All About Kaya Mudras, Body Gestures in Yoga
By Vineet Kaul and Sonja Junková | Published October 7, 2022
What are kaya mudras or yoga body gestures?
The meaning and significance of ‘Kaya’ in Indic texts
An introduction to the six kaya mudras of yoga
See also, Three Bodies in Yoga: Sthula, Sukshma, and Karana Sharira
Many yogis are familiar with the term yoga mudra and assume it refers to hand gestures like Vishnu Mudra or Chin Mudra. However, this is a misconception. Hand gestures are called Hasta Mudra. They are a subset and one of the five types of Yoga Mudras.
Speaking of which, there are five types of mudras used in yoga, namely –
Hasta Mudra, or Hand Gestures.
Mana Mudra, or Head Gestures.
Kaya Mudra, or Body Gestures.
Adhara Mudra, or Pelvic Gestures.
Bandha, or Body Locks.
Each of these five yoga gestures deals with different layers of the body and mind.
Kaya refers to the layers of the body, and Kaya Mudras are long holds of yoga poses while linking the mind to a particular bodily aspect. The breath, intention, and awareness are key factors in this yoga technique, which can lead to harmony (Ida and Pingala) and deepen asana practice.
Here we discuss the meaning, significance, and types of kaya mudras used in yoga.
Kaya Mudra in Yoga
Kaya is a Sanskrit word that means “to contemplate upon.” Mudra translates to seal, gesture, mark, or attitude. Thereof Kaya Mudra are a yoga practice that combines poses (asana) with specific breathing patterns, mantras, points of awareness, and hand gestures. They are a part of Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, and Kriya Yoga.
They differ from yoga poses because we hold the poses for long periods and "contemplate upon" aspects of our kaya. By doing so, we bring awareness to the specific Chakras to improve the flow of prana in the energy centers of that region.
There are six kaya mudras in yoga, namely –
Viparita Karni Mudra (Legs Up the Wall Gesture)
Yoga Mudrasana (Psychic Union Gesture)
Pashinee Mudra (Bound Noose Seal)
Manduki Mudra (Frog Gesture)
Tadagi Mudra (Barreled Abdomen Technique)
Prana Kaya Mudra (Life-energy Gesture)
Five of these yoga body gestures are variations or modifications of well-known poses. For instance, the yoga pose Viparita Karni (Legs Against the Wall Pose) is an asana if you hold it for a minute or two. But it becomes a kaya mudra if you hold the yoga pose for ten minutes while breathing steadily and by bringing awareness to the Vishuddhi (Throat) Chakra.
Kaya in Vedantic Literature
The Sanskrit word ‘Kaya’ refers to the body, best understood as the sthula sharira - the gross body. According to Vedantic texts, the physical body is created from the five elements, starting with Space (Akasha), followed by Air (Vayu), Fire (Agni), Water (Jala), and Earth (Prithvi). The physical body has five parts, namely –
Void/Nothingness (Shunya), which represents Space
Life-energy (Prana) - Air element
Intellect (Buddhi) - Fire element
The organs of knowledge (Jnana-indriya) - Water element
The organs of action (Karma-indriya) - Earth element
Yoga texts use this theory to create kriyas and mudras, which are processes to expand our life-experience from finite to infinite (Ananta anubhava).
Kaya in Buddhism
Kaya is also a work in the Pali language which refers to the body inherited from our parents. According to Buddhism, our body has two parts – rupa kaya (physical body) and nama kaya (mental body). The first one is the essence or causal body created by karma. The second is the dharmic body that holds the virtues we can practice to attain enlightenment.
Kaya in Ayurveda
Kaya is the essence of the human body in Ayurveda. In simple words, it’s Air+Fire or the vital-heat in our body that is responsible for the root principles of biology. Ayurvedic texts like Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita explain these ideas in detail. Moreover, a branch of Ayurveda called Kaya Chikitsa deals with balancing the vital-heat for optimal health.
Types of Yoga Kaya Mudras in Yoga
1. Viparita Karani
English name: Legs Up the Wall
Targets: Thyroid region, Upper body
Strengthens: Udana Vayu
Element: Air (Vayu) and Ether (Akasha)
Chakra: Vishuddhi (Throat)
You may recognize this inverted gesture as an asana, which it is, no doubt. However, it becomes a Kaya Mudra when you hold it for longer, bring awareness to the throat, and stay in this posture for 10+ minutes. Viparita Karani is said to activate Kundalini energy and move it to the upper centers of the body using gravity. It has many benefits for the mind and body.
To practice Viparita Karani, like in Savasana (Base Pose). Bend the knees and raise the legs as you inhale. Place both elbows firmly on the floor, and place the hands on the floor for support.
Straighten the legs while keeping the lower body relaxed. Look at your heart while you hold the pose as per your capacity. Get out of the yoga pose slowly and rest in the starting position.
This kaya mudra stimulates the Vishuddhi (Throat) Chakra and improves blood flow to the thyroid region. It reduces stress and can help with low blood pressure or swollen legs. However, always do it on an empty stomach and after reading the contraindications.
