Mula Bandha is the spontaneous gathering and rising of the subtle breath from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head. This auspicious movement is said to open the central channel of the body, clearing away condensed memory and emotion, and restoring consciousness to the original fullness that we enjoyed in the womb.
In the theory of Hatha Yoga, balance is restored by suspending the solar and lunar breaths, and then merging them together in the central channel of the body. This convergence induces a third current, which carries the power of awakening throughout the scaffolding of our minds. That power is kundalini, the female serpent who sleeps on the pelvic floor, with her mouth sealing the entrance to the central channel. Her coiled and slumbering body represents the dormancy of our intelligence, and our latent potential for psychological development. The balancing of the solar and lunar breaths, together with the hydraulic pressure created by the yogic technique called mula bandha, rouses the serpentine goddess from her slumber, and she stands up hissing “like a snake beaten with a stick.”
The upward rising of kundalini is a metaphor for the process of awakening that exposes us to the continuous nature of things. As kundalini rises, she pierces through the delusions that structure our minds, and burns through the tangles of our conditioning. She dissolves the boundaries between inner and outer, subject and object, mind and body that confine us to an isolated sense of self. And when she reaches the head, she melts the disc of the moon, and a cool nectar rains down, flooding our senses with compassion, or perfect openness to reality.
To induce the rain of nectar is the guiding purpose of Hatha Yoga. Most of us will have only an intimation of this experience, where we taste the sweetness of psychical release, but we are not irrevocably transformed. The rain of nectar quickly subsides, and the light of consciousness fades, and we find ourselves back in the same tense and tangled body, with the same longings, fears and anxieties. But through these ephemeral moments of insight, we are given a new perspective on the forces of our minds, and we are empowered to relate to them differently.
After tasting the nectar, we are naturally drawn back, like bees to the honey that they have stored in their hive. We wish to taste the nectar again, but we are not sure how to gather it. So we look more closely into the philosophies and techniques of the contemplative traditions that call to us, hoping to discover some useful guidance. Our burning desire for the nectar can deludes us, however, to take things too literally, and this is where our ideas become stilted and strained.
If we turn to the alchemical theory of early Hatha Yoga, we are told that the nectar is created through the rarefaction of sexual fluids. These are drawn upward through the central channel of the body through the retention of the breath. As the fluids rise, they become more refined, and they are gradually transformed into a delicate and sweet ambrosia. This milky white nectar is stored in the lunar disc, just above and behind the soft palette, in the center of the head. Through the mudra called kechari, in which we draw the tongue upward into the cranial vault, we can drink the nectar, and taste the sweet rasa of eternity.
This archaic but fascinating theory can tempt us to use mula bandha instrumentally, as a kind of fluid pump, by which we hope to raise and store more nectar in our heads. But this notion leads us down the path to absurdity, and only increases the kind of attachment, anxiety and dualistic thinking that prevents the nectar experience and obscures from us the true nature of things.
The search for the nectar can become an intoxicating obsession, and it can lead to misuse techniques like mula bandha by interpreting them, and the whole process to which they contribute, too literally. We can find ourselves squeezing the pelvic floor, and lifting the belly, hoping to create enough internal hydraulic pressure to rouse the serpent kundalini by force. But soon a moment of sober reflection exposes us to the hubris of our endeavor, and we become rightly discouraged from what we are doing. Not that the process of Hatha Yoga is fanciful—on the contrary, it reflects a profound tradition of exploring the psychodynamics of meditative experience, a tradition from which we should continue to learn—but we have to interpret its practices intelligently.
The point of mula bandha is to dissolve the structures of the ego, and it stands to reason that the ego itself cannot direct such a process. As we come to this understanding, our sense of techniques like mula bandha suddenly becomes more refined, and we begin to practice with a more provisional sense of what we are doing. We become more receptive, more exploratory, and more responsive to the directives of our own immediate experiences.
And so we learn to work more gently with our techniques. We learn to tone and release the pelvic floor with a sensual rhythm, to send pulsing sensations up the midline of the body, which induce immediate feelings of opening. The practice of mula bandha then becomes something that we for the immediate sensation, rather than for some idea of how it will transform us. It becomes something that we do with our attention, with our posture, and with our breath, as much as with the perineal body, and we rediscover the technique moment by moment.
In time, our efforts attune us to the patterns of awakening that are already there in our consciousness, gradually opening our minds, until we can feel them on a subtle level, flowing evenly and gently through the center of our embodied experience. And when we feel the third current rising, there is no longer any need for technique, nor for the rejection of technique. We can simply settle into the present moment, and allow the experience of being awake to unfold.
Ty Landrum is the director of the Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado. He teaches Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as he learned it from his teachers, Mary Taylor and Richard Freeman.
Ty has been an Ashtanga practitioner since 2005. He was introduced to the method by Jennifer Elliott at Ashtanga Yoga Charlottesville, where he practiced for seven years. In 2012, after completing a doctoral degree in Philosophy from the University of Virginia, Ty moved to Boulder to study with Mary and Richard. Since then, under their guidance, he has learned some unspeakably wonderful things about the art of yoga.
In 2015, Mary and Richard asked Ty and his wife Shayan to assume ownership of their studio and to teach the Ashtanga method as they have taught it for so many years. Ty and Shayan are honored to continue the thread of the Ashtanga tradition at the Yoga Workshop, and to share the brilliance of yoga with anyone who wants to learn.
Yoga retreat with Ty Landrum – Into the dream – June 3-9 2018
Hear the morning winds lifting over the island, and rise for an inspiring Mysore practice, followed by gentle sessions of pranayama, chanting, and guided meditation. As sunlight reaches across the lush grounds, nourish your body with organic juices and delectables, prepared lovingly by our own local Spanish chef. Recline by the pool and feel your body humming in delight, as you await another unforgettable brunch. In the afternoons, absorb generous teachings on the Tantric underpinnings of Ashtanga, organized lovingly to illumine our theme. Then take time to relax, reflect, and connect to our sublime surroundings, soaking up the surreal beauty of this hidden retreat on Mallorca.