Mulha Bandha Anatomically Speaking. ~ David Keil

Via on Mar 4, 2012

The bandhas are perhaps the most difficult aspect to grasp in the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

For me personally, I think I know what they are. But then I look back at my little life as an Ashtangi, amazingly at 11 years now, and realize, I thought I knew what they were 10 years ago. Then just five years ago I understand them even more differently than I do today. My experience of them has changed over the years and will continue to as I’m guessing your experience of them will.

As an anatomy teacher I do try to bridge the gap between the subtle esoteric aspects of the energetic system and the practice of yoga and put it into western terms of anatomy. In the area of bandhas, I am careful to not too strongly make it into a physical anatomical thing. Instead, I acknowledge that bandhas are both, energetic and physical as is our entire body. We are not just energy, not just emotions, not just spiritual, not just thoughts, not just physical, but all of these at once.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

To discuss mulha bandha we talk about the pelvic floor, some people say Perineum and others use the term PC muscles which stands for Pubo-Coccygeal muscles. This web of tissue at the base of our torso container is actually a diaphragm – defined as a ring of tissue. The opening at the base of our bowl shaped pelvis is more or less circular and filled with thin layers of muscles and fascia, creating a trampoline of tissues. Like many other places in the body, the pelvic floor is layered. Technically the perineum lies under the pubo-coccygeal muscles with a layer of fascia between.

Contraction of these muscles is often associated with the mulha bandha. Great debate comes from whether you should be contracting the middle or the back portion of these tissues and far be it from me to jump into this one too deeply, other than to say, Guruji (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois) always talked about controlling your anus. The translations that I’ve seen of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which has an entire chapter on Bandhas and Mudras, often say the same thing. That is, mulha bandha is a contraction of the anus.

As it turns out the PC muscles are actually part of the levator ani… which means elevator of the anus. Technically this would be more closely related to what we’re after. Therefore to this anatomist, it makes more technical sense to use PC. But that’s just me, in the end, what matters is that you have the experience of what is created, not the technical details.

If the bandha is an energetic component of who we are, what part does the actual muscle have to do with the bandha anyway?

Personally I describe the pelvic floor and contraction of it as the pathway toward mulha bandha. In other words, it’s the physical contraction that does two things. First, it creates a conscious mental relationship with mulha bandha and it seems that prana follows thoughts, so if you’re thinking of a part of your body, you are in essence sending energy there. Second, is the contraction of the PC muscles which stimulates the energetic center. Hence, creating the mulha bandha.

There are of course physical changes that occur when performing a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. They often fit into the descriptions given of the core muscles. There are debates about what the core muscles are, which ones should be included etc… but the pelvic floor is almost always part of that conversation. Remember that the pelvic floor muscles are at the base of the spine filling the circular like hole at the bottom of our pelvic bowl. The back portion of the bowl is created by the sacrum which links to either side of the pelvis at what we call the SI (sacroiliac) joint. Just off to either side of the sacrum, in essence filling in the sides toward the back or the bowl are the piriformis muscles.

Think of the spine rising up out of the back of the pelvic bowl, towering above its foundation at the pelvis.

Almost like balancing a broom upside down in the palm of your hand. Certainly there are other muscles that help stabilize this column as it rises, but at its base, its foundation, are the PC muscles. To see the effect of these muscles in helping balance the spine, imagine for a moment that you tightened your PC muscles so much that it started to make your coccyx touch your pubic bone (not possible by the way). If the coccyx, and therefore sacrum are moving toward the pubic bone it means that there is movement at the SI joint and the spine is falling backwards above the SI joint.

If the muscles let go completely then the opposite would happen. No tension to hold the sacrum in place and the towering column of the spine would start to fall forward and the coccyx would be moving away from the pubis. The point is that the PC muscles help to create stability of the pelvic bowl and the spine that rises from it. Of course, no muscle, or in this case group of muscles, lives in a vacuum. There are other muscles (and ligaments) that help maintain the integrity of the pelvic bowl and the stability of the spine, it’s just that these muscles are at the foundation of it. Therefore physically these muscles are about stability and support of pelvis and spine, and perhaps, root the spine, or are at the root of the spine.

Mulha=Root.

There is another effect that happens when contracting these muscles. You should be able to feel this yourself quite easily especially on a strong contraction of the PC muscles. This effect is that you should also find that lowest part of your abdomen also changes in tension. You may want to close your eyes for a moment and do a few contraction of these muscles to see what other parts around the area contract. People may experience it slightly differently. Some may even feel a contraction in their lower back as well between the top of the pelvis and ribs which would most likely be a result of the transverse abdominus (the deepest of the oblique muscles) as it connects to the vertebrae in the lumbar.

