Moola bandha has an immensely powerful effect on the nervous system ann endocrine glands however, its main effect is on the energy systems of the body, those of the pranas and chakras. Moola bandha is a pranic technique more than a physical one. It requires us to take our whole awareness to the mooladhara chakra in the perineum where we focus and concentrate our energies in the attempt to contract a hitherto unknown and hidden area of the body. that we have never isolated and contracted before. Therefore, it is a more subtle technique than uddiyana or jalandhara bandha, though all bandhas deal directly with the pranic energies of the body.
Though it appears to be a simple muscular contraction, the real work is psychic. As the energies are stimulated there, we become more conscious of the area. We become aware of the chakra and the psychic components, nadis, etc. In time and with persistent practice we can refine our energy and convert it into a highly concentrated force, just as a laser can convert the energy from a ten watt bulb into a light source which concentrates energy over a one inch surface more intense than the surface of the sun. When pranic energy in mooladhara chakra has thus been refined, the dormant potential energy is released. The process builds on itself, snowballing into a virtuous circle of ever-increasing health, awareness and bliss.
Prana is the omnipresent vital energy of the cosmos, the life force within man and the whole material universe. In man’s physical body, prana is said to be of two forms, physical and mental energy. It flows in the pranic body in nadis, currents or channels of force. Of the 72,000 nadis in the pranic body, three are most important: ida, pingala and sushumna. Ida represents mental energy, pingala physical energy and sushumna the unification of the mental and the physical aspects. Running along the sushumna nadi are chakras which act as transformers, channelling prana into the body via the nerve plexus and endocrine glands, positioned along the spinal axis from the brain to the pelvic floor.
In the tantras it is written that all of the 72,000 nadis in the body originate from the medhra (foundation, base) in the sukshma sharira (astral body) located just above mooladhara. This medhra is the triangular shaped seat of life in the astral body related to those nerves called the cauda equina (horse’s tail) in the physical body – the nerve bundle which comes out from the spine at about the level of the hips and travels down to the end of the spine and perineal body.
The full impact of moola bandha is now exposed by the fact that not only is the perineal body/cervix contracted, but all of the 72,000 nadis, for which it is the source, are also stimulated. Similarly, as all the nadis are linked to the mechanisms of the central nervous system, the practice of moola bandha also represents a contraction of certain switches in the brain, which stimulate physical, mental and spiritual relaxation. Also, hitherto dormant areas of the brain (an estimated 90%) begin to plug into conscious awareness, increasing our ability to live life fully. When prana is increased, more and more of the brain is available for our conscious control.
Subdivisions of prana
According to yogic philosophy there are twelve subpranas of mahaprana in the human body, the five major pranas being: prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana. These pranas are not essentially different from one another. Although they operate at different frequencies, they are different aspects of the one unifying, life-sustaining, cosmic energy. Just as the various colours of the rainbow complement each other to form white light, so the twelve pranas functionally complement one another to create harmony within the body. Of the divisions of mahaprana (cosmic energy) apana is the downward moving force below the navel responsible for defecation, urination, labour and so on. Prana resides in the chest and moves with the breath.
The performance of moola bandha has a considerable effect on pranic flow, particularly the flow of apana. In The Serpent Power Sir John Woodroffe writes about this apanic flow: “The natural course of the apana is downward, but by contraction at mooladhara it is made to go upward through the sushumna where it meets prana. When the latter vayu reaches the region of fire below the navel, the fire becomes bright and strong, being fanned by apana. The heat in the body then becomes very powerful, and kundalini, feeling it, awakes from her sleep.”
Compare the above to what is said in the Siva Samhita: “Pressing well the perineum with the heel, forcibly draw the apana vayu upwards slowly by practise.” (SS, 4:41-44) In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika there is also reference to the effect of moola bandha on pranic flow, as quoted previously, (pp.14,15). The perfection of moola bandha brings about a union of prana and apana in manipura chakra. With this the sleeping kundalini is awakened and sushumna is energized.
Moola bandha and pranayama
For maximum benefits moola bandha should be practised in conjunction with pranayama. This is because while pranayama stimulates and allows us control of the flow of prana, the bandha directs it to required areas, thus preventing dissipation. In the context of pranayama, apana moves up with inhalation (pooraka) and prana moves down with exhalation (rechaka), while a balance between inhalation and exhalation signifies the retention of breath (kumbhaka) which occurs spontaneously when prana and apana unite. Moola bandha is utilized with kumbhaka as it helps to turn the apana upwards. In the beginning moola bandha should be practised with antar kumbhaka (internal breath retention). Simultaneously the region of the perineum is contracted and pulled up towards the diaphragm. When the practitioner can perform moola bandha while holding the breath inside, without the slightest strain or discomfort, then he should attempt the more difficult practice of moola bandha with bahir kumbhaka (external breath retention) which has a more powerful effect.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that kumbhaka is of two kinds sahit kumbhaka (borne, endured, supported by willpower, produced by conscious effort) and kevala kumbhaka (spontaneous, absolute, highest possible). Sahit kumbhaka should be practised until one achieves mastery over pranayama, when we achieve kevala kumbhaka. The essential difference between these forms is that sahit is ‘the way’ and kevala is ‘the end’. Kevala kumbhaka occurs automatically when kundalini enters the sushumna, but takes place only after mooladhara chakra has been fully awakened. Kevala has many names: vidya (knowledge), samvit (pure consciousness) and turiya (beyond the three dimensions of consciousness). It is the highest experience of yoga, the end goal.
One should not confuse kevala kumbhaka with the simple kumbhaka that occurs during the beginning stages of meditation when the breath seems to stop. Many yoga students, while in meditation, will have experienced for themselves the breath becoming slower. It is not uncommon that as the breath becomes no more than a mild flicker, many students are overcome by a sense of fear and un certainty and discontinue the practice. Some people may also become extremely frightened and think, ‘If I stop breathing altogether surely I will die’. Experience will show that this is not the case but that rather, once the barrier of the breath is overcome, one is transported into divine realms.
If you have met with this fear, rest assured that the experience is only the suspension of the breath, not the actual stopping of the breath. This is the springboard into your own inner consciousness, but if the fear is not overcome by a strong will and unconquerable faith, you will find that the moment you experience fear, the breathing pattern will become increasingly more rapid, leading your consciousness back to extroversion and the meditation is lost.
This suspension of breath (kumbhaka) plays a definite role in the perfection of moola bandha. Only when the mind is completely concentrated will the breath cease, and moola bandha is a powerful means to concentrate the mind and energy. When combined with breath control and awareness it is an even more powerful means to attain kevala kumbhaka.
Moola bandha can be performed in conjunction with nadi shodhana pranayama, for example. In this way the maximum benefits of moola bandha can be derived, and at the same time acute sensitivity toward inhalation (apana/ pooraka), exhalation (prana/rechaka), and breath retention (antar/bahir kumbhaka) is developed. From this control, awareness is developed and prana can then be consciously directed. As mooladhara chakra is the storehouse of prana, and moola bandha the key to release it, control is essential.
Once control over the practice has been achieved, we can begin to slowly awaken mooladhara chakra and the kundalini shakti which lies within it. Then we may enjoy the bliss which arises from the union of prana and apana, nada and bindu, the union of the formed with the formless.