In Part 1 of the Three Bandhas article, we had introduced and explained the three different bandhas and their effects on an individual. Here, in the 2nd part of this series, we further provide insights on the relationship of these bandhas with consciousness, the importance of moola bandha and also its effect on the mind and body.
Bandhas and Consciousness:
According to yogic scripture, control of muscles and nerves regulate breath. Control of breath controls consciousness. Bandhas are a means of extending control over breathing and are thus a means to extend our knowledge and control over consciousness.
Breathing rate and depth are said to be affected by: states of consciousness, disease, atmospheric conditions, thoughts, exercise and emotions. Research has shown that in a state of tension and fear, respiration becomes short and shallow, whereas in a state of relaxation, people take long and deep breaths.
When bandhas are performed in conjunction with pranayama, contraction of the muscles takes place simultaneously along with kumbhaka (internal or external breath retention). The physical lock or contraction is applied and at the same time the breath is also arrested or immobilized. As a result, consciousness is also arrested, stopping the flow between the polar opposites of inhalation and exhalation, birth and death, joy and sorrow, gain and loss.
Through the perfection of bandhas, a Yogi is able to lock himself into the ‘eternal now’ devoid of the dualities of existence, motion and change. His consciousness is unfettered by the modifications of thought enabling him to merge into the field of unified consciousness. As such, the bandhas induce pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and are preliminary techniques for meditation.
We find then that the bandhas induce five different kinds of ‘retention’ or immobility: retention of muscles, breath, senses, thought and consciousness. Once retention of consciousness is achieved, the Yogi is prepared for the next stage of his spiritual rebirth, the awakening of kundalini. The bandhas act as triggering mechanisms for the activation of this powerful force residing at the base of the spine.
Technically speaking, kundalini yoga comprises of any technique that leads to kundalini awakening. Bandhas fall into this category and thus may be classified as techniques of kundalini and kriya yoga, as systematized by Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Bihar School of Yoga, Munger.
Of the four bandhas, we aim to focus solely on moola bandha, regarded by many adepts as the most important of the bandhas. Without it, kundalini, dormant in the mooladhara chakra, will remain asleep eternally. Little has ever been written on this eminent yogic practice, depriving it of the respect and understanding which it so richly deserves.
The Sanskrit word moola (also written mula) means ‘root, firmly fixed, source or cause, basis, the foot, lowest part or bottom, foundation’. Bandha means ‘lock, restrain, shut or close’. Together the words moola and bandha refer to the contraction of mooladhara chakra, the seat of kundalini. This contraction is triggered at the ‘root’ of the spine or the trunk of the body, the perineum. Moola bandha is known as the ‘perineal lock’, contraction of the muscles around the perineal body in the male and the cervix in the female, in order to release and control energy generated by the mooladhara chakra. Moola bandha occurs simultaneously at many levels. On the physical level it is the physical contraction of muscles. However, when refined, moola bandha is the contraction of mooladhara chakra. It is important to note, therefore, that moola bandha is not just the contraction of the perineal body/cervix but also the ’locking’ (contraction) of mooladhara chakra. The perineal body and cervix act as trigger points to enable us to locate the psychic center of mooladhara chakra.
Kundalini shakti on awakening from her sleep acts as a medium for the expansion of consciousness, thereby allowing a complete achievement of one’s innate ability. This in turn enables the person to rise to the level of divinity, leaving behind the mundane realm of the cycle of birth and death.
Importance of Moola Bandha
The importance of moola bandha should not be underrated, because its perfection may lead to a spontaneous rearrangement of the mental, physical and psychic bodies. The physical contraction of the perineum has the beneficial effects of maintaining hormonal balance, and stimulating and regulating the nerves that innervate the lower pelvic region; thereby regulating all the internal organs.
