Vishnu Mudra is one of the most iconic hand gestures used in yoga breathing techniques like Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing). In this post, we explain the meaning, steps, and benefits of using this mudra in pranayama.
Vishnu mudra is the first yogic hand gesture that a pranayama student will run into. You've probably seen it being used in Nadi Shodhana without knowing what it is called. This peculiar hand configuration is a yoga mudra that goes by the name of Vishnu Mudra.
It is used in breathing techniques where one or both nostrils are blocked. This can be single nostril yoga breathing such as Chandra or Surya Bhedana (Sun / Moon Breathing) or Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing). We will get into those details in a later section.
Etymology - The Mudra of Vishnu
Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are the three principal deities in the Holy Trinity of Hinduism. Brahma is the Creator, Shiva is the Destroyer, and Lord Vishnu’s role is to balance and sustain the Universe. He is also called the Preserver or Sustainer of the Universe.
When the world is afflicted by a vile threat or tyrant, Lord Vishnu assumes a human form called a Vishnu Avatar to restore the balance between good and evil.
This yoga mudra was originally called Nasika Mudra. Nasika is the Sanskrit word for 'nostrils.' It is used in alternate-nostril breathing, which 'balances' the left/right brain hemispheres. In that context, Nasika Mudra came to be known as the Balancing Gesture or Gesture of Balance. From there, it was referred to as Vishnu Mudra to honor the Lord of Universal Balance.
Steps: How to do Vishnu Mudra?
1. To do the Vishnu Mudra, open the palm of your right hand with it facing you like a mirror.
2. Bring the index and middle fingers together and fold them into your palm. The tips of the first two fingers should touch the mound of your palm.
3. Allow the ring and little fingers to remain as upright as possible.
4. This configuration of the fingers and hand is called the Vishnu Mudra or the Balancing Gesture.
5. When you use Vishnu mudra for pranayama, the thumb presses the right nostril to fully or partially block it. The ring and little finger press the left nostril to fully or partially block it.
6. Used in this way, the Vishnu Mudra facilitates selective, single-nostril, and alternate nostril techniques in yoga breathing. It is also used in Pratiloma and Viloma Pranayama to create resistance and prolong inhalation and/or exhalation.
The Vishnu Mudra is always formed using the right hand. The left hand can rest on the thigh while assuming another mudra or it may be used to cradle/cup the right elbow for support. You can use the left hand temporarily if the right hand is tired or injured.
Safety and Precautions
There are no detailed yoga practices that would suggest any benefits of Vishnu Mudra. Similarly, there are no ill effects or precautions because it is a simple configuration of the fingers. At the very worst, you may experience cramping or discomfort due to the awkward arrangement.
In fact, beginners may struggle to fully extend the ring finger. It just won’t stay upright while you form the Vishnu Mudra. Don’t worry. That’s normal. The tendons of our middle and ring fingers are connected. It is literally impossible to extend the ring finger if your middle finger is folded. Either way, you don't need to extend the finger in Vishnu Mudra. Keep it as straight as you can.
When should you use this yogic hand gesture?
Vishnu Mudra is used in several yoga breathing exercises and pranayama. This can include:
Forced single nostril breathing exercises such as Ujjayi Pratiloma, Surya Anuloma-Viloma
Selective nostril breathing in Chandra Bhedana and Surya Bhedana
Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodana
Advanced variations of any pranayama where nostrils are partially blocked
Digital Pranayama exercises (B.K.S Iyengar) to improve lung capacity
Vishnu Mudra Benefits
Vishnu Mudra is not used for meditation or as a standalone hand gesture. Traditionally, it is only used in conjunction with pranayama. That implies that there are no benefits of Vishnu Mudra. However, it enhances the benefits of breathing because it can energize the lower energy centers.
Vishnu Mudra energizes three chakras: Root (Muladhara), Sacral (Svadisthana), and Solar Plexus (Manipura) Chakra. In combination with pranayama, it may reduce stress, soothe the nerves, and balance the right/left brain hemispheres.
