Mudra at its most sublime is not just a hand gesture nor even a gross bodily position. Although these can be utilized to get to the subtler aspects, mudra is at heart an internal gesture. It is like a reflex or an inner orientation that is taken. It is very difficult to say whether it comes about through effort or non-effort as it functions at a very deep level of our being. It helps us immensely to have both simultaneously recognition as well as recollection (smrti). Once we recognize what mudra is, the recollection is important as this is what takes us into the continuity that mudra reveals.
Bandha at its most sublime is not just a physical lock, not just a pulling in of the perineal floor, the chin or the abdominal wall. It is a contraction of energy that is a part of the mudra process. When the mudra occurs, simultaneously 3 things happen. A concentration of energy occurs that "pinches" the normal flow of things, causing the normally outward/downward movement to halt and reverse. This "pinching" is the bandha. On either side of this pinching there is a reversal of movement. At one side we have nimesa, a retreat and a dissolving of the outward moving tendency of energy and mind. On the other side we have an expansion into clarity and other expressions of our deeper continuum.
There are several things to pay attention to in this process. One is the clarity aspect, which is oftentimes focused on exclusively in traditions like Vedanta and other traditions which focus on "consciousness itself". However if we follow the feeling of this expansion we can also trace the contraction point/line of the bandha process as well as follow the reversal of mindwave/energy. We can also focus on the movement or inner directionality of the flow of consciousness. Focussing on these latter processes "embodies the clarity" and puts us in touch with the bliss aspect of our deeper continuum. Then we are able to pay attention to the simultaneity of both action and knowledge, clarity and its expression, Siva and Sakti.
There are many different entry points for the mudra and thus different mudras are described. Each mudra also offers a slightly different orientation to the deeper continuum and provides different insights into the nature of that continuum. Once you understand and can recollect this process more easily, it is something which can be maintained almost constantly and new aspects will be revealed.
We limit ourselves when we attempt these processes from an outer perspective, just following simple instructions from the texts. You can pull in your abdomen a million times but it will get you nowhere. Theos Bernard, a mid century yoga practitioner did 1000 naulis a day and from what he told in his biography, he got nowhere with it. Other practices undertaken led to similar results. This is because these practices which are based on bandha and mudra have to be internalized. You have to understand these practices on the instrumental level. If they are taken on the objective level, you get nowhere but further in monkey mind. Even if the body becomes strong, the intelligence remains dull. This is true for all of the bandhas and mudras in the texts. The same is true for the practices of the kumbhakas (retentions) and pranayamas. Further discussion will be made of some of these practices in a later blog.