Mula Bandha & Birth

Let your inner reptile bite: Yoga Theory for Type A’s of the Childbearing Age

Let your slithering sneak on in, bare those fangs, hiss, howl and roar! Pounce! Attack! Kill! Okay, Not literally. This is yoga. We practice non-violence. Ahimsa style. No duka or suffering yogis.

Last year, when I studied with Richard Freeman for the first time, I also learned about apana energetically for the first time. Although I can’t be sure I’d never heard the word apana before, [it may have been like when you teacher says “if you flex your foot, your knee may stop hurting” and only after your teacher has said this 20 times, do you hear her, flex your foot and protect your knee. After class you tell her that you loved her new cue about flexing the foot. She looks at you (kindly of course, because she’s a yoga teacher) and says, “I think I say that all the time, I’m glad it worked for you!”] So, perhaps, I’d heard this term APANA before. I only actually listened and heard it when I was doing a three day workshop with Richard last year. Apana is the opposite of prana. If prana is heart opening, growing and uplifting, apana is grounding and closing in. Think back bend (prana) and child’s pose (apana). Both have their place, just different. A practice that encourages prana when you need to wake up is purposeful and irresponsible when you already had 12 cups of java before noon. Same for apana. If you are living in Alaska and haven’t seen the sun for months, you might not need more apana on Dec 21. But, If you’ve had 12 cups of jive before noon, its called common sense. In yoga we work on balancing energy both the PRANA and APANA energy.

But what’s that have to do with letting your inner reptile out? Connecting with your mammalian sense? Carry on. We’ll get there.

After the immersion, I felt how when I folded forward in an apanic pose, I needed to channel and lift the upward, opening energy of prana. Physically, that’s like when a teacher encourages you to keep your upper back active and the collar bones spreading as in up-dog during a seated forward-bend; while that is sometimes true, the apana/prana dualism resonated, finally for me. I had been feeling, physically and mechanically, that in order to be truly aligned; I had to make sure I was counterposing every pose within the pose. If I did a pose properly, I would be able to exit the pose and not need to do anything to “fix it” or help it settle into my body. If I rushed or let my ego guide me then I would strain a muscle or need to take 10 breaths to catch my breath after a pose. Not so healthy! The stated concept is the balance of sukha and sthira in my muscles but more nuanced and perhaps more fundamental to the practice is that energetically it is the subtle body forces of prana and apana constantly riding the wave against and towards each other. I reach my arms up and feel grounded through my feet. I fold forward and bam! Now that’s mulabandha. No, that’s REALLY mulabandha. Of course, you don’t want to walk around all day, everyday, engaging mulabandha like you have a stick up your you know what. That’s like when your friend does Ujayyi breath so loudly that you can hear her down the block. There’s as much in undoing as in the doing. That whole self-awareness thing, unattachment jazz is yoga.

Moreover, Richard also mentions that the back of your throat, the palate is connected to mulabandha. Whoa! [BRING OUT YOUR MAMMALIAN SELF NOW!] Here’s this strong, solid astangi.-This MAN-person who encourages feeling the pelvic floor engage in the back of your throat. And of course, the first thing I thought of was Ina May Gaskin, midwife extraordinaire. So, here’s this man, who is wise and patient who is telling me to smile before I backbend and the backbend will be easier. He’s telling me to relax and chillax into a pranic, enegry inviting  pose. And over in a different camp (or is it), Ina May is telling women about orgasmic birth and that smiling and relaxing your mouth will relax all the other orifices in your body. She calls it the sphincter rule. (if your mouth smiles, the other oriface relaxes, too).  There’s Ina May telling women to ride their rushes and flow with them AND there is Richard telling me the Vinyasa is sending currents back and forth. There’s Ina May encouraging women to make noise and find your inner mammal, and prenatal yoga teachers everywhere encouraging women to be comfortable making noise. Then Richard says, that yes, finding that inner serpent, that scaly, silly, fierce hissing thing inside you and adding some audio, can help some poses.  To be clear, Richard encourages one to make those noises in the privacy of their home practice and not on the Mysore floor or a led series and of course, Ina May Gaskin would tell women that birth is an intimate thing.  Once again, these two master teachers are saying the same thing. And so, here I am, hearing it for the first time: ASTANGA Yoga and all the bandha engaging (and releasing) is really PRENATAL YOGA. My mammalian mind has been blown!

*Michel Odent, MD coined the fetal ejection reflex.

*Ina May Gaskin & the sphincter law. Smile, relax your mouth and you’ll relax the other orifices, too.

For Further reading check out Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth.  It’s excellent!

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