Sitting with Fear in Sanmukhi Mudra (Six-Headed Mudra)

In Sanmukhi Mudra, Six-Headed Mudra (4* on the scale of difficulty), Iyengar says, “the aspirant looks within himself to find the very source of his being.”

Sanmukhi Mudra is performed by sitting in Padmasana, placing the thumbs over the holes of the ears (or pressing down on the skin in front of the ear hole), placing the index and middle fingers over the eyes, placing the ring fingers over the nostrils and constricting the air passage slightly, and placing the pinky fingers over the lip to monitor the flow of breath. The general effect of the pose is a closing off, a drawing inward of the senses. Your awareness of the breath heightens as you plunge into the quiet darkness of the pose.

Iyengar explains that the pose “brings a feeling of inner peace.” But, for me, my immediate reaction to this pose is fear. As I narrow the passageways of my nostrils, I feel a sense of claustrophobia creeping around me and a lack of fullness in the breath that stifles me. It takes all my attention to calm my mind and reassure myself that everything is just fine as it is. Once reassured, I can open up to the pose’s calming nature, but not before I cross the divide of my initial anxiety.

When strong feelings like these arise on my mat, I know I need to delve a little deeper to understand their source. In this case, a pose that is meant to inspire inner peace immediately frightens me. When I consider this visceral reaction, so opposite from the pose’s intent, I take a good long look at the nature of my mind.

My mind is often a messy place. It’s unruly, bossy, and mischevious. So, it’s not surprising that, when I physically insist upon shutting down, literally closing off outside stimuli with the tips of my fingers, my mind protests. “Wait! Look at me! What are you doing?! It’s safer out here!” Once I recognize the feelings my mind is conjuring (fear, anxiety, claustrophobia), I have a choice. I can either hold on and let those thoughts carry me away, or I can let go, continue to travel inward, and quiet my mind.

In Sanmukhi Mudra, once the mind is still, Iyengar says, “One hears the divine voice of his self within, ‘Look here! look within! not outside, for the source of all peace is within yourself.’” The true voice emerges – the voice beyond the mind, beyond the body, beyond the outside world – the voice of the Self. And, when that voice shines through, I know it’s the only one that ever mattered.

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