This article was originally published on my Spacious Yoga facebook page in March, 2017.
Bandha naturally emerges within a person when the two polarities of the spectrum of any given aspect of our existence are in relative balance and communication with one another. If we stand in the middle of a high mountain ridge, we can clearly see what lies on either side of the ridge. Similarly, in the balanced state of bandha we can easily feel the qualities of either end of the spectrum of our potential experience. From this vantage point, we have maximum freedom and spaciousness in our perspective and in our energy flow. From the middle ground, we can move in either direction at will, and hence have the greatest range of options available to us.
The above photograph of Trikonasana B (which is not staged and was taken during a regular practice session) illustrates the physical dynamics of mula and uddiyana bandha nicely. This is one of my favorite postures for feeling the dynamics of bandha at work.
Mula bandha arises when the opposing forces around the pelvis are in a dynamic balance with one another. In Trikonasana B, the pelvis and the spine are oriented parallel to the ground. The legs do the work to pull the pelvic bones backwards, away from the camera, along the axis of the earth. The right hand and the deeper muscles of the torso work to pull the spine and torso in the opposite direction, culminating in the crown of the head reaching towards the camera, along the axis of the earth.
If you look carefully at the above picture, you can see that the crown of my head and my pelvic bones are well aligned and connected with each other, are moving in opposite directions and the movement of this force is parallel to the axis of the earth. There is maximum length and space through the midline of my body. This is mula bandha.
The internal feeling that arises in this state is one of traction and suction through the midline. The pelvic floor comes online without any conscious effort or squeezing, and feels as if it is naturally being “suctioned” towards the crown of my head. This frees up energy to flow through the center of my body, along what is also known as the sushumna nadi. This energy flow can be tangibly felt, especially when the breath is slow, deep and full, which serves to brighten and deepen the subtler internal sensations.
An important point to understand is that the tone in the pelvic floor is a natural result of the geometry of the posture. There is no conscious engaging or squeezing of the muscle, and doing so would actually inhibit or block the free flow of energy and breath.
Uddiyana bandha manifests when there is a dynamic balance between the opposing forces around the core of the upper body. If you pay attention to my arms in this picture, you can see how this is achieved. The arms are working perpendicular the axis of the earth, along the axis of gravity – so uddiyana is manifesting in the opposite plane that mula is manifesting, if we consider the reality of the body in two dimensions.
My right and left arm are well aligned with one another, are working along the axis of gravity, and are moving in opposite directions. The right hand is making a full and firm contact with the ground, and the rebounding/reactionary force of the ground is being transmitted up my right arm, through the core of my upper body, and into the left arm, which is reaching up towards the sky. The energy between my right hand and my left hand flows freely and without blockage. This is more difficult to attain than the flow of energy in mula bandha, as it does require an ability to release tension in the shoulders and upper back, which is typically where the flow of energy between the arms would get blocked.
The release of tension is the key concept to understand in both mula and uddiyana bandha. In Trikonasana B, I see many people using force and strain to attempt to crank the upper arm and shoulder backwards, instead of simply letting it relax and naturally lengthen along the axis of gravity. Once we are able to tune in to the flow of energy along the axis of gravity, and apply the downwards pressure into the earth with the bottom hand, the rest of the work is simply about letting go and creating space to allow the energy to move through. This ultimately feels relaxing and….spacious.
The net result of uddiyana bandha is that we have maximum expansion and spreading of energy in the upper body, perpendicular to the axis of expansion and spreading that mula bandha generates.
Mula and uddiyana bandha ultimately work to create space and expansion in opposite planes in our two dimensional model of the body. They are both attained through correct geometry and harnessing of the natural forces that arise between our bodies, our breath and the earth. They work together reciprocally (mula will enhance uddiyana and uddiyana will enhance mula), and they ultimately communicate with each other via the medium of the flow of relaxed and deep breathing. When mula and uddiyana are both in place, the body is free of all unnecessary tension (whatever is NOT necessary to hold the posture or state of being), the nerves relax, the breath naturally slows down and expands, and we are at the peak of our physical, mental and energetic potential as living organic beings on this planet.
Other language translations:
The Russian translation of this article can be found here. Thank you to Anna Glinko for the translation.