In any Ashtanga class, you've probably heard a teacher shout "hold mula bandha!" to a struggling student. So what the heck does that even mean?
An overview of the three bandhas:
In our yoga practice there are three things that hold the posture together. Without these three things, yoga would just be stretching and nothing else. They are the breath, the bandhas and the drishti or gaze point. The bandhas are energetic locks in the body; we use three bandhas in our practice. The first is the moola bandha or the pelvic floor. We activate this lock by squeezing the pelvic floor. For men this is your anus and for women, this is your vaginal walls, the sensation is the same as kegel exercises. We activate the mula bandha on every inhale. On every exhale we activate the second energy lock, uddiyana bandha, or the navel lock. This bandha is activated by drawing your belly inward and your navel to your spine. The third bandha is the jalandhara bandha, or the throat lock. We only use this lock a few times during the primary practice, unlike the mula and uddiyana bandha which are activated upon every breath. If we think of our body like a vessel, the bandhas help to seal in our prana or energy in order to heat the body and burn away toxins and impurities within the body.
Why and How We Hold Mula Bandha:
Mula bandha is said to cut through brahma granthi, the energetic knot of our resistance to change, which lies in mula-dhara chakra. On the physical level, practicing mula bandha creates attentiveness in the supportive musculature of the pelvis. This increases the stability of the pelvis, and, since the pelvis is the seat of the spine, its stability creates a safe environment for spinal movement. Thus, mula bandha strengthens—and teaches the importance of—the solid foundation that should underlie any movement.
On a physical level, mula bandha consists of a contraction, a muscular lifting-up in the floor of the pelvis. Although the pelvis itself is primarily a bony structure supported with ligaments, the pelvic floor consists of muscle fibers and fascia (connective tissue). These tissues intersect and overlap in complex ways; for our purposes, we can divide the pelvic floor into three muscular levels, each of which can be sensed and moved separately.
While using mula bandha with asana can increase core stability, it can only be fully engaged when the spine is straight and long. It is also difficult to feel and experience the energetic effects of this bandha when done with yoga postures, so it is recommended to first practice mula bandha in a seated meditation pose.