Ashwini is the Sanskrit word for "mare" ("horse" would be an appropriate translation except that the word mudra, which means "gesture," is a feminine noun in Sanskrit and requires a feminine modifier), and ashwini mudra in hatha yoga is named for the movement of the pelvic diaphragm in a horse after it has expelled the contents of its bowel. During the expulsion phase, the cone-shaped pelvic diaphragm moves to the rear, and after the contents of the bowel are dropped, the muscles of the pelvic diaphragm pull strongly inward. In so doing they cleanse the anal canal. In human beings the same thing happens—you first bear down, opening the anus and expelling the contents of the bowel, and then the pelvic diaphragm pulls inward and upward while contracting the anal sphincter. The pulling inward motion, which we also do reflexly from moment to moment during the day, is ashwini mudra. This is not as obvious as it is in a horse, because
prostate gland obturator internus muscle ureters opening into urinary bladder prostatic urethra iJjjm
Pelvic diaphragm corpus spongiosum pelvic diaphragm inferior pubic ramus
corpus cavemosum (crus of the penis)
'gore 3.26. Frontal (longitudinal, side-to-side) section through the male pelvic ,'aphragm, urinary bladder, prostate gland, prostatic urethra, and corpus spongiosum, as well as the paired corpora cavernosa, inferior pubic rami, and ilia.
"e pelvic diaphragm forms a deep hammock that extends lengthwise from the Pubis to the coccyx and that supports the internal pelvic organs. Here we see a Section through the sides of the hammock, and in fig. 3.27 we see it as a whole.
I«2 ANATOMY Oh HATHA \<KIA
in humans the whole region is enveloped in loose connective tissue ; id covered with the superficial structures of the perineu m, but it is the same gest i -e.
As a natural movement, ashwini mudra is often forceful, especially wl -n it is associated with keeping the base of the abdominopelvic cavity set -d during sharp or extreme increases in intra-abdominal pressure, or when is used as a last-ditch means for retention (think of restraining diarrhea). a yoga practice, ashwini mudra is not so intense, but it still acts as a peril 'al seal, fortified in this case by tightening the gluteal muscles along with ie pelvic diaphragm and anal sphincter. The mudra is applied for a few secu ts, released, and repeated. Ideally, only the gluteals, the pelvic diaphragm, id the anal sphincter are activated, but the proximity of muscles overlying he genitals anteriorly sometimes makes this difficult, and you will often el them tighten along with the rest when you try to create the gesture.
right inferior pubic ramus pelvic diaphi right side female urethra urogenital triangle (dashed line plus solid anus vagina
anal triangle (dotted line plus solid line)
left sacroiliac joint sacrum right ilium figure 3.27. A deep dissection of the pelvic diaphragm of the female (view fr< m below). The superficial muscles and external genitals (see figs. 3.28-29) have I been removed, revealing the underlying hammock-like pelvic diaphragm (set figs. 3.24-26), as well as the urogenital and anal triangles (see also fig. 3.4). A comparable male dissection is almost identical, except that a cross-section of the penis and male urethra is substituted for the vagina and female urethra.
jm, liai ty right inferior pubic ramus pelvic diaphi right side right is tuberc anus anal triangle (dotted line plus solid line)
left sacroiliac joint sacrum right ilium
female urethra urogenital triangle (dashed line plus solid vagina figure 3.27. A deep dissection of the pelvic diaphragm of the female (view fr< m below). The superficial muscles and external genitals (see figs. 3.28-29) have I been removed, revealing the underlying hammock-like pelvic diaphragm (set figs. 3.24-26), as well as the urogenital and anal triangles (see also fig. 3.4). A comparable male dissection is almost identical, except that a cross-section of the penis and male urethra is substituted for the vagina and female urethra.
Some postures make a pure ashwini mudra easy, and others make it difficult. If you stand with the feet well apart and bend forward 20-30', you will find it awkward to contract the anus and pelvic diaphragm, and almost impossible to contract them without activating the muscles around the genitals as well. Now stand upright with the heels and toes together and try it again. This is easier. If you don't tighten too vigorously you may be able to isolate the pelvic diaphragm and the gluteals from the muscles of the genitals. Next, bend backward gently, keeping the heels together and the thighs rotated out so the feet are pointed yor away from one another. Keep the knees extended. Then tighten gently behind and try to release in front. This is one of the easiest upright postures in which to accomplish a pure ashwini mudra. Last, bring the toes together and rotate the heels out. This again makes it difficult.
These simple experiments illustrate the general rule: any posture that pulls the hips together will make ashwini mudra easier, and any posture that pulls the hips apart will make it more difficult. That, as it happens, is one problem with all cross-legged sitting postures. Try it. When the thighs are flexed with respect to the spine and abducted out to the sides, it is almost impossible to contract the gluteals and only a little less difficult to isolate the anus and pelvic diaphragm from the genitals. But if you try the mudra in the shoulderstand or headstand with the heels together and the toes out, you will find that it is easy because gravity is already pulling the pelvic diaphragm toward the floor. Little or no effort is needed to achieve a fully pulled-in feeling, and that effort need not involve the genitals. Now lie supine on the floor and notice that you can easily tighten up in the rear without recruiting muscles around the genitals. Prone, it is more difficult, at least in men, in whom the muscles associated with the genitals are stimulated by contact with the floor.
One of the best postures for ashwini mudra is the upward-facing dog. As long as the pelvis is lifted slightly off the floor (figs. 5.13-14), it is impossible to do this pose without activating the pelvic diaphragm, yet it does not stimulate the muscles in the urogenital triangle in the least. The down-facing dog (figs. 6.17 and 8.26), not surprisingly, creates the opposite effect: this posture is one of the easiest poses for recruiting the muscles of the urogenital region in isolation, but a pose in which it is almost impossible to 'solate the muscles associated with ashwini mudra.
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