Three Bandhas

Part 3 is the final and concluding part in the series of the three bandhas that we presented to you in the past week. In this article, we further delve into the yogic benefits of practicing the moola bandha. We hope to offer better understandings about the effects of the bandhas on the endocrine system and the neuro-endocrine axis, here in Part 3. Additionally we also see the effects of its combination with pranayama and other yoga disciplines.

Endocrine System:

The endocrine system is a body control system which comprises of glands emitting powerful hormones into the blood stream. The endocrine glands are not only responsible for metabolic processes and the control of all biological activity in the body, but also hormonal balance profoundly affects our personality and character. There are eight endocrine glands in the body: pituitary, pineal, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, adrenals, pancreas and gonads.

The self regulating endocrine system incorporates the hormones secreted from any gland which are partly stimulated by the other hormones in the bloodstream. All information feeds back to the master controlling gland – the pituitary. Thus, the endocrine glands are all inter-related, inter-linked and inter-dependent. One diseased or malfunctioning endocrine gland will impair the efficient functioning of the others and will, at the same time, have direct or indirect bearing on the total well-being of the body, through its effect on the brain.

On a more subtle level, each of the endocrine glands are related to one of the chakras. There is, however, no endocrine gland specifically related to the mooladhara chakra, though according to yogic philosophy, the perineal body is the vestige of a gland which has atrophied in the course of evolution. The practice of moola bandha reactivates this vestige, which has every subtle effect on the brain and the pituitary/pineal/hypothalamic complex. At the same time it stimulates the gonads in both sexes, as it is intimately related to this system. This stimulation turns on the energy in the whole pelvic area, making it available for other body processes. In yogic terminology, the energy is called ojas and can be channeled by various techniques such as vajroli mudra, for productive and useful work in the body and mind. Moola bandha may lead to increased sexual energy; however it should not lead to ejaculation. The practice of vajroli mudra is therefore learned after moola bandha to prevent this dissipation of sexual (pranic) energy and encourage its sublimation for a higher purpose – the reanimation of the latent capacities in the brain.

Thus, moola bandha allows us to gain control over the endocrine system as well as energize the body and mind. This is because endocrine glands (at the physical level) correspond to the chakras, whirling vortices of energy (at the pranic level). Moola bandha stimulates mooladhara and swadhisthana chakras, sending energy through the body, invigorating us and making our personality positive and dynamic.

Neuro-Endocrine Axis:

With the energy gained through the control of the endocrine glands, we can act with determination and spontaneous creativity. Through moola bandha, combined with other yogic disciplines, we learn to channel the nervous energy at will so that we can act in a more graceful, flowing way, and are able to perform more difficult tasks with greater dexterity. When the brain becomes ordered and more synchronized, we function better at all levels with increased understanding and will-power, and are able to accomplish more in our life with attendant satisfaction and gain.

Moola Bandha and Pranayama:

For maximum benefits moola bandha should be practiced in conjunction with pranayama. This is because, while pranayama stimulates and allows the 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 breach (kumbhaka) which occurs spontaneously when prana and apana unite.

Moola bandha is utilized with kumbhaka as it helps turn the apana upwards. In the beginning moola bandha should be practiced 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 will-power, produced by conscious effort) and kevala kumbhaka (spontaneous, absolute, highest possible). Sahit kumbhaka should be practiced 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, may themselves have experienced the slowing down of the breath. 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 uncertainty 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, 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 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 fear is not overcome by strong will and unconquerable faith, you will find that the moment you experience fear, breathing pattern will increasingly become 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 (angtar/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.

After having gained mastery over the practice, one can begin to slowly awaken mooladhara chakra and even the kundalini shakti from within it. After which, it may be possible for one to enjoy the bliss arising from the union of the formed with the formless; i.e., the union of prana and apana, nada and bindu and so on.

Medical Benefits:

Female: Moola bandha may be used to alleviate dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation); however, if you have amenorrheas (absence of period) then refrain from the practice of moola bandha until you have sought the expert guidance of a doctor and yoga teacher, who will assess the cause.

Moola bandha has also proved to be useful in childbirth. A pregnant woman could continue practicing moola bandha along with certain other yogic practices right up to the time of labor, in order to maintain elasticity in the vaginal muscles which may aid in a painless delivery. It is also suggested that women may practice moola bandha, ashwini and vajroli mudras, and other yoga practices immediately after childbirth as this will assist in re-toning the muscles stretched during pregnancy. Moola bandha is also excellent for treating prolapse, leucorrhoea and urinary (stress) incontinence.

