THE PRACTICE OF VISUALIZATION:
THE MUDRAS

The material that one reads about visualization of the chakra centers has, of course, been based upon someone's experience. some yogis saw fit to leave records describing what they experienced, thinking such descriptions would benefit the students that came after them. These descriptions were not merely intended to be a reference guide, but rather to point out "possibilities" that the student hadn't considered. Knowing about these possibilities was regarded as important, because it was thought such knowledge would bring about a certain kind of faith (faith that there were possibilities to be experienced), which would, in turn bring about two factors essential to the entire system of chakra meditation: clarity of the visualization, and the intensity necessary to keep up the practice.

For instance, imagine that you have no knowledge of anatomy. A doctor comes along and asks you to visualize your spinal column. How would you begin to do that? In order to do it, you must first have some faith that there is such a thing as a spinal column, and secondly, you must know something about how to begin your visualization. If the doctor produces some anatomical charts that show you the particular details of the spine, you feel you can proceed. And so in much the same way that some faith is necessary to attempt to visualize your own spinal column, something which you have never seen, some amount of faith in the yogi is necessary in order to begin the practice of chakra meditation. If your faith can be awakened, you will also need the descriptions as a starting point from which to proceed.

Are these chakra centers located in the physical body? There are two points of view in response to this question. Some doctors say that they have discovered some physiological correspondences between the physical body and the chakras. Others, the mystics vehemently protest this notion, and say chakras have absolutely nothing to do with the physical being. They say that the chakras belong to the "subtle body" or "astral body, " and go so far as to deny any correspondence to anything physical. This is because the mystic discounts the reality of the physical body, and considers the physical body to be nothing more than the crystallization of thought. His notion of the physical body is similar to the refrain in the Prajnaparamita Sutra: "All this is empty, void, " the notion being that in the void a thought arises and then assumes a physical body, and having assumed the body, sees the solid substance as the truth or reality. It is very much like building a statue of great saint, adoring it and eventually coming to feel that the living presence of that saint is embodied in that statue. Thought has produced the statue, and thought sees the living presence existing in it. According to the mystic, thought has produced the body, and thought sees it as existing as solid substance. Argue with him all you like, that is the mystic's premise, and he will not compromise it.

The chakras are regarded as the centers of psychic energy. As we have seen (in our discussion of the "Kundalini Spiral"), the literature gives very detailed descriptions regarding the shapes and colors, etc., and one contemplates all this in the manner that we have described. As has been intimated, the yogis knew that the whole secret to this practice is visualization done with the utmost clarity and intensity, so that, for example, when you contemplate and, therefore, visualize the earth center, your whole being becomes that earth center. You do that with each center becoming water, fire, air, and space. You become water! You become fire! You become air! You become space! You become one with it. When you become one with space, there is oneness with infinite space also. There, in a manner of speaking, the body is said to "disintegrate. " In infinite space, one sees what can only be described as "lightning, " the ajna chakra.

In order to facilitate concentration, contemplation, and meditation upon all this, you have to have the feeling that you have some kind of grasp of it. That is why it is not only the imagination but the visualization that is vital. In the case of imagination, you see the thing almost as if it were real. That is not quite good enough; it's much too nebulous. One must get closer to the perception of it as real. We make only this small distinction between visualization and perception: in visualization, I see it as if real, while in the case of perception, I see it as real.

There are some techniques described both in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Geranda-Samhita, which aid visualization in chakra meditation. These are the special yoga practices known as the "mudras. " Frequently, mudras are associated only with the hands, either as traditional gestures, many having been preserved in Indian dancing or as symbols, the most famous of which is the Chit-mudra, which of course, denotes chit: wisdom of the highest consciousness. However, for the yogi the word "mudra" itself translates as "seal," both in the sense of the seal of authority, and, like sealing an envelop, the 'seal' that closes and safeguards. The purpose of performing mudras is often said to be awakening the kundalini energy. They can be practiced either before or after other yoga practices like pranayama or asanas.