Moola bandha is therefore an important tool in the treatment of physical diseases of the lower abdomen e.g. digestive ailments and sexual disorders. Because the body and mind are inextricably interlinked, ‘as in the body, so in the mind’, an effect on one cannot pass unnoticed by the other. Accordingly, moola bandha has the immediate effect of creating a deep sense of mental relaxation, thereby relieving most mental and psychosomatic disorders which are the direct or indirect effect of stress, tension and anxiety.
As a mental relaxant, moola bandha has been found extremely useful in the treatment of such mental disorders as depression, neurosis, some phobias, hysteria and mania. Little experimental evidence exists to substantiate the effects of moola bandha on psychosis. However, because of its effects on the brain and by virtue of the fact that moola bandha is effective in the treatment of both mania and depression, it has proved useful in correcting the extreme moods characteristic of manic-depressive psychosis, and in some cases of schizophrenia, especially in the early stages.
The effects of moola bandha on the pranic level are more pronounced than those on the physical and mental levels. It has a subtle yet powerful effect on the psychic body, acting as a trigger for the awakening of mooladhara chakra and kundalini. In doing so, moola bandha also helps in releasing the brahma granthi (psychic knot at mooladhara chakra) allowing the prana to flow up sushumna nadi. This means that moola bandha prepares one for a true spiritual awakening. An aspiring sadhaka should treat moola bandha as a part and parcel of his main sadhana. Though it may take time to perfect it, he will derive physical, mental and spiritual benefits far beyond his dreams or expectations.
Initially, since the brain may not be tuned to fine muscular manipulations in the perineal area, the student may have difficulty in asserting conscious control over this area. Moola bandha practice may reactivate the area in the brain controlling this region of the body, thus bringing the neuronal circuits responsible for its control into the sphere of consciousness.
This growth process may take some time. In the meantime, while practicing moola bandha, it is important not to get frustrated if you cannot contract the perineal body or the cervix without even contracting the anus or genital organs. In the initial stages of practice this is to be expected. Be assured that control will definitely come with time, practice and perseverance.
Neurological and Endocrinological Aspects
Though moola bandha seems to be concerned with events occurring at the southern pole of the body, it is a means of directly manipulating and influencing the brain and its neurological and endocrinological function at the northern most extremity. In this way, moola bandha influences our behavior, personality and mental state by exerting a positive and coordinating effect on the whole physical body via the brain. Moola bandha helps integrate the neurological and endocrinological function of the body by manipulation of the body energies.
Neuron cells are the basic units of the nervous system. Their function is to conduct energy impulses which transmit information. Varying in size and shape, there are more than twelve billion neurones in the body that make up the nervous system and play an important role in the shaping of consciousness and distributing the energies of the body. In this way the different body organs are controlled; turned on or off, slowed down or sped, given fine tuning and coordinated. The nervous system is coordinated with the endocrine system via a central mid brain structure, the limbic system. Within this, lies the hypothalamus which controls the autonomic component of the nervous system as well as the endocrine glands.
The nervous system allows fine, precise and immediate control of the body with very little delay. The endocrine system, on the other hand, is a slower controlling mechanism, regulating the metabolism and basic structure and function. In a normal individual both these systems are coordinated and harmonized within themselves and with each other, so that all the bodily processes function at an optimal level, where no system is trying to outdo any other. Each cell in the body works to maintain the health and integrity of every other cell, organ and structure.
The Nervous System
The nervous system is divided into the following components:
Central nervous system: This is an organization of two principal components, the spinal cord and the brain. The spinal cord serves as a conduction path to and from the brain which regulates the complex activities of the body and mind. It is a highly developed computer which integrates the whole body function in terms of sensation, movement, thought, feeling, intellectual faculties, and higher intuitive processes.
Peripheral nervous system: This is comprised of those neurones which lie outside the bony case formed by the skull and spine, and includes the autonomic and sensory/ motor nervous systems. Motor nerves take messages from the brain to the different parts of the body and sensory nerves bring back messages.