RELATED: Viparita Karani Mudra – Steps, Benefits, and Precautions
2. Yoga Mudrasana
English Name: Psychic Union Gesture
Targets: Spine, Core, Upper body
Strengthens: Prana Vayu and Vyana Vayu
Element: Ether (Akasha), Water (Jala)
Yoga Mudrasana or Yogamudra Asana is called the Psychic Union Pose. This kaya mudra (body gesture) is an advanced variation of Baddha Padmasana (Bound Lotus) with the addition of a forward bend. It releases negative emotions and works the spine, abdomen, and upper body.
To practice this mudra, get into Lotus Pose and clasp your left wrist with the right hand behind your back. Lower your forehead to the ground on the exhale. Hold this position for 45 to 60 seconds and bring awareness to the eyebrow center (Ajna Chakra). Return to the base pose and repeat by grabbing the right wrist with the left hand.
Beginners can start with 2 or 3 rounds of this kaya mudra and gradually increase the number of rounds or duration of the hold. Again, practice Yoga Mudrasana early morning on an empty stomach, but only after you have mastered Baddha Konasana, Padmasana, and forward folds.
Yoga Mudrasana has many spiritual and health benefits, but only attempt it after reading the contraindications. This kaya mudra strengthens organs, glands, and muscles in the abdomen and pelvic floor. It also eliminates negative emotions like anger and anxiety.
RELATED: Yogamudra Asana (Psychic Union Pose) – Steps, Benefits, and Contraindications
3. Pashinee Mudra
English name: Bound Noose Seal
Targets: Throat, Spine, Abdomen
Strengthens: Prana and Udana Vayu
Element: Water (Jala), Fire (Agni)
Chakra: Root to Throat (5)
Pashinee Mudra is called the Noose Seal or Gesture, a kaya mudra that targets the chakra system, digestion, nervous system, spine, and lower body. In this gesture, we bring awareness to the flow of prana in the body. It energizes the nervous and helps a yogi turn inward.
Pashinee Mudra is essentially a variation of Plow Pose or Halasana. However, it is hard to pull this off as you need to be very flexible to execute it successfully. We have discussed the steps and benefits of this kaya mudra in a separate article, so we won't get into the details here.
Benefits-wise, Pashinee Mudra strengthens the bones, tissues, ligaments, and spine. It massages the thyroid/parathyroid glands and abdominal organs. It also balances Prana and Udana Vayu and energizes the Root, Sacral, Solar Plexus, Heart, and Throat Chakras.
Practice this kaya mudra on an empty stomach early in the morning. It is an advanced yoga technique, so practice it under expert guidance.
RELATED: How to do Pashinee Mudra, the Bound Noose Gesture in Yoga
4. Manduki Mudra
English Name: Frog Gesture
Targets: Spine, Core, Upper body
Strengthens: Apana Vayu
Element: Earth (Prithvi), Air (Vayu)
Chakra: Crown and Root
Manduki Mudra is the Frog Gesture in yoga, a kaya mudra that targets the facial muscles, throat, digestion, and lower body. According to the Gheranda Samhita, Manduki Mudra brings amrita (divine nectar) from the Crown Chakra into the mouth, which a yogi can sip every morningto become alert, youthful, and free from disease.
To practice this mudra, get into Bhadrasana or Virasana with your sit bones resting on a yoga bolster or mat). Place hands on the knees, keep the eyes and mouth closed, and relax the jaws. Swirl your tongue and touch the upper palate. This is one set of Manduki Mudra. Start with five sets and stay in the yoga pose for 5 minutes per set.
Practice Manduki Mudra early morning on an empty stomach. According to anecdotal claims, this mudra tones facial muscles and delays aging i.e., the appearance of wrinkles and graying of hair. It also improves your appetite, strengthens digestion, and improves your sense of taste and smell. Avoid this kaya mudra if you have problems in the legs from the hips through the feet.
RELATED: How to practice Manduki Mudra, the Frog Gesture in Yoga
5. Tadagi Mudra
Tadagi mudra is a postural (body) yoga gesture with many physical and spiritual benefits. It derives its name from the Sanskrit word Tadaga which translates to 'water from an artificial pond or lake.' Therefore, it is called the Gesture of the Lake (or Pond) or, more commonly, the Barreled Abdomen Technique in Yoga.
English Name: Lake Gesture
Targets: Spine, Core, Legs
Strengthens: Samana Vayu
Element: Fire (Prithvi)
This kaya mudra is essentially a forward bend using Dandasana as the starting position. You sit in Staff Pose and wrap your fingers around the big toes on both feet as you exhale. Keeping the gaze forward, you suck in the stomach and bring awareness to the navel (Manipura) and hold as per your capacity.
To exit the pose, release the mudra, and return to the starting position as you inhale.
We engage the entire body in Tadagi Mudra and bring awareness to the navel point, the seat of the Fire element. The mudra strengthens digestion and stimulates the Solar Plexus Chakra and Samana Vayu. It is also helpful to improve breathing, ease physical stress, and reduce weight.
RELATED: How to do Tadagi Mudra (Barreled Abdomen Technique) in Yoga
We hope this article serves as a comprehensive guide to the meaning, significance, and history of Kaya Mudras or Yogic Body Gestures. We will discuss the steps, benefits, and contraindications of all the body gestures in separate posts. Feel free to share this with your loved ones or community. Also, follow us on Instagram and joining our mailing list for the latest updates.