There is still one more direction to go with this interlinking of subtle and gross aspects of mulha bandha and the pelvic floor.

What better force to interlink them with than breath. You might say that breath is the ultimate link between subtle and gross. It’s most subtle aspect as Prana or life force animates our physical bodies. This feeds us both energetically and then if we take just the smallest of steps toward gross, prana presents itself in the form of oxygen molecules which nourish and sustain all of our more gross tissues, be they nervous, muscular, or skeletal. Everything in the body relies upon it.

When the diaphragm contracts it compresses the abdominal contents and puts a downward pressure on the pelvic floor and if unrestricted, also pushes the abdomen out. You can give it a go yourself by closing your eyes and take a big breath or two. You should feel the further you go to the edges of your inhalation that there is more and more abdomen moving and pressure into the pelvic floor.

The diaphragm above is putting pressure on the diaphragm below (PC). The energetic purpose of mulha bandha is to prevent the escape of energy, specifically prana vayu or downward flowing energy. By contracting the pelvic floor muscles you prevent the downward movement of these muscles when breathing. You are literally stopping a downward physical force. The gross side of the subtle purpose of mulha bandha.

I’d love to follow this thread and tell you all about the muscle that is most likely associated with uddhiyana bandha and the effects on breathing there but it would be off topic. You’ll just have to demand another guest post from this yogi bent on anatomy.

Read more: Inner Knee PainYoganatomy: Yoga + AnatomyYoga Anatomy: Foot Foundation.

~

Editor: Tanya L. Markul/Kate Bartolotta

David Keil is an Ashtanga practitioner and Authorized to teach by KPJAYI in Mysore. David has traveled around the world teaching yoga workshops as well as anatomy to yoga teachers and practitioners since 2001. David is known for his simplicity in such a complex subject. He has a straight forward and no frills delivery that makes the anatomy come alive in a way you’ve never experienced. He leaves space for you to make your own connections to your practice. For more, visit his website here.  

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18 Responses to “Mulha Bandha Anatomically Speaking. ~ David Keil”

  1. Emily Perry Emily Perry says:

    Great piece; and yes, a post on UB would be great!!!

  2. [...] An article about the “mulha bandha” – I have spent a lot of time, over the past year, thinking about this ermm… body part. [...]

  3. Exactly. Exactly! Uddiyana next, please!

  4. ~Jenny says:

    "I demand another guest post from this yogi bent on anatomy"!

  5. Guest says:

    I believe it is spelled transverse abdominis (not abdominus).

  6. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    very nice piece. thanks!

    what do you think about subtle = experiential/subjective and gross = empirical/objective as two sides of the same coin?

    i am cautious about perpetuating the old dualism of mind/soul/energy as somehow distinct from the physical body, you?

  7. trueayurveda says:

    David, great article thanks. I to am an anatomy geek and much other things to geek out about as well. We could have hours of fun just doing that i am sure. So, i have a question for you. Do you feel energy? Do you understand prana? Don't take offense from this please, but from your post, well i would say you don't. Anatomically you have explained mula bandha just like most people do. Mostly when they don't actually know what it does but you seem to be better than that. I appreciate that much. So the question I have is what is the difference in what mula bandha does if you pull gently up on the perineum drawing up to the navel vs contracting the pelvic floor or pc or whatever else like what you have described above? Energetically what does it do differently? Do you know what it is supposed to do? What is prana? Just some imaginary thing that somehow does something when we do something? When we turn an energetic science into a mechanical anatomy lesson we lose what it actually is and does. As much as i love the science of the anatomy it falls apart when you start to understand how biomechanics and energy work together. Would love to have a conversation about all of this with ya. byantzer@aol.com

  8. I’m with “trueayurveda”. An excellent reference on explaining TRUE Bandhas is Yoga-age.com. If you are interesting in finding put more about the energy of mulabandha, i wrote an article about it on my website, Craniosacralmiami.com.

  9. [...] to come in the entrance of posture, placing them well in the basin, or helping to activate certain bandhas. In a group class, it is not easy to do that for each [...]

  10. [...] activated, mulha bandha, also known as the root lock, seals prana (vital life force) inside the body, helping to energize [...]

  11. [...] Mula Bandha is the strengthening and toning the muscles of the pelvic floor or perineum. The drawing in and up [...]

  12. [...] the full moon the gravity of the moon is strong, activating Prana Vayu and Udhana Vayu. These strong upward flows can uproot us and disrupt our connection to the earth. I am not an [...]

  13. [...] common misunderstanding is that mula bandha or uddiyana bandha—people often confuse the two—has something to do with always drawing your [...]

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