You will find that you can practice the mudras without any difficulty. The practice of maha-mudra is especially easy to do. Maha-mudra is performed to aid the visualization of the sushumna. To perform it, simply sit on the ground, and place the left heel on the perineum, being careful not to sit on it. The right leg is kept straight and at a right angle to the body. Clasp your right foot with both hands, not merely touching the foot but holding it firmly (remember "mudra" means "seal," and so any body-lock should be firm at all times). Concentrate within, turning your attention to eyebrow center. Now f ix your gaze inwards, and clearly visualize the susumna nadi as a radiant shell running vertically through the center of your body from top to bottom. Inhale. Do jalandhara-bandha (dropping the chin and pressing it firmly to the chest), and hold the breath, continuing to visualize the sushumna nadi. The visualization is only of the psychic tube itself, not of the individual chakras. Since the heel of the foot is on the perineum, and since your attention has also been focussed upon the eyebrow center, you are immediately aware of where the sushumna begins and ends. After holding the breath to your capacity, raise the chin and exhale slowly. This constitutes only the first half of the procedure. You should repeat it again, only this time place the left leg out straight and the right foot on the perineum. This is the second-half of one complete round of the maha-mudra. If necessary, you may do several complete rounds of maha-mudra. It may be necessary to do several rounds of maha-mudra in order for the sushumna to be visualized clearly.

After finishing with maha-mudra, you should perform what is called maha-bandha. Place the left heel so that it presses up against the perineum. Place the right foot on the left thigh. Inhale, do the chin lock, and place the palms on the floor. As part of the maha-bandha, you should perform the mula-bandha (which was described in the discussion of pranayama), contracting the muscles so as to close or "bind" the anus while also contracting the muscles in such a way so as to pull up on the alimentary canal. This mula-bandha must be firmly kept while you continue with the maha-bandha. Contemplation is of the eyebrow center. And as in maha-mudra, you visualize the sushumna. As before, you raise the chin, and exhale slowly.

Finally, still assuming the maha-bandha, you perform the maha-vedha. Take a deep breath and hold it, and, while dropping the chin again into jalandhara-bandha, you lift and raise your buttocks off the ground, your two palms pushing you off from the ground, and then gently drop the buttocks, letting it gently strike the floor. Maha-mudra, maha-bandha, and maha-vedha can all be considered three parts of one exercise, since they are to be practiced together. You have probably noticed that all three produce some effects upon the perineum. These are performed because, as a beginning student, you have no sensitivity whatsoever about the beginning of the sushumna, and these three practices will enable you to create that sensitivity. This is also the reason your focus is directed towards the eyebrow center. When you are asked to focus the attention upon the eyebrow center, you are not being asked to look specifically at the eyebrow center. The eyebrow center is the terminus of the sushumna. There you begin your meditation upon the whole sushumna. Your concentration should be free to move through the entire field of the sushumna, because the sushumna is not just top, middle, and bottom, but one field, one sushumna! Therefore, this meditation like all meditation, is not fixed upon a point; it's not staring at something. In meditation, the chitta or mind is not fixed upon one thing; there is movement! The movement may be limited to the extent that the meditation is upon the sushumna only, but there is no limitation on the movement of consciousness within that field. In other words, the only thing we have limited is the field of attention, which actually is not such an easy thing to do. To fix the attention so that it is kept fixed is easy. It is much more demanding to limit the field of attention without having it be fixed. That is what we do in these yoga practices.

Quite a number of yoga texts mention the kechari-mudra. They say that performing this mudra will promote concentration. It involves rolling the tongue back so that it touches the posterior nares. Since the tongue will not reach to such a distance, some yogis cut the frenum liguae, so that the tongue is free to reach the distance. Other yoga texts, such as the Geranda Samhita suggest performing nabho-mudra, where the student need not take such drastic measures as altering the tongue. In nabho-mudra, the tongue is turned back onto the palate towards the uvula as far as it will go. It is thought that mental agitation ceases when the tip of the tongue turned up and back. Many regard nabho-mudra as an adequate substitute for karchari-mudra.

Yoni-mudra is excellent for meditation upon the chakras because it completely blocks out, or seals off all distractions. It gets its name "yoni, " meaning "uterus, " because like the baby in the uterus, the practitioner has no external contact with the world, and therefore, no externalization of consciousness. The physical posture that is recommended, therefore, is siddhasana, because it is thought the best for sealing off the lower apertures. If you cannot do siddhasana, sit in padmasana. The yogi then seals off all the upper apertures. First, the ear holes are closed by putting the thumbs in the ears. Keep your back straight. Next close the eyelids, and place the tips of the index fingers on them. If the eyeballs feel disturbed by the pressure of the finger on the eyelids, try drawing the eyelid down with the index fingers so that the only place where the fingers apply pressure is just below the eyes (at the cheekbone). The middle fingers push in on the nostrils. The ring fingers rest on the upper lip, while the little fingers rest under the lower lip. Each elbow should be pointed outwards: the right at a ninety degree angle to your right side, and the left elbow at a ninety degree angle to your left side. Keep them them in this position throughout, i.e., do not let them drop downwards. You are allowed to prop them up with something if necessary. In fact, serious practitioners use a 't' shaped stick called a yoga danda which keeps the elbows stationary. By putting pressure on the arm pit, the yoga-danda is also supposed to change the flow of energy in the nadis. This would be desirable if the alteration of the flow of energy, which in a healthy person has its own natural rhythm of alternation, had somehow become restricted due to some disturbance somewhere in the body-mind complex. If this were to happen, the normal regulation of energy from one side of the body to the other would be very sluggish and flow on one side would dominate for quite longer than usual. To help counter this, the yoga-danda is placed under the arm pit on the side in which the energy flow is dominant. If the energy flow is dominant on the left (the ida), the yogi places the yoga-danda under the armpit on the left side, and the flow will begin to shift, and will eventually start flowing in the Pingala nadi on the right side.