Male: Moola bandha alleviates spermatorrhea (leakage of semen), helps prevent inguinal hernia, and controls testosterone secretion and sperm formation, pacifies passions, which influences the coronary behavior.

Scientific research has shown that the problems associated with menopause are closely correlated with one’s mental and emotional state. Men and women who are cheerful, healthy and have a positive outlook on life pass through menopause with little or no difficulty. However because the physical effects are more evident in women, a larger percentage may tend to become pessimistic, depressed, worried and anxious, and have a great deal of trouble accepting and handling menopause. The practice of moola bandha allows for a smooth metamorphosis at this time by rebalancing hormonal changes, preventing such unpleasant symptoms as lethargy, irritability, depression, high blood pressure and giddiness. Contrary to numerous superstitions and myths, people do not lose their sexuality at menopause, rather their capacity for sexual expression continues into old age. Thus moola bandha will ensure continuity of a healthy, fulfilling life and may be performed from two different points of views:

1. For the householder, in order to solve sexual problems and enhance, maintain and sustain a healthy sexual relationship.

2. For the renunciate, to sublimate the energy of overt sexual expression into the awakening of higher centers.

In both cases, constant awareness of spirituality inherent in sexual energy can be maintained, transforming the sensual act into a spiritual union. It is possible that through the practice of moola bandha immense sexual energy may be generated. This energy then needs to find a positive means of expression, so the sadhaka begins to perform vajroli mudra so that it may be re-channeled upwards into the sushumna. Others may express this energy through working, painting, writing, inventing and so on. Whatever the avenue of expression, this vital energy or ojas should not be lost or wasted in idle sensual enjoyment. Ultimately, ojas is the majestic unfoldment of the most highly refined consciousness. Whether it reaches its final culmination in the sahasrara or remains bound by the walls of mooladhara is a decision that exemplifies a turning point to spiritual life.

Psychotherapeutic Value:

Moola bandha and bandhas in general, are believed to be a strong medium of bringing about a relaxation of the mind and body. They relax the mental stresses which are observed in people, which include factors like mania, depression, hysteria, phobia and anxiety. Even schizophrenia and other psychoses are amenable to moola therapy if they are caught in their early stages and the personality has been previously stable. This is because moola bandha is a mental purgative, releasing the subconscious and unconscious mind of suppressed anxieties and hidden mental blocks beyond consciousness which cause difficulties in life.

If the body is healthy, moola bandha increases the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering the breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure and stabilizing the brain waves. The whole endocrine system is rebalanced which leads to stabilization and equilibrium of the personality. As a result of this, the mind starts feeling relaxed and healthy. We come in touch with the body and learn how to control it. The mind is a wondrous and amazing thing but only a few of us may have realized its infinite capacity. Moola bandha, which even though to the uninitiated may seem no more than a simple physical muscle contraction, is one means of raising our normal consciousness and fulfilling its enormous potential by the arousal of kundalini shakti.

Psychophysical Relationship:

Moola bandha capitalizes on the mind-body link. We might wonder how it is that contraction of such a small area of the physical body can have such powerful effects on the whole human organism. Yogic philosophy believes that the effects of moola bandha may surpass the effectiveness of the contraction of all the other body muscles combined. To better understand this we can turn our attention to the modern western psychological theory.

Forty years ago, the American psychologist Edward Jacobson pioneered the first major work into the area of relaxation. He gathered evidence to show that through relaxation certain changes in the autonomic nervous system were facilitated e.g. blood pressure and heart rate decreases, the breathing pattern becomes more regular and stable, and the level of adrenaline released into the bloodstream decreases. This research was conducted in passive relaxation techniques. As interest grew and the experimental procedures became more elaborate, it became apparent that the physiological changes due to relaxation were associated with certain psychological states, such as: calmness, optimism, positiveness, peace of mind and even increased concentration.

Further physiological research realized the important fact that mental tension and anxiety are absorbed into the muscle structure of the body in the form of spasm or rigidity. With this realization, orthodox passive techniques moved in a new direction known as ‘dynamic relaxation’.

