In the practice of yoga we invoke the word and the concept of truth throughout the practice. Practicing with truth is a deep process and can lead to realization of the great wisdom implicit in the yoga tradition.
At the beginning of my class yesterday, a few students were sitting quietly. One woman had her hands on her knees, in Gyan mudra with the palms facing up. I started the class by saying, as I always do, “Come into the seated pose if you are not already, with the hands facing down on the knees.” Very dutifully, she flipped her hands over.
There is a reason that we begin the practice with the hands facing down. (I won’t tell you why though…) But at that moment, I realized that it doesn’t really matter; when you come into the meditative pose, sometimes the body organises naturally around the energy that it needs to cultivate.
Truth, satya, sat, is at the very root of yoga practice. In Patanjali’s yoga sutras, Satya is one of the 5 Yamas, the first set of guidelines on the eight-limbed path of yoga. (Yoga Sutras, Book 2 29-30). The Bij (seed) mantra Sat Nam in Kundalini yoga is of singular importance. This mantra invokes truth as the essence of being. In yoga, Truth or honesty is essential to the practice.
But what does that Truth mean? The commentaries on the yoga sutras tend to be very thin in this regard, and simply discuss not telling lies. And although this is the external practice of truth, there is more to truth than not lying.
So what is the difference between sitting with your hands facing up and facing down? Try it. One answer I was told early on in my practice by a novice teacher. Certain kriya use the hands in certain positions and explain why. But the way I know my answer is that I know how the two positions feel in my body, and therefore what state is created in me by the different mudra.
Yoga is an impressive science. Practitioners have codified it over thousands of years with great sensitivity, insight, and connection to divinity. Perhaps more accurately they had astute connection to Truth, the great Truth of the Oneness of All. The instructions were made from the deep level of perception for a specific chosen purpose: each mudra put in place to create a certain energy in the mind/body network.
For me truth is awareness: what I can feel in my body. Sometimes the feeling state can become recognized instantly. When I put my hands on my heart centre, I have an instantaneous sensation. Sometimes perception develops over longer times, either longer meditations, or the course of a practice done over, say 40 days. Some perceptions have taken years to identify and understand. And some I have not yet the sensitivity to perceive. That doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we work in our own truth. These advanced and ancient yogis are not so different from us. They probably had less electronic distractions in their lives, and spent more time cultivating their own feeling states. We too can develop into sensitive masters of yoga. How? Listen to the direct perception of the body.
Come into your own feeling state. Feel the extreme sensations like pain, bliss, heat, tiredness, muscular activation, ache and stretch. Feel where those sensations are present and where they are not. Then deepen to the subtle sensations like the flow of energy, openness or closedness, tingling or trembling. Tune in as well to emotional sensations like lovingness, connection, receptivity, and also closedness, tightness. Feel where these sensations are strong and where they are not. These sensations lead to understanding of the great wisdom in the practice.
I am not suggesting we change mudras in asana or asanas within a kriya. What I am suggesting is that in the practice we connect to our own perception and therefore truth, which is always available.
So try for yourself. Sit for 5 minutes with your palms facing up, and then with the palms facing down. Try it over a few days. Feel for yourself what the difference is for you. And begin to come into the truth of your own practice, every time you come onto the mat. And share what you learn. I’d be more than happy to hear your observations, and then I’ll ask you why we might start the practice with the hands facing down and end facing up.
Om Tat Sat.
Recommended reading: “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda Integral Yoga Publications, Yog