga’, that combines physiology and metaphor.
Mula Bandha may be the most befuddling, underinstructed technique in the world of yoga. Here, one intrepid reporter gets to the root of things and discovers that Mula Bandha is not just a physical action but a doorway into bliss.
So, once you “get it,” how will the bandhas change your practice? In the Ashtanga tradition, Mula Bandha is so critical to the correct performance of asana that K. Pattabhi Jois, the leader of the tradition, instructs his students to keep Mula Bandha engaged throughout every practice; in fact, he’s often quoted as saying that it should stay engaged 24/7. That’s a metaphorical overstatement, of course, meant to emphasize the importance of Mula Bandha, which when mastered and used correctly has the potential to transform even the most lackluster practice.
Mula Bandha is what helps Ashtanga practitioners find the balance they need to tackle arm balances and inversions, and the strength and control they need for difficult tasks, such as jumping through and jumping back. But the list of the physical benefits to a yoga practice is nearly endless, and Freeman can rattle them off handily: “It’s grounding, so students feel much more stable. They won’t lose balance. Correct movement of limbs becomes more natural. When they do a backbend, they’ll be less likely to compress the spine. They’ll find more space under the belly, which is very convenient for twists.”
“By practicing Mula Bandha, you gain a real sense of the central axis of the body,” says Freeman, a student of Jois. “You learn to move from the lower belly, feeling the pelvic floor and letting it participate in aligning the body. It will help you integrate the movements of the body and give you the sense that you are composed of radiance…One becomes juicier, more intuitive, more sensitive, and more able to express feeling with the entire body through every movement.”
The Inside Line
That inward path, let’s not forget, is the point of yoga. “I think it’s important for people to remember the original context of hatha yoga,” says Pomeda, who was a Vedic monk in the Sarasvati order for 18 years. “This opens up your perspective, puts the practice into a much larger framework. From that reference point, all practices are geared to the awakening of kundalini and the attainment of the highest realization.”
Kundalini is the feminine energy that is classically depicted as a serpent coiled and asleep at the base of the spine, which is also the seat of Mula Bandha. When she awakens, she rises up through the spine to merge with universal consciousness at the crown chakra, found at the top of the head. The bandhas —particularly Mula Bandha and Jalandhara engaged together—can be used to help create the internal pressure necessary to roust her out of her comfy home, where she might otherwise snooze away forever.
And though spiritual life certainly does not end with Mula Bandha, it does, in a sense, begin there. “Engaging Mula Bandha creates a foundation,” Harrigan says. “The root of the tree is important for the entire tree. Likewise, Mula Bandha is important for making asana and pranayama beneficial. Without the bandhas, these exercises have only physical effects.”
Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Bound for Glory By Hillari Dowdle, Asana Instruction by Tim Miller
To learn more about how to integrate Mula Bandha into your daily asana practice, read Mula Bandha in Action.