Great post from Ashtanga Yoga Italia
The sanskrit word ‘bandha’ means ‘lock’, ‘bondage’, ‘foundation’ and there are 3+1 different locks:
a) Mula bandha, root lock;
b) Uddiyana bandha, rising or flying lock;
c) Jalandhara bandha, chin lock;
d) Maha bandha, which happens when all above 3 are engaged.
During asana practice, and especially when practicing ashtanga yoga, the first 2 bandhas are emphasized as well as ujjayi breathing (while jalandhara bandha and maha bandha are mainly used in pranayama). What are they? Let’s see Mula Bandha today.
In sanskrit, mula means ‘root’ and roots recall the image of a tree. Mula bandha is than the lock which happens at the base of our subtle tree, that is to say our spine which represents our nervous and energetic system. But, what is practically mula bandha?
By contracting the perineum the downward moving apana vayu is forced to go upward. Yogis call this mula bandha – HYP 3.62
Very often mula bandha is explained as contraction of the anus, as often heard by Sharath or previously by Pattabhi Jois. Many other teachers, as well as the lineage from Bihar School of Yoga, considers mula bandha as the contraction of the perineum (that is the muscle between genitals and anus) for men and the contraction of the cervix for women.
I actually prefer the latest explanation as contraction of the anus is known as Aswini Mudra. Sometimes you might have even heard ‘mula bandha is like refraining the stimulus of peeing’, well it is not even the contraction of the genitals as that is known as Vajroli Mudra.
In fact, mula bandha is a point in the centre of the body, neither in the front nor in the back, where the energy flows when the contraction of the pelvic floor happens. Mastering it over time means to move from the physical body to the energetic body, finally it is said to happen only mentally.
According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP 3.65 – 3.69) the role of mula bandha is not only to refrain apana vayu (the descending prana or prana of elimination) from falling but also to encourage it to raise so that it can meet prana vayu (the ascending prana or prana of absorption) in the chest. This happens through the development of subtle heat in the ‘root’ area because of the contraction of the perineum/cervix which can ultimately awaken the potential of dormant kundalini and enlightenment be reached.
Are you wondering how long should mula bandha be kept for all that to happen?
Just as a snake enters its hole, so kundalini goes into brahma nadi. Therefore the yogi must always perform mula bandha. – HYP 3.69
Next blogposts will be about Uddiyana Bandha and Ujjayi breathing / pranayama. Click the follow button on the right-hand side to receive them directly in your inbox. Stay tuned!
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.