How to Use Mula Bandha in Yoga

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Mula bandha is translated as the root lock. The Sanskrit "mula" here is the same as in muladhara chakra, the root chakra. Bandha means to lock and refers to three interior body "locks" used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy. The bandhas are engaged through muscular contraction of specific parts of the body. Unlike subtle body concepts like the chakras and koshas, bandhas are inherent to the physical body. Mula bandha is the first lock. The subsequent ones are uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bandha, which are more often used in pranayama practice. 

How to Engage Mula Bandha

To activate mula bandha, begin an exhalation and engage the pelvic floor, drawing it upwards towards your navel. If you don't know how to access the pelvic floor, think of it as the space between the pubic bone and the tailbone. You can start to explore this feeling by contracting the muscles you would use to stop your flow of urine midstream.

Initially, you may need to contract and hold the muscles around the anus and genitals, but really what you want is to isolate and draw up the perineum, which is between the anus and genitals. Do not hold your breath.

Practice breathing normally while keeping mula bandha engaged. Practice in a seated position before trying to incorporate the root lock into your yoga poses.

Why Mula Bandha Is Important

The bandhas are mentioned in the 15th-century text Hatha Yoga Pradipika, so their origins go back as far as asana if not further. Twentieth-century Indian yoga teachers that introduced yoga to the west, particularly T. Krishnamacharya, B.K.S. Iyengar, and K. Pattabhi Jois all discuss bandhas in their seminal works. Of these, Jois's Ashtanga Yoga is the contemporary method in which bandhas have retained the strongest presence. 

In Ashtanga, mula bandha is engaged throughout the sequence to support standing poses, activate deep core strength, and help achieve lightness in the many jumps forward and back. It strengthens the entire pelvic floor area, including the pubococcygeus muscles and all of the muscles that act as a support system for the pelvic organs.

On the pranic level, mula bandha redirects the energy of apana, the aspect of prana within the body that naturally flows downward from the navel. Mula bandha is also intended to purify the pranamayakosha—one of the subtle, five-layered sheaths of the energetic body.

Bandha work has fallen out of practice in most contemporary western yoga classes. Sometimes a teacher will mention that you should use mula bandha if you're familiar with it, but it's rarely taught directly. This is probably due to a combination of increasing generational distance from the origins of modern postural yoga and a certain discomfort with discussing the genital/anal areas of the body.

A Word From Verywell

The benefits of keeping an active, strong body as we age are well known, but areas like the pelvic floor are often neglected. Women often discover weaknesses in the pelvic floor that lead to urinary and bowel problems after pregnancy, but men are also susceptible. Just as it's important to strengthen and tone the muscles in your arms and legs, the interior muscles of the pelvis should not be overlooked. Learning to use mula bandha in a yoga context will serve you well both on and off the mat.

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.