One of the best kept secrets of esoteric Yoga is the advanced practice of mula bhanda (sometimes spelled moola bandha). For centuries it was considered so sacred and so important that it was kept quiet and taught only to elite students who had mastered asanas, pranayamas, and mudras.
References to mula bhanda are found in the Upanishads. The Siva Samhita lists it as one of the top ten best Yoga practices (4:12-15). According the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (9:62-68),
“By contracting the perineum the downward moving apana vayu is forced to go upward. Yogis call this mula bandha. Press the heel firmly against the rectum and contract forcefully and repeatedly, so that the vital energy rises. There is no doubt that by practicing mula bandha, prana and apana, and nada and bindu, are united, and total perfection is attained. Through this, the sleeping kundalini is aroused by the extreme heat and it straightens itself just as a serpent beaten with a stick straightens and hisses.”
The Energetic Effects of Mula Bhanda
The word “bandha” means “to bind” or “to lock”. With mula bandha, this is in reference to the locking of the muscles of the perineum. Bandha can also mean “to redirect,” and here the esoteric meaning of the practice becomes clear. As you “lock” the muscles of the perineum, you “unlock” energy in the pranic body, redirecting the flow upwards and reversing the natural tendency of apana to flow downwards.
At the level of the pranic body, the pranamayakosha, this revered technique is said to awaken muladhara chakra and the kundalini that resides within. Additionally, in the tantras it is written that the 72,000 nadis originate in a place just above muladhara chakra known as “medhra.” Given their proximity, it is believed that mula bandha stimulates all 72,000 nadis at their source, an effect which makes it very powerful.
Beyond the annamayakosha and the pranamayakosha, the physical and pranic bodies, mula bandha is also said to affect the manomayakosha, the mental body. The yogic scriptures describe granthis, or psychic knots, which represent blockages of awareness manifesting as tensions, anxieties, and unresolved conflicts. Brahma granthi, located near muladhara chakra, is believed to be pierced and then untied by an aspirant’s practice of mula bandha.
Mula bandha is believed to affect the manomayakosha by helping to release stored emotional conflicts in perineal and pelvic floor musculature. Accordingly, while performing this practice, one can experience old memories, feelings, and experiences that bubble to the surface of consciousness and burst, releasing them from their structural binding and freeing the aspirant from their depressive effects.
In his book, Moola Bandha: The Master Key, Swami Buddhananda describes the technique in more detail. He recommends using one of several seated asanas, the best of which is siddhasana. The back must be straight, and external pressure should be applied to the perineum with a heel simply to enhance awareness of the correct point of mental concentration.
In the beginning, to better understand the practice, remove the heel and replace it with a finger midway between the anus and the scrotum or the vagina. When you contract the right muscles, you can then feel a lifting up of this area, the perineum, towards the body.
According to Swami Buddhananda, who refers to unspecified ancient tantric texts, when done correctly there should be no movement of the anus, and for men, the penis should not move. Regarding the involvement of the anus, there is some debate. Dr. Gore of the G.S. College of Yoga in Kaivalyadham states in his book, Anatomy and Physiology of Yogic Practices, that a contraction of the anal sphincter should accompany that of the perineum. His justification is that urination and defecation are both excretory functions of apana vayu. To prohibit its downward flow, the full pelvic floor must be contracted, and that includes the anal sphincter as well as the muscles controlling urination.
According to practitioners of tantric Yoga, in the advanced stages of practice of mula bhanda, no physical muscular contraction occurs at all. It is primarily a pranic and psychic technique. The initial stages of muscular contraction are to teach awareness. Eventually, with complete mastery of the pranic flow, an overwhelming sensation of mental orgasm in the eyebrow center confers a state of indescribable bliss that lasts up to 15 minutes.
The Science of Mula Bhanda
Many years ago a gynecologist in California noticed that there were marked differences in patients in the tone of the muscles surrounding the vagina and in the perineum. While in some women, the muscles exhibited firmness and thickness, in others there was thinning and weakness with a tendency for the vaginal walls to collapse upon themselves. It was in the latter women that leaky urinary bladders, the ones difficult or even impossible to control, were found. Those women with thin muscles in the pelvic floor were also noted to have a higher incidence of uterine prolapse, a condition in which the uterus slides down through the vagina and even hangs out of it in extreme cases. A similar “falling” of the bladder and the rectum can also occur, disorders known as cystoceles and rectoceles.
