Training your pelvic floor isn't something you do for aesthetics, but it's pretty important when it comes to your long-term health.
Keeping the pelvic floor muscles strong and flexible can help you avoid issues like urinary and bowel incontinence, constipation and pelvic organ prolapse, according to the National Library of Medicine. A healthy pelvic floor also plays a role in pregnancy and sexual function, per the National Association for Continence.
While you can't really do weighted exercises for this delicate muscle group, yoga poses for the pelvic floor can help you strengthen those muscles so they function optimally.
Mula bandha isn't a pose, per se. In yoga, it's referred to as a "lock" or "binding," which involves holding a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. Engaging mula bandha is said to help create strength and stability, according to the Himalayan Yoga Academy.
"Mula" is a Sanskrit term meaning root, or your base, and engaging it gives you a strong foundation for most postures. For example, using mula bandha in mountain pose helps keep you upright; mula bandha in a more challenging pose like handstand keeps your legs together, your core strong and your body balanced.
If you've done Kegel exercises before, you can do mula bandha. Sit in a comfortable position and take a deep inhale into your rib cage, feeling your breath expand your rib cage every direction. On your exhale, perform a Kegel, tightening your pelvic floor muscles as if to stop the flow of urine. Draw your lower belly up and in. Do not squeeze too hard, as you don't want to over-engage these muscles.
If you're not used to the practice, engaging mula bandha may feel confusing at first. Begin practicing the root lock for five breath cycles, working your way up as you become more comfortable.
Mula bandha is a great tool to use when you're practicing many standing or active yoga postures, such as those listed below.
1. Yogi Squat (Malasana)
Malasana, otherwise known as yogi squat, is a deep, wide-knee squat where your tailbone comes close to the ground. This pose is known for both stretching and strengthening your pelvic floor (as well as other muscles in the groin, thighs and glutes), especially if you practice engaging mula bandha while you're in it.
- Stand with your feet mat-distance apart and your toes pointing slightly outward.
- Place your hands in a prayer position in front of your chest.
- Take a deep inhale, expanding your rib cage, keeping your shoulders relaxed and down.
- On your exhale, press firmly into your heels and big toes as you squat down as low to the ground as you can. Your pelvis should be just inches from the floor. (If your mobility isn't quite there, try placing a block or bolster under your sit bones.)
- Lift your chest as you press your tailbone down to lengthen your spine.
- On each exhale, focus on contracting your pelvic floor muscles and lifting your lower belly up and in.
- On your inhales, continue to breathe diaphragmatically and try to relax those muscles completely.
- Take 5 to 10 breaths in the posture.
If your heels come off the ground, you can roll up a small towel under each of them for more support.
2. Gate Pose (Parighasana)
It may not look like much, but gate pose is one of the best postures for developing stability in your entire pelvis. As you root down through your legs and feet, you'll feel your entire lower body engage and your core turn on.
- Kneel on your mat with your torso lifted and your hips stacked over your knees. If your knees are sensitive, place a folded towel or blanket under them for support.
- Send your left leg out long to the left side and plant your left foot down, toes facing forward. Keep your knee and ankle in line with your left hip (not out in front or behind you).
- Take a deep inhale into your diaphragm, expanding your entire rib cage as you reach your arms straight up overhead.
- Relax your shoulders down as you lift your sternum up and press your tailbone down.
- As you exhale, engage your pelvic floor by lifting your lower belly up and in, as if you were lifting out of your hips.
- Lean your torso over to the left side as you stretch your right arm up.
- Keep this engagement as you let your left arm come down and rest on your left leg, just above your knee on your thigh or just below on the outside of your calf.
- Gaze up at your right hand and breathe for 5 to 10 breath cycles.
- Inhale to come back up to your starting position, bringing your left knee in to meet your right, and perform on the other side.
3. Side Lunge (Skandasana)
Skandasana is a wide-legged side lunge. Shifting from right to left in the pose helps keep your pelvic floor strong and flexible.
- Stand in a wide-legged forward fold, torso draped down toward the floor, feet parallel and several feet apart.
- Place your fingertips on the floor and begin to bend your left knee, walking your hands toward your left foot until you come into a squat position on your left side. Your left heel might lift off the floor and that's OK. If you feel unstable, you can roll up a small towel and place it under your heel for more support.
- Keeping your right leg straight, flex your right foot so that your toes are pointing toward the ceiling, or toward your face if mobility allows. Press into your right heel.
- If you feel stable enough, take your hands into a prayer position in front of your chest.
- Gaze at a fixed point in front of you as you breathe into your diaphragm on each inhale and contract your pelvic floor and lower abdominals on each exhale.
- Take 5 to 10 breaths in the pose, then lift your hips to return to your starting position.
- Perform the pose on the other side.
4. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Warrior II offers a great opportunity to practice engaging mula bandha. In this pose, you lift up through the pelvic floor as you lunge deeply into the lower body, strengthening your entire lower body and engaging your core.
- Stand with your feet a few feet apart on a yoga mat.
- Turn your hips to face the long side of the mat and point your left toe straight ahead toward the front of your mat.
- Turn your right foot forward, keeping the whole foot planted in the floor.
- Bend your left knee so the knee stacks above your ankle and take your arms out to a T shape.
- Inhale deeply into your diaphragm, expanding your entire rib cage.
- As you exhale, engage your pelvic floor muscles and pull your lower belly up and in as you bend deeper, keeping your left knee over your left ankle.
- Fix your gaze over your left hand and take 5 to 10 deep breaths.
- Return to your starting position and turn toward your right foot to perform the pose on the other side.
5. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Bridges aren't only found in yoga — you may have practiced glute bridges in all kinds of strength workouts, especially if they're focused on the pelvic floor. In this posture, you'll engage your entire lower body and gently activate the core to encourage stability in your pelvis and opening through your chest and shoulders.
- Begin lying on your back with your arms by your sides, palms facing down and feet planted on the ground as close to your butt as they can get.
- Take a deep diaphragmatic breath into your whole rib cage.
- On your exhale, contract your pelvic floor muscles and gently pull your lower belly in as you press your hips up as high as they can go, keeping your lower back long.
- Push down firmly into your feet and imagine you're pushing your knees forward.
- Once your hips are lifted, gently press your hands into the ground to lift up a bit higher. Focus your gaze straight up toward the ceiling.
- Hold the pose for 5 to 10 deep breaths, then gently lower the hips to the ground.