Written by Shail Rao-Rane, Yoga Therapist / Research Fellow
Flashback: A stoned and soul-searching ride spanning four states that culminated in a ceremony initiating me and a friend into a Naga community at the foot of the Himalayan Range in Gangotri. Time has done little to fade my memories of the 2013 journey.
Commonly covered in shades of saffron, their firm faces marked with religious ash and emitting an unmatched detachment from their surroundings, sadhus or sannyasis have been a part of the Indian subcontinent for approximately as long as Hinduism has. These Sadhu ascetics maintain a unique stance in Indian civilization. They are deeply revered and looked up to for guidance and blessings.
Naga Sadhus, recognized for their divinity, execute severe penances by pushing their bodies beyond the verge and stay naked with ash smudged on them as a fraction of their pursuits to attain spiritual growth, always an allure for common people. The belief of these Sadhus is not modern; rather, it dates back thousands of years. It traces its legacy from currencies and symbols of Mohenjo-Daro, where Naga Sadhus were portrayed respecting Lord Shiva in PashupatiNath mode. Naga Sadhus dwell in Akharas or the Himalayas and generally journey through civilization during the Mahakumbh carnival in India to take part in the sacred dip.
An insightful week with the Naga community still lingers as one of my craziest travel experiences. After all, it’s not routine to chill out with the dreaded ash-smeared holy men, let alone eat and sleep with them for days together. That I had dumped my casual wear for saffron clothes to be and feel like one of them might have helped too.
The way I learned Khecari mudra from Mahant Nomi Giri, Ganga Baug, Gangotri, was to fold the tongue backward and rest the tip of the tongue against the soft part of the palate. That is how nearly all present-day yoga instructors teach Khecari, and it is challenging enough for most beginners. When I first tried it, it felt awkward, and I was unable to do it because my tongue would not reach back far enough.
Mahant Nomi Giri claims that the folded tongue stimulates pressure points in the back of the palate. He writes that the mudra has extensive health benefits and that the saliva produced during Khecari can remove the feeling of hunger and thirst. As for myself, though I found the raja yoga form of the mudra pleasant, I never could feel any significant impact on my mental state or my energy. But I knew many other methods that had an apparent influence. That Khecari would be the most potent mudra was not coherent with my own experience. But I accepted that I might not be subtle enough to perceive its benefits. I still need some questions answered; still have some loose ends to be tied up although I sometimes wonder if it may just be better not to meddle with things I don’t really understand.
Khecari Mudra & The Supreme Reality
Khecari mudra is an “essential hatha yoga mudra”, very well-documented in the traditional texts, and yet currently seldom known in its advanced form.
Khechari (Kha Or Khe in Sanskrit) means space or the supreme reality, i.e., the Brahman. Khechari Mudra helps the practitioner move into the blissful infinite consciousness of the supreme reality. It is considered to be the king of all gestures and enables yogis to reach higher states of consciousness.
Khecari Mudra can be practiced in conjunction with other yoga practices like Ujjayi Pranayama, Shambhavi Mudra, and other meditation techniques. It can be practiced with pranayama and Sambhavi Mudra by gazing at the eyebrow center, symbolizing the turning of the mind inwards.
It is said that when practitioners enter deeper states of meditation, Khechari prevents the air from coming out of the lungs, thus allowing for oxygen retention in the lungs.
Khecari mudra as described in the Sanskrit yoga texts
Swatmarama, the author of the 14th-century Sanskrit text Hatha Yoga Pradipika, recommends achieving Khecari by gradually cutting off the frenulum linguae using a sharp blade. He writes that it will take six months to sever the frenulum linguae entirely.
The Anatomy of Khecari Mudra
Khecari Mudra consists of turning the tongue backward, placing its inferior part against the palate, and pulling the tip backward and upwards as if wanting to enter the nasal fossae. The mudra stimulates pressure points in the back of the palate and has extensive health benefits.
The raja yoga and the hatha yoga forms of Khecari Mudra differ in their approach to the frenulum linguae. In the raja yoga form, practitioners do not cut the frenulum linguae, while in the hatha yoga form, it is gradually cut to achieve advanced stages of the mudra.
Hatha Yoga Form of Kechari Mudra with cutting frenulum linguae (Stage three and four)
Taking a sharp, smooth, and clean instrument, of the shape of a cactus leaf, the frenulum of the tongue should be cut a little at a time. Then rock salt and yellow myrobalan (both powdered) should be rubbed in. At the end of six months, the frenulum of the tongue will be completely cut.
As the practice evolves, the tongue will reach further forward, and practitioners can eventually insert it into their nostrils, one at a time.
The Nectar of Immortality
In hatha yoga texts, it is said that there is a cosmic fluid called amrit, the nectar of immortality, which drips from the head down through the body and is consumed in manipura chakra. Khecari mudra stimulates its flow, and practitioners may experience it as a sweet taste in the mouth during deep meditation.
For further insights into this mudra, it is recommended to read Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda’s book “Essence of Kriya Yoga,” which explores powerful meditation techniques as part of the science of Kriya Yoga.