I remember the first time I actually understood, I mean really understood at a deep physical level what mula bandha could do for my yoga practice (not to mention your love life!) I had heard the term bandied about (Hah! That’s a yoga pun: bandha, bandied get it? OK bad pun…) in my years of yoga but I never really tuned into it’s power. So there I was attempting something I considered way beyond my body’s current ability. I was attempting, (gasp!) a drop back into wheel pose (back bend or Urdhva Dhanurasana as shown in the title image) at my age! What was I thinking?
I had a very nice fellow student on one side and the Ashtanga Yoga mentor on the other. But still, really? What was I thinking attempting this? Taking a deep, deep ujjayi breath, I went for it. My teacher said, “Apply your Mula Bandha!” Not wanting to take the effort to roll my eyes at him, I took him at his word and applied what I thought was mula bandha or root lock. I was still struggling and he could tell, so he attempted further elucidation, “A Kegel contraction, contract Uranus!” Thank Buddha they both were holding fast, as I almost collapsed. “Contract Uranus?” I giggled out. No that’s not what he had said. He actually was saying, “Contract your anus.”
In Sankrit “mula” means root and “bandha” means lock or binding. So when you hear, “apply mula bandha” or “apply your locks,” contract the muscles of your pelvic floor. Women will recognize this as a Kegel exercise. It is more than just contracting your anus however. It means to contract the area of your root chakra. This is a technique for containing and channeling the energy associated with the mula-dhara ("root place") chakra. This chakra is generally located at the base of the spine, but inhabits your entire pelvic floor area. Muladhara chakra represents the stage of consciousness where basic survival needs dominate.
And believe me when you are upside down reaching for the floor, you definitely feel the need for survival skills. So here’s what I did: I used that deep inhale for an ujjayi breath and gathered all of my energy and channeled it to my pelvic floor. You know those muscles you use to stop urinating in mid-stream? Yes, those muscles! And yes this is just as true for men. I asked (my male) instructor how to relate this muscle contraction properly to another male. He said the muscles are the same ones used by men to stop the urination process in mid-stream, alternatively, a guy may want to think of contracting the muscles he uses to pull his testicles up into his body (hope this helps guys!)
In any case with practice you can apply mula bandha to almost any asnana and create a much stronger pose while improving every aspect of your yoga practice. Let’s say you don’t want to be upside down reaching back for the floor before you finally get hold of your mula bahnda. What asana can you practice prior to applying it in a pose such as Wheel?
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Bridge pose is the classic practice for mula bahnda. You may also recognize this pose as a pelvic thrust (And yes guys, this works just as well for you!)
- Lie on your back and bend your knees placing the soles of your feet on the floor, heels as close to the sit bones as possible.
- Exhaling press your feet and arms actively into the floor, lift your tailbone upwards, gently firming your gluts, lifting your buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and inner feet parallel.
- Clasp your hands below your pelvis and extend through the arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders.
- Lift your glutes bringing the thighs parallel to the floor. Keep your knees directly over the heels, pushing them forward and away from your hips. Lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees.
- Extend your spine and lift your chin slightly away from the sternum. This helps to firm the shoulder blades against your back. Firm your outer arms, broadening your shoulder blades.
- Release with an exhalation, rolling the spine slowly down onto the floor.
- With each inhale upward apply your root lock, mula bandha holding the lock at the top. Exhale down. Rinse and repeat several times.
I bet you want to know if I was able to finish my drop back into Wheel Pose don’t you? Well after giggling through the explanation of mula bandha and contracting Uranus (Is that still a planet by the way? Oh no it was Pluto, that funny dog, that was demoted wasn’t it?) Anyway, I was able to lock my root chakra and drop back into a full wheel (even at my age – hah still not telling you!) I did not however, try standing back up. But do not fear! I will gather my root chakra power and try again soon. Oh yeah and let’s not forget what learning to control your mula bandha can do for your love life! I will let your imagination fill in the blanks here…