I’ve been speaking a bit about Mula Bandha in my classes this week, but have been frustrated in my attempt, because the subject, as you will read further on, can be fraught. Often, when teachers bring it up, students feel uncomfortable, so we may opt out of the discussion altogether.
By way of introduction, Mula Bandha is the first of the body’s internal locks, according to yogic tradition: the root lock, which is engaged by contracting the muscles of the pelvic floor in and up.
Practically, the best way I’ve found of describing this lock to beginners is to imagine urinating and then stopping the flow midstream. In fact, the lock itself, and the musculature it uses, exists between those muscles and the sphincter, in the area of the perineum. Say that ten times fast in front of a crowd and you may begin to understand why this is a difficult topic.
Functionally, this lock activates Uddiyana Bandha, belly lock, and helps the body to feel light and powerful in all postures, though it is especially helpful in arm balances.
The practical problem with this bandha is sorting out how to address a varied group of individuals in a classroom setting without making anyone feel uncomfortable or as if they’ve accidentally walked into Mumbo-Jumbo land. The fear in yoga class that the teacher will suddenly begin speaking about blossoming anuses and nipples emitting light beams is real. I’ve been in those classes. I’ve felt awkward and exposed and unwilling to try. It’s uncomfortable and it can seriously distract practitioners from practicing yoga.
However, if we think rationally about Mula Bandha, it is simply a contraction of the muscles deep in the pelvis. The tightening and toning of these muscles is beneficial for everyone, especially women who are pregnant and the elderly who tend to lose control of the muscles in this area. If you’ve ever gone to physical therapy for a lower back injury, you may have been instructed to exercise these muscles to improve recovery. They are part of the big picture when we talk about core musculature and thus aid in functional stability and mobility. I’ve heard rumors that practicing Root Lock can also support sexual function and increase pleasure during sexual activity, but don’t quote me on that. The science isn’t there yet.
Despite the rhetoric, the benefits are numerous, they are real, and there’s no reason why anyone should have to shy away from practicing. If you can flex your biceps in public, then you can contract your perineum. No one will know.
The obvious reason that discussing Mula Bandha in a public setting is difficult is that this is the area of the body associated with sex, and with excrement: two of the biggest social taboos known to American Man (and Woman). Speaking about these two topics without cursing requires a high level of intimacy. We think of these muscles as intimate muscles, and having a practical stranger talk to me about the space between my genitals and my anus can feel like an exposure. Who wants to go to their local studio for a work-out and feel like they ended up at their annual physical? Don’t talk about my anatomy! What do you know about my perineum? Leave me alone!
The end result is that Mula Bandha can be passed over in a class setting, which is a shame. The ability to explore this musculature, the desire to understand and engage Root Lock, is important in that it has ties to how we think about ourselves, our most intimate selves. If I shy away from this knowledge, then I’m shying away from a deeper understanding of my body. Knowing each muscle intimately is a gateway to knowing ourselves intimately.
For me, and remember, this is just my opinion, engaging Mula Bandha is a conversation between me and my body. It is a reminder of my sexual self-worth, my ability to control my sexual expression, and my right to enjoy that expression in the ways that I see fit. A firm grounding in this knowledge allows me to be open and honest and expressive with my partner, because I’ve explored and I know what I do and do not want. At the same time, my desire to educate myself about my body, means I’m willing to learn about my partner’s body. I’m willing to research, explore, enjoy and engage without feeling self-conscious or guilty. It’s just a body, made up of muscles and sinews and bones, and the better I know it, the better I can nurture it.
Engaging Mula Bandha may have a completely different effect on you, but you’ll never know until you try, and then try again, and then make it a part of your daily practice.
Now try saying all that in a 75 minute class.