In Sanskrit, the word bandha means "lock." In yoga, bandhas are special positions that lock or seal in energy. Yoga practitioners believe that a vital life force energy called prana ("air," "breath," or "life force energy" in Sanskrit) runs through the body and sustains us with its life-giving energy. By sealing off certain parts of the body, a man can lock, or trap, the energy inside his body to intensify its vitalizing effects. For this reason, various bandhas are often applied during the exercise of pranayama or meditation to intensify the effect of these yoga practices (see Chapter 16).
Mula bandha is one of these special locks. It is a lock applied to the area of the internal perineum, which is located between the genitals and the anal sphincter. Mula bandha is also sometimes referred to as "Root Lock" because this corresponds to the area where the first, or "root," chakra is believed to lie within the energy system of yoga. The Root Lock is believed to seal in the energy at the base of the spine where the powerful kundalini energy lies coiled. Mula bandha is also sometimes referred to as "Anal Lock" because it involves the contraction of the anal sphincter muscles as well as the surrounding muscles in the pelvic floor.
To begin practicing mula bandha, assume a comfortable cross-legged seated position on the floor or seated in a straight-backed chair. Adjust your alignment so that your sit-bones are firmly rooted on the floor or on the seat of the chair, and your pelvis, shoulders, neck, and head are in a straight line. Bring your attention to the area of the perineum. Contract the muscles that are located in this area, including the sphincter muscles, while you lift up on the area of the perineum. You should feel a gentle pulling in this area.
If you're just beginning to do this exercise, it can be challenging at first. You're becoming sensitive to an area of the body that you may very well generally ignore. As do most men, you've probably become accustomed over time to letting this area function in an involuntary, rather than a voluntary, way.
To assist you in applying this yogic lock, try visualizing a spot about the size of a quarter between your anus and penis, and that a thread suspended from the interior center of your abdominal cavity is gently pulling it up. Allow this imaginary thread to pull this area gently upward as you inhale. Another approach to mastering the anal lock is to practice drawing up on the muscles of the pelvic floor while you are urinating, in order to stop the flow of urine: You are using the muscles that are involved in establishing the Root Lock.
In some approaches to hatha yoga, notably Ashtanga Yoga (see Chapter 6), practitioners are encouraged to apply and maintain the Root Lock without releasing it throughout their entire yoga practice or during portions of it. Accomplished yogis practice applying the yogic lock of mula bandha while sitting in a meditative posture, pressing the heel of the left foot into the groin to contact the area of the perineum, thereby applying pressure to seal the area. They place the right foot on the left leg in what is considered a particularly accomplished pose. They maintain this yogic lock for an extended period of time without releasing it—throughout all of their inhalations and exhalations.
Maintaing Root Lock for extended periods of time in advanced practices is not recommended without qualified supervision and guidance. You can still experiment with using mula bandha while meditating or practicing yogic breathing exercises, however. If you want to take your yoga practice to a new level, try applying mula bandha while you're doing these practices. Just sit in a simple, cross-legged position with your ankles crossed over one another in front of you, apply mula bandha by contracting the muscles of the pelvic floor and hold the contraction throughout your practice while you continue to breathe during your practice. This yogic lock will give you a powerful energy boost in addition to its other valuable male health benefits.
Once you have located the muscles in the pelvic floor and have learned how to contract them in mula bandha, you can incorporate some additional exercises into your health routine. These exercises are related to the Kegel exercises that were developed by a physician to help problems related to urinary incontinence. They can help you to strengthen and tone the muscles of the pelvic floor for improved urinary and prostate health as well as for enhanced sexual control and pleasure.
To practice this set of exercises, begin to exercise the muscles of the pelvic floor by contracting and releasing them. As you inhale, contract the muscles of the pelvic floor, as when applying the Root Lock. Instead of maintaining this contraction for an extended period, however, release these muscles completely on your next exhalation. Then repeat this sequence. Inhale and contract the muscles. Exhale and release them. Continue these pumping, contracting, and releasing movements for about 30 repetitions. Practice this exercise every day, gradually building up to five or more minutes daily. Practicing these exercises is one of the very best practices that you can perform to maintain your prostate, bladder, and reproductive organs in top working order.
Once you feel comfortable practicing these exercises while seated, see if you can do them while standing or performing other activities. Once you master these exercises, you can practice them while you're driving a car, riding the bus to work, or standing in line at the grocery store or bank.
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