Core Strength Through Mulabandha
Christopher Ken Baxter
In the ancient scripture
of the Yoga Sutras, written by the revered sage Patanjali,
an sana, posture, is described as embodying both sthira,
steadiness, and sukha, comfort. There are many methods in
yoga by which to establish, at a muscular level, steadiness
and comfort in our practice. These functional concerns are
also the crux of Western physiological research. Inevitably
they all must address the questions of:
are different schools of thought as to what does
and does not constitute mulabandha. For the purposes
of this study, mulabandha does not include the lifting
and contraction of the genitals, vajroli mudra,
or the lifting and contracting of the anus, ashvini
mudra. It also is not the form of mulabandha that
is only practiced in a meditative sitting posture,
such as siddhasana, with retention of the breath,
kumbhaka, and application of the throat lock, jalandhara
bandha. I refer to the variation of mulabandha I
use in this approach as core lift to avoid confusion.
techniques for engaging
puts our muscles into their best anatomical advantage?What
needs to be relaxed and strengthened to provide optimum
opening and then strengthening the muscles of the pelvic
floor, we can build a strong physical foundation on which
to anchor a physiologically safe practice. This broadening
and strengthening, relaxing and steadying of the foundation
is accomplished through a unique movement known in yoga
mulabandha does structurally
there are various techniques for practicing mulabandha,
for the general purposes of this article,
mulabandha is best described as a subtle lifting or arching
up of the perineal floor into the core of the body. This
is accomplished by a contraction of the muscles of the pelvic.
The lift is accompanied by slow, steady, and continuous
breathing (dirgha and ujjayi pranayama). In addition, when
you lift your sternum and bring a soft smile to your face,
the effect of the perineal lift extends through your esophagus
and into the soft palatte at the back of the roof of your
yourself standing. Can you visualize how the arch of your
foot carries the entire weight of your body and distributes
it through the ball and heel down into the ground? In a
similar way, as the weight of our torso is pulled down by
gravity, the domed "arching up" of the perineal
floor gives an equal and opposite lift through the central
structure. As a result, your ankle, knee, and hip joints
subtly realign. Your upper and lower leg bones move slightly
into a more efficient weight-bearing position above the
enables your body weight to flow more easily through the
pelvic bones and hip joints down into the arch of the foot,
and back into the ground. Because the weight-bearing is
directed more finely into the bones, muscles, and ligaments,
we instantly reduce stress and its associated anxieties.
Because we use less energy, we feel less fatigued. We actually
can smile and experience more joy in our practice!
when the perineal floor lifts, it stimulates the core abdominal
muscles to also lift and hold. This lift enables the chest
and upper back to more easily lengthen. As a result of this
"inner lift," the back of the neck elongates,
causing the crown to lengthen. The integrative effect is
a subtle repositioning and alignment of the entire skeletal
structure. As a result we feel stronger, we move easier
and we can hold our position longer without strain.
of the unique way in which it unites many different branches
of the musculoskeletal system, mulabandha enables the core
muscles of the neck, shoulders, back, chest, abdomen, sides,
hips, groin, and buttocks to be firmly "rooted"
all the way down into the pelvic floor. Paradoxically, we
feel more "grounded" even as we feel lighter.
this perineal "rooting" strengthens your core
and enables your entire body to move into, hold, and move
out of a wide range of positions with greater freedom, easier
alignment, and more safety. When your body feels safe and
open, you naturally relax, you breathe easy, and you feel
uplifted physically, emotionally, and energetically. As
a result, you experience more happiness in your body.
in this approach, then, is to empower our core to be comfortable,
strong, and mobile through establishing stable support via
a strong foundation. When we shift our emphasis from imitating
postures to "coming from core," we feel an ease
of movement and stability that even others recognize. We
let go of unnecessary contractions and receive enhanced
benefits. We learn to support ourselves from the "ground
up" and the "inside out." We move in our
bodies and our lives with more grace, power, and ease.
are not confident in having a strong and stable foundation
in our body, the insecurity will motivate us to seek
forms of stability. We do this by contracting muscles "at
a distance" from the center of our body. In Western
physiology this occurrence is referred to as "distal
if we squeeze the buttocks and legs firmly together in the
Cobra, Bhujangasana, we may feel solid, but this distal
support is actually a rigid contraction. It is an unnecessary
movement in relation to fulfilling the core
purpose of the posture, which is to actively strengthen
the back and passively lengthen the front of the torso.
By using only distal support, the breath and brain will
feel constricted, the lower body unnecessarily tense, and
the energy disconnected between the upper and lower halves
of the body. If the distal support of the leg and buttock
squeeze is released and our core remains unengaged, we will
feel weak and wobbly.
regular use of mulabandha, we learn that the protective
tension and rigidity can be transformed into internal strength
and lift. This enables us to reduce unnecessary injuries,
release trapped energy, and live in our body with more joy.
With mulabandha to anchor your own power, you can create
safety during a long sustained stretch, strengthen your
trunk, and redistribute precious energy from contraction
into conscious awareness. Once you have that core strength
in place, you can choose the patterns of distal support
that enhance your aims.
is not an "all or nothing" technique. It can be
held as a gentle intention, a fully energized perineal lift,
or somewhere between. For example, in the Child Pose a light
lift of mulabandha will assist the body in feeling safe.
