Have you ever seen statues in the ancient Eastern section of a museum or temple and wondered why the hands were placed in such specific, graceful, and beautiful ways? Those hand gestures are mudras. The term mudra refers to specific positioning of the fingers, hands, and other body parts that are used in meditation and yoga asana. These postures affect your prana--your life force energy--in beneficial ways. They are believed to be especially helpful in aiding you in redirecting your energy away from your senses to flow inward.
While we think of mudras as hand gestures, one of the most powerful yogic secrets has to do with where and how you position your eyes during meditation. The great yoga teacher Yogananda stressed that the position of your eyes during meditation is of utmost importance in increasing your access to higher wisdom and perception. If we are going to take the time to do something--in this case, meditate--we want to be sure to do all that we can to amplify the benefits we are seeking! And these specific details matter.
Shambhavi mudra is the mudra of fixing your inner gaze toward the center and slightly up to the spot between your eyebrows--the point known as the third eye. Shambhavi is linked to Shambhu, or one of the iterations of the name Shiva, Lord of Yogis, who also represents the Supreme Self. Another name for this spot is "Shiva eye."
When we focus on this spot, it is believed to help promote mental peace. It may feel a little unnatural or even cause a bit of a strain to have your eyes gaze inward in that position, but over time it will get easier and feel like second nature. (Of course, if you have any eye issues, avoid overly straining your eyes). Eventually, it can become like your internal happy place, where you look forward to going. You will be able to drop into deeper and deeper stillness and calmness when you practice this mudra.
After working with this technique for a while, I begin to feel an increasing awareness of my third eye. It's as if part of my consciousness is now being pulled up there by an internal stream of energy. And the more I connect with the third eye, the less things bother me in the world in general, because it feels like I have access to a much bigger picture. It's like being able to see through a high, expanded drone view versus the teeny little frame of your phone camera. As you go along in your practice, you may be surprised to find, as I did, that there's a lot more to see than you ever realized.
The sixth chakra
The word chakra roughly translates to "wheel" and refers to energy centers in your body. The seven major chakras are located along your spine, and correspond to emotional, spiritual, and mental energies. They start at the base of your spine, at your root or muladhara chakra, and continue up to your crown, or Sahasrara chakra.
The focal point between your eyebrows is your sixth chakra, your ajna chakra. The yogis believe this to be your seat of intuition and higher knowing. And it is here that you can see far beyond what your physical eyes can see.
In his teachings, Yogananda says that if we believe that what we can see physically is all there is, then we remain in delusion. It's kind of like if you looked around where you are sitting right now and believed nothing existed beyond your eye line. With this mindset, we will continue to go through our lives thinking we are small, limited beings. But when we start to tune in to our third eye, we can see far, far beyond the limited material world of people and things. We can start to tune in to energy and the inter-connectedness of all things--love, joy, and profound peace.
What else is there to see? For one, "seeing" can imply gleaning greater access to intuitive information and wisdom. This can be used to make the right decisions and discern the next best steps in your life. It gives you a much higher level of insight. It's practical as well as mystical. (The yogis also believe that it is possible, in advanced meditation, to see lights and worlds beyond this one, such as in the astral realm.)
The Bible verse from Matthew 6:22 (KJV) in the New Testament says, "The light of the body is in the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Some believe that Jesus went to India during the lost years of Christ and learned about yoga. They suggest that this passage is an esoteric reference to the third eye. Nonetheless, in the yogic belief system, the more you focus on your third eye, the more you can increase your higher perceptions. When you do this, you can expand your connection with the joy, power, intelligence, and love of your True Self--and make these qualities more accessible in your day-to-day life.
A meditation for the third eye
Yogananda taught that real truths have to be experienced, not just read about. Here is a practice designed to help you access your third eye.
1. Get into the Proper Position in your meditation seat.
Be sure to lift and straighten your spine.
2. Start with an intention.
Focus your mind and dedicate your practice.
3. Do the preliminary breathing exercise from Paramahansa Yogananda of tensing and relaxing your body.
Here are some key reminders of this technique: As you inhale and hold in the breath, simultaneously tense the whole body to a count of six. Next, expel the breath in a double (two-part) exhale. (The breath will make a "huh, huhhh" sound as it rushes out.) Relax all the tension in your body at the same time. Repeat this exercise three times.
4. Do the “Expanding the Gaps” Practice.
Ideally this would be at least 5-10 or more minutes, as you are getting started with your practice.
Take a comfortable seat and lift your spine upright.
Place all your concentration on your breath. Simply watch your breath flow in naturally with each inhale, and flow out naturally with each exhale.
It may be helpful to concentrate on a simple mantra, like "let go" or "peace."
Start to pay extra attention to the gaps, the spaces between your inhales and exhales, where your breath takes a natural pause. Don't try to force this.
Try to keep your body very still.
If your mind wanders, calmly but consistently come back to simply observing the breath.
5. Focus on your third eye.
Now, keeping your breath slow and even while your eyes are still closed, lift your internal gaze to your third eye. This spot is between your eyebrows and slightly higher, so it will feel like a lifted gaze. Try not to strain, but to rest your gaze there with a gentle and consistent focus.
6. Add a mantra to your third eye focus.
Keeping your inner gaze raised up to your third eye, start to repeat the simple, one-word mantra over and over again: Peace. Keep breathing, keep your internal gaze focused there, and keep repeating: Peace, Peace, Peace. You may notice that as you continue to focus on your third eye, that your breath starts to slow down and the pace at which you say the mantra does also. Let it feel like a relaxed rhythm. If your gaze drops down, just keep lifting it gently but consistently back to your third eye. Continue this practice for 5-10 minutes.
7. Close in gratitude.
When you've completed your practice, bring your hands together in Anjali mudra, or prayer position in front of your heart. As we always close our meditations, take a moment to be grateful for your breath, these teachings, and your practice, and whatever else spontaneously arises from your heart. You can also say a prayer if that resonates with you. Note: Ideally, your total meditation practice will grow to 20 minutes or more whenever you can.
About the author
Kimberly Snyder is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, spiritual and meditation teacher, and host of the Feel Good podcast with more than 150K downloads a week. She is the founder of holistic lifestyle brand Solluna (including the Solluna app), which is based on her holistic approach called the “Four Cornerstones of True Beauty--Food, Body, Emotional Wellbeing and Spiritual Growth.”
Excerpted with permission from You Are More Than You Think You Are: Practical Enlightenment for Everyday Life by Kimberly Snyder. Available everywhere books are sold.