Mula Bandha, the root lock, is an important yogic practice, but one that is often overlooked in modern yoga classes.
In the Hatha Yoga Tradition, the body is viewed as a vessel of energy. This energy, or life force, is called “prana” and runs through thousands of energy channels in the body. Therefore, yoga is more than a physical practice – it’s an energetic process. Ancient yogis discovered that our state of mind is intricately linked to the flow of energy in the body. Thus, by controlling, shaping, and directing this energy, we can shape and affect the way we see the world.
To experience higher states of consciousness, energy is forced into the central energy channel, called Sushumna Nadi, which is located along the spine. Then, it is directed upwards – from the lower to the higher energy centers. On the other hand, when the flow of energy is obstructed, we stay stuck in our limited, dualistic way of thinking and might even experience different ailments.
The asana practice can help to loosen and remove obstacles to the energy flow. But to take your yoga practice to the next level and access the energetic benefits, you need to make use of the Bandhas. The practice of Bandhas, including Mula Bandha, is a key step in shaping and directing your energy. Read our Beginner’s Guide to Mula Bandha to learn more:
What is a Bandha?
The word Bandha has many meanings, some of which might seem contradictory at first. On the one hand, it has been translated as “lock” or “restraint”, thus describing Bandha as the damming up of a river. In this sense, the Bandhas are the framework used to restrain and collect energy in specific areas of the body.
On the other hand, Bandha can be translated as a “bond” or “bind”, therefore likening the practice of Bandha to a bridge over the river. In this sense, Bandhas help connect and consolidate the different qualities of energy: Prana, the life force energy, and Apana, the energy that flows out of the body for cleansing. If both of these qualities are blended together, we induce a state of calmness and neutrality that allows the energy to flow into the central channel.
There are three Bandhas in the Hatha Yoga Tradition. When practiced together, they form Maha Bandha, the great lock.
- Mula Bandha (Root lock)
- Uddiyana Bandha (Adominal lock)
- Jalandhara Bandha (Chin lock)
How to Practice Mula Bandha
The term comes from the Sanskrit mula, meaning “root” or “base”. Mula Bandha is located at the base of the spine, between the sphincter and pelvic floor muscles. It seals the lower end of the spinal column, preventing energy from moving down and out of the body.
To engage Mula Bandha, the pelvic floor is contracted and lifted toward the spine. The main muscle of this action is the pubococcygeus muscle which stretches from the pubic bone to the tail bone. It creates the diaphragm of the pelvic floor that holds all pelvic organs up.
It is important to keep in mind that the activation of Mula Bandha is not a gross, largely muscular movement but more of a subtle one. Instead of tightly clenching your pelvic floor muscles – which won’t be beneficial in the long run – think of it as a gentle upward tug in your perineum (the space between the genitals and the anus).
Mula Bandha can be a challenging practice because most people are disconnected from this area of the body. Unless you are already familiar with pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, this area might be somewhat of a blind spot, and cultivating the necessary awareness might require extra time. Here are a few tips that might help if you are struggling with Mula Bandha:
- Mula Bandha is easiest to feel and engage when the exhalation is complete. A full exhalation requires you to contract the abdominal muscles – pulling the navel in toward the spine – which automatically lifts the pelvic floor muscles, thus activating the root lock.
- The position of the hips also affects your ability to engage Mula Bandha, with external rotation being most helpful. Try seated postures like Padmasana (Lotus Pose) or Siddhasana (Accomplished Pose).
- To enforce the idea of retaining and sublimating energy upwards, you can apply light pressure to the perineum (by sitting on a cushion or drawing the heel of the foot toward the area).
Benefits of Mula Bandha
Mula Bandha is typically engaged during the practice of pranayama, but can also be applied effectively in the asana practice and meditation. It plays an important role both on the physical and spiritual levels.
Physically, Mula Bandha creates stability. It has a grounding quality that helps to increase balance. That’s why yoga teachers often cue the engagement of Mula Bandha in balancing poses like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) and Ardha Chandrasana (Balancing Half Moon), as well as in standing poses such as Tadasana (Mountain), Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), or Utkatasana (Chair).
Furthermore, a regular practice of Mula Bandha strengthens and tones the pelvic floor muscles. This can reverse the natural tendency of gravity and the weakening of the pelvic floor as we age.
On a spiritual level, Mula Bandha seals off the lower end of the central channel and stops energy from “leaking” out of the body. In combination with Uddiyana Bandha, the abdominal lock, it directs the flow of energy upwards, thus elevating our state of consciousness.
Activating the root lock helps gather and collect our senses – drawing our awareness inward. It helps us create a deeper connection to the earth and ourselves. If your thoughts often wander during the yoga practice, Mula Bandha can help you focus and pull the mind to its source, towards the Self.
Contraindications of Mula Bandha
While Mula Bandha is an important element that shouldn’t be removed from the yoga practice, it is not helpful for everyone at all times. If you experience irregular menstrual cycles or irregularities in elimination, Mula Bandha could be counterproductive as it stops the downward flow of energy. Furthermore, if you tend to be “ungrounded” and “spacey” you might need to limit the practice of Mula Bandha and focus on grounding and embodiment first.
Most importantly, Bandhas are not to be practiced during menstruation or pregnancy because of their strong physical and energetic effects.
We hope this Beginner’s Guide to Mula Bandha helped you understand how and why we practice the root lock. To put theory into practice, join our Online Studio where you can access hundreds of high-quality yoga classes.