In everyday walking, a "20 percent" mulabandha
gives relief to the knees and spring to the step. In a standing
backbend, a fully engaged mulabandha, firmly held for the
duration of the posture, gives firm safety and structural
can be consistently lifted through the holding time of a
posture or rhythmically engaged and relaxed.
in the final position of the Posterior Stretch, Paschimottanasana,
alternating the exhalation and lift of mulabandha with the
inhalation and release of mulabandha assists the body to
stretch and soften. (Refer to the individual posture sheets
for specific applications.)
nervous system connects the base of the spine (the sacrum)
with the base of the brain (the medulla or "reptilian-survival"
brain), the midbrain (frontal lobes and "thinking brain"),
and the crown of the head (referred to in sacred traditions
as the "spiritual dome" or "crown of creation").
This neurological system controls the vegetative functions
(e.g. digestion, elimination) of the body and networks certain
glandular secretions with organs.
learning to isolate movement of the perineal floor, both
relaxing and lifting it, we actually articulate the sacrum
and its associated neurological pathways. By directly palpating
this "root" of our neurological intelligence,
as in any massage, we relax, comfort, and assist the perineum
in releasing long held tensions. The master glands in the
brain (pituitary and pineal) receive the neurological information
that all is well, and they rebalance the body chemistry.
of well-being is instantaneously transmitted to the entire
organism by the endocrine and nervous systems working together.
The parts of the body that usually clench in fear (anal
sphincter, genitals, internal organs, belly, and buttocks)
relax. Our respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive systems
are signaled to relax. As a result, we feel an integrated
sense of safety and comfort in our belly. Our emotions also
tell us "all is well."
to inherited social concepts about our bodies, as well as
various injuries and traumas that are part of life, almost
everyone holds some unconscious tension in the buttocks,
belly, perineum, genitals, and anal region. These are usually
the oldest tensions in the body, frequently formed at the
pre verbal time of our lives. Some practitioners find that
as they relate to these intimate parts of their body, they
encounter shame, guilt, fear, pride, arrogance, loneliness,
numbness, abuse, or even survival anxieties. Others may
be physically weak in these places due to hernia, episiotomy,
or other medical circumstances.
to be willing to let go of even a portion of that protection
is a very personal and intimate choice. We can only deeply
relax here if we feel it is within our control to feel safe.
Some are, and others are not ready to make such a choice.
Each practitioner must be sensitive to his or her own needs,
and responsive to his or her unique developmental time in
order to establish the psychological safety required for
this practice. Because many of us have either denied or
overemphasized this region of our body for so long, this
practice (combined with compassionate awareness, steadfast
patience, and relaxed determination) helps balance our energies.
steps to release our own bindings only if we feel safe to
create our own boundaries. Psychologically, it is a powerful
choice and a developmental step to embrace core strength.
As Nelson Mandela said:
deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,
fear is that we are powerful,
our power is one of the great benefits of mulabandha practice.
As we experiment with using core strength and
go of our old ways of holding ourselves, we realize that
it is possible to let go of our habitual methods of safety
(tension and numbness, fight or flight, self-sabotage, doing
it right, being perfect, looking good) and still survive.
We find an inner confidence that lets us face and release
our reluctance to embody all that we secretly know ourselves
domination to self-actualization
our shift in awareness from external authority to internal
guidance we need to be aware of our fear-based contractions.
Reliance on external things, ideas, and images for our well-being
keeps us rigid in our body. This in turn limits our choices
and our creative expressions.
to internal guidance allows us to apply yoga at a much deeper
level. We can use the teachers and the teachings as resources
rather than rules. The compulsion to have perfect images
to replicate loses its hypnotic power over us. Instead of
working to please the teacher we can focus on realizing
the union of our soul with Spirit, which pleases us and
brings lasting joy. This internal trust enables us to more
readily self-source our creative response to the moment-to-moment
flow of life. We learn to stand up for ourselves, to take
responsibility for our choices and actions. Through standing
our ground with core strength rather than being dug in with
contracted distal support, we are able to contain and express
our own Self in a more relaxed and powerful way.
use of mulabandha can assist us in recognizing the need
for personal boundaries that support us in taking steps
to move toward our own creative expression. This practice
enables us to start from a healthy base from the very first
posture. As we practice, sourced and energized from core,
we donít have to be super mobile, super strong, or super
flexible to receive the benefits yoga has to offer.
does not take away what you know. It helps you to recognize
what is no longer needed, release it, and build on what
already nurtures you in your life.
find this practice uplifting, peaceful, and a worthy friend
Christopher Ken Baxter is a founding member of Kripalu Center
for Yoga and Health and is one of the original developers
of Kripalu Yoga. Out of his 30 years of experience with
yoga, he has developed AtmaYoga, a form of yoga that has
its origin in core strength of body and spirit. For more
information on AtmaYoga and the many offerings of AtmaYoga
Educational Services, visit www.atmayoga.com,
call 413-528-6408, or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
© Christopher Ken Baxter