Today's Daily Tip
Look Both Ways
Most of the traditional hatha yoga books from the 14th to 19th centuries mention this kind of "bifocal" practice, which is commonly known as Shambhavi Mudra—the seal (mudra) that produces happiness (shambhavi). Shambhu (from which the word shambhavi is derived), or Shiva, then refers to the Self-realized state, which produces happiness. A mudra is thought to be like a sealing device with a raised surface, like a signet ring. In the same way the ring stamps an impression on a soft waxlike surface, so Shambhavi Mudra stamps, or seals, its divine imprint on the receptive consciousness of the meditator, who is transformed into an image of the Divine. Through some type of physical or mental technique, a mudra also seals, or closes off, a normally open energy channel, thereby sealing in and recirculating the body's energy to intensify the meditative effort.
You might be familiar with hand seals (the hasta or kara mudras), which are simple configurations of the hands and fingers that are typically performed during pPranayama or meditation. But there are two other categories of mudras: consciousness seals (citta mudras) and body seals (kaya mudras). Consciousness seals are detailed visualizations said to seal consciousness in certain areas of the body. Body seals are exercises that involve shaping or joining different body parts or organs, such as the lips, tongue, or belly; for example, the Crow Seal (Kaki Mudra) involves pursing the lips like a crow's beak and sipping in air. It's claimed that mudras can ward off disease, extend one's life span, and if performed properly, lead to Self-realization. About two dozen mudras (including their close relatives, the bandhas, or locks) play a central role in traditional hatha yoga, though today the body and consciousness seals are mostly neglected or forgotten in the Western asana-centric practice.
Shambhavi Mudra, then, is an open-eyed meditation designed to integrate (or perhaps reintegrate) our inner and outer worlds. In the historic texts, the instructions for practicing Shiva's Seal don't extend beyond practicing the seal in meditation (see "Practicing the Seal" below). But if you truly want to embrace the outer world through meditation, it seems appropriate to bring the practice of Shiva's Seal out into the world.
You might first try applying Shambhavi Mudra during your asana practice, equating whatever asana you're working on with the outside world. Attempt to identify with that world in such a way that you no longer do but instead become that pose. Then you might be ready to bring shambhavi awareness into your daily life, cautiously at first, maybe while walking down a quiet street or sitting in the park, gradually expanding the reach of your embrace. Eventually through Shambhavi Mudra, as Hindu scholar Mark Dyczkowski writes in his book The Doctrine of Vibration, the power of awareness "manifests itself on two levels simultaneously," that is, individually and cosmically, so that these "two aspects are experienced together in the blissful realization that results from the union of the inner and outer states of absorption." It is in this way that we are sealed and stamped with Shiva-consciousness.!--page-->