“Come to Tadasana. Press down through your feet. Move your thighs slightly back. Mula bandha. Broaden across your collarbones. Now, inhale and lift your arms overhead…”
One of These Things Is Not Like the Other
If you, like me, were like “thighs back … what?! What did she say after that?,” you’re not alone. I used to take a class where something along these lines was the instruction. And I never had a clue what mula bandha was.
Somehow, I gathered that it had something to do with the pelvic floor (whatever that was) and clenching the h-e-double hockey sticks out of it. (Maybe it was a Kegel? I wasn’t sure.) But I still couldn’t get it. Just when I thought I got it, I’d lose it again.
My Moment Arrives
Imagine my delight (read: slight embarrassment) when almost 12 years later (aka now), I still had very little idea what it meant to engage mula bandha. Over the years, I’d learned that the bandhas are energetic locks in the body. They can help us to direct the flow of our energy. And while I somewhat understood that in my mind, my body still couldn’t get it.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to attend a pelvic floor workshop this past summer. Through a wonderful discussion and a series of guided visualizations/exercises, I started to get it a little better. What really happened is that I was able to direct my internal attention, even just a smidge, to my pelvic floor. This doesn’t sound like much, but for me, it was huge. Baby steps.
Gates (of Hell)
I remember when I attended the workshop mentioned above, our wonderful teacher, Jane House, asked us why we were there. I specifically remember saying that, while I’d been practicing yoga for a good little while, I still just couldn’t understand mula bandha— what it was, how it worked, etc.
Then this past fall, I attended a workshop with Angela Farmer, and it all started to come together. Angela spends quite a bit of time helping her students to come into their body, and one of the main ways she does that is by helping them connect with the energy of the pelvic floor.
Because of this topic of discussion, someone asked a question about bandhas. In her eloquent way, Angela explained that, while some people describe the bandhas as locks, she prefers to consider them as gates. Gates can open or close; energy can flow up or down. And then she had us do an exercise.
Angela asked us to lie back, and then she talked us through connecting with our pelvic floor. She asked us to imagine a double lotus that grows back to back—petals opening up and petals opening down—at the base of our pelvis. As I relaxed into this imagery, I felt my pelvic floor let go.
I thought I’d fallen off a cliff. Quite literally—I thought I might die.
But I didn’t.
And in that moment, I realized why I’d never “gotten” mula bandha. My whole life until then had been mula bandha— an unconscious tightening against whatever life might bring me. I couldn’t engage my pelvic floor any more because it was already contracted beyond belief.
(This, of course, is by no means what mula bandha actually is; it’s just how I’d naively interpreted it. Since then, I’ve gotten lots of the anatomical info to fill in the blanks from the insightful Leslie Howard.)
Since then, I’ve been practicing releasing and receiving. I’ve been noticing the moments I brace myself against— and how that shows up in my body. I used to think this only happened in my jaw (I’m a terrible jaw clencher and teeth grinder), but lo and behold! It’s also in my pelvic floor, deep in my belly, and even in my thighs. Goodness knows more will probably show up soon, too.
But I’m not discouraged. Nope; if anything, I’m nearly gleeful. Through the physical body, yoga is showing me my patterns that extend much beyond.
If this isn’t yoga, I don’t know what is.