Attention was directed towards the muscles, and various methods, including massage techniques, were devised to alleviate muscle rigidity. The most effective method, and the one still most commonly used today, was incorporated into what is called muscle relaxation therapy. In this therapy the subject is not a passive recipient but an active (dynamic) participant. This technique showed that the most efficient way to release muscle spasm was to first exaggerate the tension in muscle groups by powerfully contracting the muscles to the limit and then slowly releasing the contraction. By this, not only does the patient experience a feeling of ‘letting go’ but also becomes consciously aware of the tension spots that previously (sometimes for months and years) may have gone unnoticed.

Moola bandha is performed in much the same way as the method already outlined for muscle relaxation therapy, and its effects run directly parallel. That is, several of the muscles connected to the perineal body are contracted and held for some duration, and then released. This process innately also comprises of the release of mental and physical tensions.

Psycho-Emotional Relationship:

The perception of moola bandha as a relaxation therapy is a partial one. As seen earlier, moola bandha is not a primarily physical practice. Physical contraction of the muscles is noted to merely be a medium through which the psychic body component is located. After which, the real work starts. The unconscious mind is stimulated so that suppressed mental energy is allowed to surface into conscious awareness where we can deal with it through various yogic practices such as antar mouna, relaxed witnessing of inner experiences, with the element of control.

This release of emotional energy is called abreaction in modern psychological terminology and was a technique propagated by Freud, Bruer, Brown and others. Freud had discovered that remembering past dramas and memories was useless in the psychotherapeutic process unless emotional energy was released at the same time. This requires one to consciously relive this experience, thereby freeing one from dissipated, and functional non-disintegrated energy that creates pain and suffering.

Abreaction encourages the patient to emotionally relive or ‘abreact’ the terrifying or anxiety-provoking experiences which had led to psychological disturbance and even breakdown. In the medical setting a person may be drugged in order to break down their inhibitions. Following which, the person is suggested that he is in the original situation of terror and stress. If the abreaction is successful, then it stirs up tense excitement in the nervous system which often produces violent outbursts of emotions like tears, anger, aggression, fear or laughter.

Moola bandha is nowhere near as violent a technique as drug abreaction, but it works on the same lines, at a more subtle level. The relaxation of tension in the body allows suppressed energies to be released, bringing with them the conflicts and neuroses from the subconscious and unconscious depths, purifying the body and mind. As a result we may experience strange emotions, feelings and thoughts because of the practice, but these should be kept within perspective and realized to be manifestations of the cleaning process.

When the release of energy occurs through moola bandha, unconscious desires, anxieties and tensions surface. When this happens, the person, according to abreactive therapy, is encouraged to release the tension both emotionally and overtly. However, according to yoga, the release occurs through the practice of antar mouna – acting as a detached witness to all thoughts and emotions. Through mental and emotional arousal the mind is purged of unwanted stress and anxiety and the person feels cleansed, freed and revitalized. Some people may want to cry, and this is a valid means of release to be encouraged by the yoga teacher. Others may laugh, overjoyed that their minds have become light and free. Still, others may watch the process with detached equanimity; they may neither be crying nor laughing, they may just be aware. All these ways release poisonous emotional energies which have created neurotic mental and neuronal mechanisms.

When learning moola bandha we proceed slowly, for if we jump into the practice without first learning detached awareness and becoming used to the release of emotional energy, we may be caught unaware and may be overcome by the results of the practice. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika indicates that the unconscious complexes have the capacity to become as powerful as a ‘sleeping snake struck by a stick’. Through slow progress and expert guidance, this will not happen. If it does, then appropriate techniques and measures can be utilized to redirect the energy outwards. An experienced teacher is necessary for this purpose.

If we imagine that our neuroses are fixed patterns of brain neurones and mental mechanisms that force us to react in predetermined ways and therefore inappropriately to our environment, we may be able to see how they destroy our lives. Usually the energy of these neuronal and mental circuits is outside the field of our awareness. Moola bandha and other energy-releasing techniques such as kunjal send the pranic energy directly to the brain and mind, and increase our circle of awareness, which naturally starts including in it recognition of our neurotic patterns.

As soon as we become aware of ourselves, we can begin a change for better. As a result of the elimination of mental and emotional problems, increased sensitivity is developed to one’s own internal and emotional environment. This is further heightened through practicing awareness. As sensitivity and awareness both expand, one’s internal vision is expanded, and in this way our mental problems can be solved as we can see the source or root of the problems. Thus moola bandha is a means to cut mental problems at the root and thereby establish mental health and well-being.

– Dr. Hiren Parekh