Paramhansa Yogananda and Khechari Mudra
This article covers a technique, Khechari Mudra, that is one of the most unusual in yoga and therefore a bit too strange for some people. I’m posting it here because there is quite a lot of confusion around this technique, and what Paramhansa Yogananda taught about it.
Khechari Mudra (also spelled Khecari or Kechari) is an ancient yoga technique that is used in the practice of Kriya Yoga as taught by Yogananda and his lineage of Kriya gurus. It has also been practiced by yogis and meditators for perhaps thousands of years, due to its wonderful benefits.
Yogananda privately recommended Khechari Mudra to some of his disciples, but only occasionally mentioned it publicly. He explained that he was teaching in a country where yoga was already strange enough — without also telling people about a yoga technique where the tongue is turned upward and placed into the nasal cavity, above the soft palate!
It’s important to remember that techniques alone can’t give one enlightenment or liberation. Yogananda said about Kriya Yoga:
Kriya plus devotion works like mathematics. It cannot fail.
Right attitude, devotion, and attunement to the Guru are more important than an over-reliance on exotic techniques such as Khechari Mudra. However, Khechari can be an aid to deeper meditation when done with the right attitude.
Yogananda didn’t fully describe the technique in his writings and lectures — it is explained in The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, by Swami Kriyananda.
In the ninety years since Yogananda began teaching in the West, unusual yoga practices, such as Khechari Mudra, have become more well known. Many people are confused about whether Yogananda even recommended Khechari. In fact, Yogananda both wrote and spoke about Khechari Mudra.
Yogananda wrote about Khechari in an early version of his home study course, published in 1926. The “little tongue” that he mentions below is the uvula, the soft tissue that hangs from the roof of the mouth, at the back of the throat:
This Kundalini moving brainwards, and helped by the union of nerves in the tip of the tongue and the “little tongue,” and certain centers in the nasal cavity, brings about the secretion of a fluid with union of the Life Energy and Cosmic Energy.
This secretion of nectar and union of energies do not involve any loss, but mean immense spiritual realization.
He also gave a similar explanation once to Swami Kriyananda:
Sex seems pleasant to you now, but when you discover the joy of real inner union, you will see how much more wonderful that is.
This union can be achieved physically also, by what is known in yoga as kechari mudra—touching the tip of the tongue to nerves in the nasal passage, or to the uvula at the back of the mouth.
—Conversations with Yogananda by Swami Kriyananda
In an early article Yogananda described one of the benefits of practicing Khechari Mudra:
It draws energy from the cerebrum and medulla by connecting the tip of the big tongue with the little tongue (uvula).
He gave a more esoteric explanation in a lecture in India during his visit there in 1935-6:
While practicing Kriya… a divine nectar-like current flows from the sahasrara (chakra, or spinal center, at the top of the head).
Through the performance of Kechari Mudra, touching the tip of the tongue to the uvula, or “little tongue,” (or placing it in the nasal cavity behind the uvula), that divine life-current draws the prana from the senses into the spine and draws it up through the chakras to Vaishnavara (Universal Spirit), uniting the consciousness with spirit.
The entire body is thereby spiritualized and energized. As a result, a perceptible glow may emanate from the body.
—Mejda: The Family and the Early Life of Paramahansa Yogananda by Sananda Lal Ghosh, pp. 279-28
As you can see in Yogananda’s lectures and writings, he described the different stages of Khechari: first touching the tongue to the uvula, or “little tongue” at the back of the mouth, and then placing the tongue into the nasal cavity above the soft palate.
In The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, Swami Kriyananda gives a more complete explanation of Khechari:
Kechari Mudra, “the tongue-swallowing” technique that I taught in Step Five, creates a cycle of energy in the head that generates enough magnetism to draw great amounts of energy from the universe around you.
This energy is actually experienced in the mouth as a slightly sweet, and very pleasant, taste that has been described (accurately, in my experience) as resembling a mixture of ghee (clarified butter) and honey.
This is what is known in various mystical writings as “the nectar of the gods.”
Kriyananda goes on to explain:
The positive and negative energies in the tongue and nasal passages (or uvula), when joined together, create a cycle of energy in the head which, instead of allowing the energy to flow outward to the body, generates a magnetic field that draws energy upward from the body and from the base of the spine to the brain.
It is said that the tongue turns back of itself in samadhi. The assumption of this mudra helps to hasten the advent of deep spiritual states of consciousness.
The difficulty for most people is that the frenulum, the membrane under the tongue, isn’t flexible enough to allow the tongue to reach so far back and up. Over time the frenulum can be gently stretched to enable one to practice Khechari Mudra.
Yogananda was extremely vocal with his disciples that under no circumstance should one try to cut the frenulum, as some unscientific and ill-advised “teachers” recommended.
It is possibly out of such concern that certain teachers in Yogananda’s lineage are afraid of discussing Khechari Mudra. But there are some very simple exercises which enable one to gently stretch the frenulum and tongue enough to practice Khechari.
How did Yogananda recommend adding the practice of Khechari to one’s meditation and Kriya practice? Gradually, as Swami Kriyananda has explained:
He (Yogananda) didn’t talk about (kechari) much, but when he found somebody who could do it, he was very glad and urged them to do it.
One time he said to Dr. Lewis, “You’re not doing Kriya right.”
And doctor said, “What do you mean, sir?”
And Master said, “You should be doing kechari mudra.”
After Doctor told me, I asked Master, “Should I be doing kechari while practicing Kriya?” And he said, “Not yet.”
He didn’t emphasize this a lot. I think it was because he was teaching thousands and thousands of people in America who weren’t ready for this kind of thing. All Master did was bring people into the technique step-by-step rather than giving them everything all at once.
Khechari Mudra clearly isn’t for everyone — but it is extremely helpful for all meditation practices, including Kriya Yoga. And again, right attitude, devotion, and attunement to the Guru are more important than technique alone.
I’ve been practicing Kriya and meditation with Khechari for about thirty years. Because of the wonderful benefits it has for meditation, I would suggest that all Kriya Yogis, and any serious meditator, at least consider learning Khechari Mudra.