I’m nearing the official “endpoint” for my research project (but I’ll probably continue this blog and exploration for some time), and people are asking me, “So, what is mulabandha?”
I’ll work on forming my answer here—it’ll just be a partial one, to be sure. You might find that my answer is unique, and I think that it needs to be because what I’ve been looking for is not an “answer”—as in a “right” answer, but more of an inner inquiry: what is mulabandha to me. How is this concept meaningful? Or how might it be helpful to yoga practice and life.
Mulabandha is sometimes practiced in yoga to try to transcend this living experience, to have some kind of peak spiritual experience. But that’s not what I’ve been trying for in my inquiry. In fact, these days I want to steer clear of that. It is strong medicine and is sometimes very difficult to integrate an experience of transcendence—it can be literally mind-blowing. Everything seems different afterward.
Perhaps strangely, I came to this subject in search of a deeper connection with myself in my yoga practice and in the world.
Seek and ye shall find.
~ The Bible
The base of a mulabandha practice is often described in yoga classes (when it is mentioned, and if you are not around Ashtanga yoga teachers, it might be rarely heard) with words about a muscular contraction at the base of the body: “Squeeze the anus!” “Lift the vagina!” “Lift the scrotum!” “Lift the place between the genitals and the anus.” “Squeeze like you are stopping your pee—like a Kegel!” “Contract and lift your pelvic floor.” These are just a few of the colorful directives used to try to get a handle on “down there”—the realm of the “root lock” or mulabandha.
One notion about why we might want to practice this is to direct the energy flow upwards towards enlightened impulses rather than allow it to flow toward more carnal desires—to help us control ourselves! Another idea is that this practice might bring lightness to the yoga practice—a grace and floating quality to the movements. And even another idea about it is that it might help us to have better sex. So we’ve already come full circle on this one!
There are a couple things that often get in the way of the activation instructions I mentioned earlier: gripping in the pelvis is one. If someone tries to contract muscles that are already gripping, this is not an effective scenario (Leslie Howard does a great job of presenting helpful information about gripping and weak pelvises in her workshops.). It can cause more harm than good to try to strengthen an already gripping pelvis. We might need to learn to relax chronically contracted muscles through a technique like self-massage before we can learn to strengthen them effectively. Another thing that gets in the way is that most of us—I’m guessing—don’t really know what’s going on down there. How do we really know if we are “lifting the pelvic floor”?
So, I have devoted a good deal of effort to studying the muscles of the pelvic floor, and even the external anatomy of the area, “down there”. And I’m embarrassed to say that while I was familiar with the word “vulva” I honestly didn’t remember what exactly it referred to when I started to look into this material—and I am a woman. The vulva refers to the external female genitals, just in case you are not sure. My mind always was referring to my parts as “vagina” when the vagina is really the opening in the body of a woman that relates to the penis of a man. But if a woman is just pointing “down there” she is pointing to a vulva, which has parts that have names, too. She is not just pointing to a hole.
My project got personal.
What mulabandha is for me in my body right now is an exploration—it is not a thing. But when I think about how the muscles of the pelvic floor might relate with root aspects of my body including internal organs and spine, I think that the muscles may form something like a bird’s nest—it’s the pelvic “bowl”. And this nest holds precious light. To focus on the what’s happening in the pelvis in yoga is incredibly grounding. It helps me to take care of my hips and spine. Happy hips and a strong, tall spine have been resulting from this approach to my practice. I want to free-up my muscles and cultivate supportive strength.