Given the known physiology of muscles, that those in disuse become smaller and thinner resulting in weakness in a condition known as atrophy, Dr. Kegel hypothesized that as with biceps, working out those muscles will bulk them up and make them stronger. He hoped that by building up the muscle fibers and strengthening them, urinary incontinence and uterine prolapse could be treated.
Over the next decade he proved his theory to be correct. After developing a set of exercises designed to specifically strengthen the pubococcygeus muscle, he found that women with leaky bladders who preformed those exercises consistently no longer had that embarrassing problem. He discovered that exercising this muscle also helped to treat uterine prolapse as well as cystoceles and rectoceles. He advocated that all women be taught to work out the pubococcygeus muscle to maintain a healthy tone and thereby prevent disease.
Subsequent studies over the years have repeatedly backed him up. Kegel exercises are now the first-line therapy for stress urinary incontinence, the leaky bladder that comes from aging, childbirth, and excess weight. Prolapsed organs have also shown a reduction in the degree of protrusion in a study with Kegel exercises in combination with an intra-vaginal device, and an ultrasound study documented the morphological changes occurring after 6-months of Kegels, results which included an elevation in the resting position of the bladder and the rectum.
There’s evidence that regular Kegel exercises intensify women’s orgasms and make them easier to achieve. Some women who have pain in the vagina or vulvar area during intercourse have gotten great relief by doing pelvic floor exercises in combination with psychotherapy.
Regarding prevention, there is a paucity of controlled, prospective studies, but it is firmly believed that habitually working out the pelvic floor keeps it healthy and is a good way to stave off the development of incontinence and various forms of prolapse with age. In a recent consensus statement, the National Institutes of Health notes their support for pelvic floor exercises in the prevention of incontinence in women and also in men undergoing prostate surgery.
Dr. Kegel’s Instructions:
Basically, to begin, insert a finger either into the vagina or between the scrotum and anus. Pull up the perineum by contracting the entire pelvic floor. You’ll feel this as a tightening of the muscles around your finger or as the perineum moving towards the trunk. With Kegel’s you want to contract all components of the pelvic floor musculature, so there will be a sensation of a tightening of the muscles around the anus as if you are trying to stop a bowel movement, and there will also be a stopping of the urine stream or an inability to urinate. Initially, hold this contraction for three seconds, then release for 10. Repeat 10 times per session, and do three sessions every day at different times. Eventually work your way up to holding the contraction continuously for 10 seconds each time you contract.
If you follow Dr. Gore’s line of teaching, then as with Kegel exercises, mula bandha contracts the pelvic floor musculature indiscriminately. A full work out of all of the muscles of the pelvic floor leads to many physical health benefits.
What Swami Buddhananda describes is something different. Ultimately, in his teaching there is no muscle contraction at all, and that’s definitely not a Kegel. His tantric lineage focuses on the pranamayakoshic and manomayakoshic effects.
Still, in the beginning stages one must indiscriminately contract all the muscles of the pelvic floor, and then with time learn to distinguish the various muscles isolating and contracting the portions that specifically pull up the perineum without contracting the anus or the urethra. Eventually, with faithful and arduous practice, advanced Yogis can perform mula bhanda without any muscular contraction.
Rather than subscribing to one version of mula bandha or the other, it makes sense to practice both. For the effects of the physical body, the annamayakosha, the full Kegel exercise is key. It indiscriminately works out all portions of the pelvic floor including those muscles involved with closing of the anus and urethra. At least one set of 10 contractions for 10 seconds daily during asana or pranayama practice will stave off disorders of the pelvic floor. Pregnant women and those who already have a disorder such as incontinence or erectile dysfunction would benefit greatly from doing at least three sets per day.
With advanced practice, it’s possible to isolate specific muscles controlling the lifting of the perineum without contraction of the anus or urethra, theoretically initiating mula bandha’s effects on the pranamayakosha. This can be done without abandoning the full pelvic floor contractions during another portion of a daily routine. In this way, mula bandha can function holistically to maintain health.
Kathleen Summers, MD, PhD loves to sit in half-lotus while she blogs her heart out for her Seva Yoga on theYogadr.com.
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