According to yogic physiology, one of the fastest ways of quickly bringing about yoga, which really is balance of breath, body and mind, in the present moment, is through moolabandha – tightening of the pelvic floor muscles. By contracting or pulling up on the pelvic floor muscles you bring about a realignment of the physical, mental and psychic bodies. It is also found to be useful for treating mental disorders.
Moolabandha is both a physical and psychic/mental practice. On a physical level, Moolabandha increases the nervous stimulation to the lower abdominal organs and so it is good for digestive and reproductive disorders. In women, it is useful for treating prolapse and also is wonderful during pregnancy. In men, it aids in the prevention of prostate cancer.
Moolabandha activates the peripheral nervous system, which in turn influences the parasympathetic nervous system. This reduces heart rate and breathing rate and is therefore a quick way to reduce feelings of stress and tension. This promotes relaxation and a more balanced state of mind, making it a useful pre-meditation exercise.
Yogically, Moolabandha increases energy levels in the body, yet calms the mind and body, and balances the hormonal system.
On a physical level Moolabanhda is similar to pelvic floor exercise taught in pregnancy classes. Yet Moolabanhda can be performed on a psychic level whereby it is the actual contraction of Mooladhara chakra (the seat of Kundalini or primal energy), thus making it a very powerful practice.
The muscles of the pelvic floor form a sling that runs from the pubic bone to the tailbone. There are actually 3 sets of muscles down at the pelvic floor. When we perform Moolabanhda classically, the actual location of the muscles that need to be tightened is:
For women: on the posterior side of the cervix.
For men: inside the perineum, midway between the scrotum and the anus.
At first you may find it hard to isolate Moolabanhda and will that you are also contracting the anus and the urogenital muscles. But over time you will be able to do that. Try to keep the abdomen relaxed as you practice Moolabanhda.
Moolabanhda is an advanced practice and not easy to practice. It is fine to contract all the muscles of the pelvic floor (if you cannot isolate the correct muscles) – you will still benefit from the practice!
How to practice
In Yogahealth classes we often incorporate awareness of tightening the pelvic floor into movements (it makes it easier to practice this way).
We also perform Moolabanhda on the out breath (rather than classically on the in breath). This is because on the in-breath, the downward action of the diaphragm causes an increase in pressure in the abdominal cavity, thus exerting a downward force on the pelvic floor muscles, which can weaken them further. Since a lot of people suffer from incontinence (especially women after giving birth), we practice strengthening pelvic floor muscles, which is more effective when done on the out breath.
Applying Moolabandha with pressing lower back down
- Lie on the floor, on your back. Draw your knees up so that your feet are flat on the floor in semi-supine, adjust your spine and do whatever you need to do. Tune into your breath. Bring your hands onto your lower abdomen, somewhere above your pubic bone and below your navel. Breathe in and make your belly bigger so that it is rising, and breathe out and pull your lower tummy in. Breathing in, expanding the lower abdomen and breathing out, sucking it in….
- See if you can feel that subtle movement in the curve of your lower spine as you breathe in and out each time. As you breathe out and pull your tummy in, press your lower back down slightly. As you breathe in, allow your back to arch slightly and as you breathe out let it come down towards the floor………………
- Stay with this, but as you breathe out, tighten the pelvic floor muscles (pulling inwards and upwards for women and contracting perineal muscles for men). So as you breathe out, pull the tummy in, press the lower back down and draw the pelvic floor muscles in and up. Inhaling relaxing and making your belly bigger, arching the lower back slightly…. A few times like this. This practice has quite a dramatic effect on the mind when you’ve done it for a little while………………… Leave that.