Now let's look at how to breathe while doing the yoni-mudra. Some of you may be wondering how that's to be accomplished, since so far, all the apertures have been sealed! There are two variations in the technique. The first is simply to stop pinching the nostrils with your middle fingers when you wish to breathe in and out. In the other procedure, the nostrils are held tightly shut the ring and little fingers stay put also, but the lips open as if you are pouting, or, as if you are about to whistle. Breathing through the mouth is recommended in the Gerandha Samhita, and is known as Kaki-mudra. Swami Sivananda recommended breathing through the nose. Use which ever one you like. I prefer Swami Sivananda' s method.

You will find that when it comes to yoni-mudra, the yogis do not suggest any ratio for the inhalation-retension-exhalation of the breath. Don't be concerned with how long you prolong the inhalation-exhalation. As with most of the yoga practices, here the retention of the breath is the important thing. Hold the breath for as long as you like. And, as you hold the breath, concentrate and visualize each chakra singularly, and for some time, visualizing, for example, the four-petaled chakra with the yellow square at the place where the body touches the ground. You visualize the two deities, and everything else in the descriptions that you have been given, and repeat the mantra, etc., until you are one with that earth center, and become absorbed in it. Then, as we have discussed, the consciousness moves up to the next center.

In chakra meditation, yogis have experienced different "sounds." You may recall that in our discussion of the purificatory practices, we mentioned that according to the Gerandha Samhita, the seven main yoga practices were given to enable the student to hear the "inner sounds. " Since mudra is one of seven practices that yogis employ in order to aid the hearing of these inner sounds, we will touch upon this subject now. We should, however, reserve some discussion of the inner sounds for another time, because the hearing of those sounds is really the culmination of Hatha yoga.

In Yoni-mudra yogis not only visualize each one of the chakras, but also listen intently in order to hear the inner sounds, or what others have called "the mystic sounds." The yoga texts say that if you are right-handed, you will here these sounds in your right ear, and, if you are left-handed, you will hear these sounds in your left ear. Your whole attention is funneled there in order to hear these sounds.

Another mudra practice which the yoga texts also recommend for the hearing of the inner sounds is sambhavi-mudra. Like Yoni-mudra, it is also more of a spiritual practice than a physical exercise. Yoga texts mention that you should sit in siddhasana, and close your ears with the thumbs (as in the yoni-mudra). Although the eyes are kept open in samthavi-mudra the practitioner is supposed to "look without wanting to see anything. " In other words, while the eyes remain open, your attention is looking within to see that no concept or precept is formed. It follows that you are without want of hearing anything, and without want of smelling anything. The practice is a 'seal' in that consciousness is prevented from externalizing which in turn prevents the arousal of objects from within itself. Should the inner sounds be heard that will itself shut out all external sounds and distractions. When all externalization ceases, there is the experience of great inner joy. This is the reason that some yogis, including the Tibetans, have translated the word 'mudra' as "fountain of joy."

Since these mudras are intended to be used in chakra meditation, it is recommended that you don't combine them with other types of meditation. It's not that you would be in danger of harm by doing so. However, the effectiveness of mudras would most certainly be lost in toying around with them as if they were merely games to play with. One must be totally serious and totally immersed in the mudras if they are to be effective. This is why it is best to avoid making up the mudra practice yourself as you go along. As no doubt you have already glimpsed, there are so many yoga practices that there really isn't any need to make up your own. There are the numerous purificatory practices, numerous pranayama practices, numerous asanas, numerous mudras all providing varied opportunities for meditation and self-discovery.

YASODHARA YOGA TALKS

H-OM-E

Copyright 1997