If you’ve struggled with arm balancing yoga poses, you’re not alone. It took more than a few face planting before I finally floated and fly into my first crow pose (and another few years before I could do more advanced poses such as Koundinyasana 1 or Koundinyasana 2).
You’ve probably heard your teacher saying “engage your core” when you do arm balancing poses. Engaging your core will result in either a failure to float, or the ability to fly high with ease. And this has got to do with the Bandhas – or energetic locks.
The two most important ones that you should be activating for arm balances are the Mula Bandha (Root Lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (Abdominal Lock).
If you want an overview of the key Bandhas for yoga, read our introduction to the Bandhas where we looked at how the Bandhas are energetic locks or the activation of specific muscles to provide greater stability and support for our yoga practice.
Today we delve deeper into Mula Bandha, the root lock.
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What Mula Bandha Means for the Physical and Spiritual Body
Mula bandha is performed by contracting and lifting inward and upward the muscles of the perineum. It feels similar to doing Kegel exercises (or pelvic floor exercises) – tightening and holding the muscles that control urine flow.
The physical benefits of Mula Bandha include toning of the pelvic floor, improving constipation, calms the mind and nerves, among others. Because Mula Bandha strengthens the pelvic muscles, it helps control the strength of, and blood flow to this area which not only improves spinal column movements, it can also really improve your sex life.
For the aspiring arm balancing yogi, you’ll find that by activating Mula Bandha, you can balance better, be able to resist gravitational pull better, and are less prone to wobbling or face planting (I can attest to this!)
On an energetic level, Mula Bandha is also known as a technique used for containing and channelling the energy associated with the mula-dhara (“root place”) chakra, wherein resides the Kundalini Shakti (by awakening this energy, the yogi is able to access a higher form of consciousness).
Practising Mula Bandha Step-by-Step
Developing awareness of and activating the Mula Bandha requires regular practice. As with a fitness workout, you should not rush yourself but understand that consistent practice will gradually turn into a habit that becomes part of you.
Beginner Level: Learn to contract and relax your perineal muscles
- Sit in a comfortable cross-legged posture with your spine extended and body erect
- Close your eyes and feel your body relaxing as you start taking longer inhales and exhales. Feel your chest expanding and contracting.
- Start squeezing the perineal area, pulling the muscles inward and upward without holding your breath.
To feel your perineum, sit on your heel or a tennis ball placed in the space between the anus and the genitals.
- Keep breathing steadily without harmonizing the contractions of your muscles with your breath (I know… this step is pretty challenging)
- Continue to press in and contract even more; your perineal muscles don’t have to be 100% hardened! Do what you feel is challenging enough yet doesn’t feel overly uncomfortable or causes you to hold your breath (which I do all the time in the early days)
- When you feel that you’ve contracted enough, release your muscles slowly
- Repeat this step a few times, increasing up to 25 times for each practice
Intermediate Level: Isolate the perineum muscles from the anal sphincter
- Similar to the beginner practice, squeeze all the perineum muscles and the hold until you are on the verge of feeling uncomfortable. Maintain the tension while breathing continuously and calmly.
- Start alternating the anal and perineal contractions, tightening each part as you focus on the area. Familiarise yourself with the different sensations
- You should feel the bladder, vagina and uterus (or prostate), and rectum lifting. Your deep muscles at the base of the belly should be contracting while the surface muscles relaxed.
- Practise until you can lift pelvic floor deep inside without contracting the anus or the surface layers of the perineum.
When you can hold Mula Bandha for a period of time without affecting your breath comfortably, you can try to use it during meditation, pranayama and asana practices.
Practising Mula Bandha in Yoga Poses
As you develop a greater awareness of Mula Bandha, start integrating them in your practice. Example poses which you can better use and feel Mula Bandha are:
- Mountain Pose
- Downward facing dog
- Supported Headstand or Tripod Headstand
- Tree Pose
- Hero Pose
- Bound Angle Pose
Once you get used to how Mula Bandha should feel when engaged, start using it for more advanced poses such as arm balances.
Taking Your Yoga to the Next Level
You will be surprised by the many benefits of Mula Bandha as you continue to practise it.
At the most obvious level are the physical effects of Mula Bandha on your ability to find strength and control for yoga asanas such as inversions, arm balances or jump through and jump back. You will also find backbends and twists much easier and less dangerous for those who are prone to spinal compression. Most importantly, you will increase your awareness of your body alignment, and be able to better express your feelings through movement in each practice.
On a more subtle but deeper level, applying Mula Bandha will help you to focus less on the muscular and more on the internal, energetic level as you refine your practice. Any happiness which you obtain from the external is temporary, but that which you get from inner bliss (or “awakening” or “enlightenment”, as some call it) will last.
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The YogaMad is founded by Candace, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams as a yoga nomad.