Some texts also state that it can pacify the ‘Lower Self’. This allows an individual to ascend into the Higher Self and focus on deep meditation. This is one of the reasons why yogis perform 15 to 20 minutes of Vishnu Mudra + Alternate Nostril Breathing before meditating.
What does the Vishnu Mudra do?
Like all yoga mudras, Vishnu Mudra is rooted in the concept of the five great elements (Panch Mahabhoot) found in Ayurveda texts and Mudra Vigyan - the science of finger configurations to alter the flow of energy in the human body.
All living and non-living things are a permutation of the five elements. Our fingers represent these elements. The thumb embodies the fire, the index finger represents air, the middle finger represents ether, the ring finger represents water, and the little finger represents water.
In Vishnu Mudra, you ground the index and middle finger into the palm to suppresses the air and ether elements. Air embodies movement and ether embodies emptiness and space in yoga theory. Grounding them allows energy to settle and brings the other three elements to balance.
With regards to Vishnu Mudra, the Sanskrit term 'mudra' translates to 'gesture' and 'seal'. A 'gesture' because it is symbolic of Lord Vishnu (Universal Balance). A 'seal' because its primary purpose is to seal the nostrils during pranayama and other yoga breathing exercises.
Nasagra Mudra vs. Vishnu Mudra - what is the difference?
In the Vishnu Mudra, the index and middle fingers are folded into the palm. In Nasagra Mudra, the tips of the ring and index finger are extended. They touch the Ajna chakra - the point between the eyebrows. The two yoga mudras are used for pranayama and you may notice the names are used interchangeably. They are not the same.
Nasagra or Nasa-Agra means the tip of the nose. It is mentioned in the Shaiva Tantras and thought to be at the bridge of the nose (between the eyebrows). Therefore, Nasagra mudra is associated with stimulating the eyebrow center (Ajna Chakra) to attained deep concentration and clarity during yogic practices.
Nasagra comes from the Tantra Yoga practice of Nasagra Drishti (a form of meditation). It involves the act of closing the eyes and drawing awareness/vision to eyebrow center. This allows a yogi to pierce the veil of illusion and contemplate the true nature of reality. The point at the eyebrow is important because it is the center of our cranial aperture - the point where Sushumna opens and the crown chakra begins.
Significance of the Right Hand in Vishnu Mudra
If you are even a wee bit into yoga, you must be aware that it is deeply symbolic. The thumb embodies Agni - the fire element. The ring finger represents Pruthvi - the earth element. Similarly, the right nostril is linked to Pingala Nadi (the Solar Energy Channel) and the left nostril is linked to Ida Nadi (the Lunar Energy Channel).
When you do Vishnu Mudra with the right hand, the grounding earth element touches the left nostril and the energizing fire element touches the right nostril. Fire into the energetic Solar channel and earth into the calming. See? It works out.
If you do Vishnu Mudra with the left hand, you would create a confusing effect. The fire element would energize the left nostril (calming energy) with the thumb. The earth element will slow down the energy of the Solar channel (right nostril). That's no good.
It is possible to use a regular hand position to perform yoga breathing exercises. Yoga mudras (or any kind) are a supplementary practice to enhance the benefits of pranayama. They are not mandatory. However, they magnify the impact and optimize your practice, which is why they are used by yogis. And, as you can notice, they are quite thoughtfully designed.
Vishnu Mudra optimizes the flow of prana and increases oxygen intake. The effects are subtle but helpful in attaining the full benefits of yoga breathing. Another reason we use it is that it is a longstanding tradition in yoga. But it helps to know why it is used in pranayama.
Hopefully, this post has explained the Vishnu Mudra well enough for you to use it without doubt or hesitation. After all, it is one of the most commonly used hand gestures in pranayama. We will link back to this resource when we create guides to yoga breathing techniques.