I’ve yet to see a yoga teacher not blush a little when discussing the location and use of the mūla bandha, but understanding and using this bandha can catapult your yoga practice to a whole new level. So let’s roll up our sleeves and take a look at our first bandha.
Of the major bandhas, the mūla bandha (sometimes spelled moola bandha) is placed the lowest in our bodies. Also known as the root lock, it involves lifting the muscles in the pelvic region. It is used during advanced prānāyāma practice and this bandha can be held while performing your āsana routine. From an energetic or spiritual viewpoint, the mūla bandha is closely related to the root or mūlādhāra chakra.
The pelvis is surrounded by a layer of muscles that is usually weak and underused in most people. We spend most of the day sitting on them rather than actively using them, so mastering mūla bandha may take a little time. Be patient with yourself when practising and try not to strain or cause your body stress and hold tension in your muscles.
Accessing The Mūla Bandha
Due to biological difference we must differ the instructions for mūla bandha between the sexes:
Ladies, take a seat with a long straight back. Tighten your muscles as if you need to pee or stop the flow of pee once started. You’ll find your entire pelvic area: anus, vagina and urethra, will tighten up. There will be a lifting feeling internally around the neck of the womb at the top of the vagina and that’s what you’re really looking for. With practice, you won’t need to clench so hard and you will find you’re able to lift that internal area at the top of the vagina without creating tension in the whole pelvic floor. If you’ve ever done Kegel exercises then working these muscle groups will not be unfamiliar to you.
Gentlemen, take your places. As men tend to prefer to pee standing up, it may be easier to initially detect these muscular sensations while standing, but there’s no set rules here so please feel free to experiment and discover what works for you. Imagine you’re stuck in a queue at airport security and desperate for a pee. Tighten up as if you’re holding or stopping the flow of urine and you’ll feel the entire floor of the pelvis from anus to the root of your genitals lift and contract. Again, we’re looking for an internal lifting, and in the gentlemen, this is about one or two inches internally, directly above the perineum.
A Lift, Not A Squeeze
Just to reiterate here, once you’ve started contracting and lifting in the pelvis you will go through a beginning phase where you will be using too much force to hold a mūla bandha because the muscles are weak. Remember, yoga is not about creating tension – quite the opposite! This is about gently lifting subtle muscles but because they’re so under-used we must use some strong methods to get them going.
As soon as you feel that internal lift and your muscles have adapted you can consciously stop using the whole pelvic floor and just lift where necessary. While you are practicing mūla bandha please use the least amount of effort to attain the lift, as straining yourself is not the goal here.
For some people, activating the mūla bandha can be quite a pleasurable experience and could leave you feeling a little hot and bothered. Don’t be alarmed or put off by this, it’s just biology reacting to the flexing of the pelvic muscles. On the other hand, don’t be disheartened if you don’t experience any pleasurable sensations, it is no indicator of good or poor technique. Besides, it’s too easy to get distracted by physical sensations so if you do experience any arousal, just acknowledge it and go back to feeling for that internal lift.
Starting Slowly: Horse Gesture
If mūla bandha seems too difficult, it might be worth starting with ashwini mudrā (or horse gesture), to wake up your pelvic floor. The instructions are the same for both sexes, only requiring a gentle squeezing of the anus to begin to wake up those muscles.
To practice ashwini mudrā start in a cross-legged, half-lotus or full lotus position. Take a deep breath in, hold the breath and contract the anus — just tighten it a little and hold. Again, we are not looking to tense the whole pelvis area, just the sphincter, which will lift slightly when contracted. Then as you exhale, release the anal muscles in a controlled way. You may feel the stirrings of prāna as your energy moves up from your pelvic girdle, through your body and towards your head. Practice this for a few rounds after yoga practice to start waking up the pelvic muscles and to feel the prāna moving.
Mūla Bandha On The Mat
Once you can comfortably engage the mūla bandha and hold it for a few seconds you can start to employ it in your yoga practice.
One of the first places to try mūla bandha is during prānāyāma. Try holding the mūla bandha while practicing ujjāyī breathing and see if you can retain the lift continuously through the inhale and exhale. Don’t worry if you can’t hold that lift for the full duration of the breath, just hold it for as long as you comfortably can, release, and then lift again. Be sure not to hold tension in the belly when trying to exhale and hold mūla bandha at the same time.
Try engaging mūla bandha during āsana practice by starting with a standing pose, such as Warrior II. Position yourself into the pose as usual, and then once you’re in the pose lift and engage your mūla bandha. It’s so subtle, it’s likely no one will notice, but you will! By engaging those muscles deep in your core you will find a deeper strength seeping down your legs and up your torso making staying in the pose much easier to do. While others are panting, their arms failing and their legs wobbling, you’ll feel like you could stand there forever.
A Word Of Caution
As I mentioned in my first article about the bandhas, they are a great tool, but they are not appropriate for every practitioner. This does not restrict or limit your practice in any way, as there are many other ways to strengthen and deepen your yoga.
Bandhas are not suitable during pregnancy, for those with blood pressure problems, heart conditions, risk of stroke or thrombosis, glaucoma, an internal ulcer or any condition that may be aggravated by breath retention and increased internal pressure. It is always best to seek advice from an experienced yoga teacher and your doctor before embarking on bandha practice if you have any known medical conditions.
Mūla In Moderation
Mūla bandha is an advanced yoga exercise and will result in a rising of energy, or prana, from the base of the spine to the head. Be sure not to over-do your practice. Build up gently, and be sure to rest in śavāsana to allow your energies to return to normal afterward. After practising for a while you’ll start to see some big changes in your practice thanks to waking up all those dormant muscles in your pelvis!
If you’re interested in knowing more about the bandhas, keep an eye out for my next article featuring the abdominal lock: uddīyāna bandha! Until then, let me know how you’re coming along with your root lock practice in the comments below!