Autonomic nervous system: This regulates all automatic body functions including heart rate, blood pressure, endocrine and digestive processes, and so on. Although not normally under our conscious control, they can be controlled through the techniques of biofeedback and yoga. The sympathetic aspect of the autonomic nervous system generally comes into play when we experience stress, tension or strong emotions. The system tends to be active when we are calm and relaxed.
With the practice of moola bandha we see an elaborate interplay of the different aspects of the nervous system. The initial impetus to perform moola bandha stimulates the cerebral cortex of the central nervous system. The message to contract the perineum is relayed to the second, third and fourth sacral (peripheral) nerves through the spine. Having accepted the nervous stimulus, the sacral nerves proceed to contract the perineum (peripheral nervous system). The contraction completed, the effects on the autonomic nervous system may now come into play.
Parasympathetic fibers concerned with relaxation emerge only from the neck (cervical) and sacral (pelvic) areas of the spinal cord. Thus, with the stimulation of the sacral nerves not only has the perineum successfully been contracted but also the parasympathetic nervous system is now dominant over the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in a deep sense of rest and relaxation in the body and mind. The autonomic nervous system maintains constant tone and monitors any change in the body’s internal environment. With the performance of moola bandha the whole internal environment is altered: the blood pressure decreases, along with respiration and heart rate, and so on. The sensation of relaxation and pleasure generated by this practice are relayed back to the brain (via the peripheral nervous system) where they are analyzed by the higher mental faculties of the cerebral cortex, and transmitted to the mind for conscious appreciation and enjoyment.
A similar neurological process occurs in the practices of ashwini and vajroli mudras, the difference being that the initial mental impulse responsible for the contraction of the various muscles is generated from a different area of the brain’s cortex, or outer layer. The nature of nervous control over these muscles basically remains the same.
It is important to realize that there is a difference between the unconscious, involuntary processes involved in urination and defecation, and conscious contraction as experienced in yogic practice. In the first case, the neuronal circuits related to the perineal area are usually outside the normal range of conscious awareness. Through moola bandha we can learn to use those same neuronal circuits as part of an act of will, within the range of conscious awareness, thereby enabling us to:
These effects have ramifications for all the other components of the body.
The nerve which supplies the perineum is the pudendal nerve. It derives its fiber from the second, third and fourth sacral nerves, which in turn originate from the sacral plexus in the lower back. This nerve sends branches to the vagina, clitoris, penis, scrotum, rectum, anus and perineal muscles and is both sensory and motor in function. The interaction of the nerves in the perineum with the brain and the rest of the body are extremely intricate. The nervous system is delicate and sophisticated, but our precise control over this instrument is often left wanting. Yet despite all its networks, myriads of pathways and connections, it is possible to unravel its mysteries and regain conscious control of the total organism. The technique of moola bandha is a way to that goal and the catch-word is ‘practice’.
Damage to the nerves, spinal cord or brain may seriously impede or render impossible control over the muscles in the body. In cases where people had no voluntary control over the muscles of their pelvic floor, it was impossible for them to contract any of the muscles or muscle groups of the perineum. Closer investigation revealed that in most cases, some damage had been incurred by the nervous system.
Similarly, the opposite phenomenon has also occurred. Namely, after the contraction of specified muscles the practitioner has failed to be able to let them go and relax. The brain fires off a train of continuous impulses which sends the muscles into spasm, leading to unpleasant subjective physical and mental sensations. From our experience, this is believed to be caused by a psycho-physical inability to properly control contraction and release of the muscles, coupled with an excessive discharge of pranic energy which the body has not yet been accustomed to handle. As a result the circuits overload. Thus, these phenomena require expert assistance and guidance.
Though such experiences are rare, the implications for the students are obvious. Any break in the complex links between the muscles and brain will have definite repercussions on the total system. Thus, sound health is a vital requisite for the practice of moola bandha. The preparatory techniques must also be fully mastered. Moola bandha must not be over practiced in the beginning and the guidance of an expert teacher must always be on hand.
– Dr. Hiren Parekh