To experience the bliss of nectar, yogis practiced khechari mudra. By turning the tongue backwards they found that it could be inserted into the pharyngeal passage and gradually extended up towards the top of the nose at the eyebrow centre. When this is accomplished, the tongue rests just beneath the location of the pituitary gland and the yogi experiences the bliss of meditation.
In its full form, khechari mudra is an advanced technique involving cutting the frenum which attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth, but this is only done under the guidance of a guru and usually at an early age. This practice is not recommended for most people and so a simplified version called nabho mudra is used in which the tongue is held against the soft palate and over a period of time becomes supple enough to move into the pharynx. A low protein diet helps this process, as does simhasana (the lion pose).
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states:
"When the yogi now curls his tongue upward and back, he is able to, close the place where the three paths meet' The bending back of the tongue is khechari mudra and the closing of the three paths in akasha chakra. The yogi who remains but half a minute in this position is free from illness, old age and death. He who has mastered khechari mudra is not afflicted with disease, death sloth hunger', thirst and swooning."
(HYP 8: 36-39)
The Gherand Samhita states:
"The body becomes beautiful; samadhi is attained, and the tongue touching the holes in the roof of the mouth obtains various juices,... first he experiences a saltish taste, thru alkaline to bitter then astringent, then he feels the taste of butter then ghee, then of milk, then of curds, then of whey, then of hone then of palm juice, and lastly arises the taste of nectar."
(GS iii, 30-32)
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika further states:
"Daily he may eat the flesh of the cow and drink wine. The word go (cow) means tongue; eating it is to thrust it into the gullet, which produces heat in the body causing nectar to flow out of the moon (chandra nadi) situated on the left side of the eyebrow centre, also called ida nadi, and that is called drinking wine."
(HYP 8: 47-49)
Khechari mudra can be practiced with pranayama and shambhavi mudra, gazing at the eyebrow centre. All these practices are symbolic of turning the mind inwards. The eyes which always face outward are made to turn in and gaze at the ajna chakra or third eye in the eyebrow centre. Khechari mudra turns the tongue, which always points outward, in and up towards the pituitary gland, the physical correlation of sahasrara chakra. Thus, by these practices, we turn the attention of the mind inwards and stimulate prana in this direction. When we enter deeper states of meditation, khechari prevents the air from coming out of the lungs, thus acting in the same way as jalandhara bandha. If the awareness introverts and we lose body consciousness, it is natural for the breath, to be exhaled. Khechari mudra prevents this and allows us to retain oxygen in our lungs to feed the hypometabolic (slowed down) body.
Khechari influences the nectar glands by which we can conquer thirst and hunger, and stop the decay of the physical body. Of course, this is a very advanced practice. However, we see its practical aspect in ujjayi pranayama with khechari as, for example, in ajapa japa or kriya yoga. It allows us to maintain the practice for many hours as the flow of saliva from the salivary glands under the tongue is stimulated, the mouth remaining moist. Without khechari the mouth becomes dry and painful, drawing attention outward.
In his book Hatha Yoga, Theos Bernard states:
"As soon as I placed the tongue behind the palate, the saliva began to flow in a constant stream. In this way I was supposed to determine the condition of the body fluids. At first it was thick, heavy and shiny, eventually it became thin, clear and smooth..........As for the effectiveness of the practice, I can report that I did notice a lack of hunger and thirst when using it... I was able to subdue the hunger pangs so that it was necessary to eat only at the - appointed time, without any of the reactions that would otherwise have ensued from the sparse diet."
Bernard also reported that using this mudra he could overcome the powerful urge to breathe again that occurs after holding the breath several minutes. All the effects on hunger, thirst, breath control, and glands are mediated via the nervous system.
The sensory nerves from the tongue to the brain, are branches of the trigeminal, facial, glossopharyngeal and vagus nerves, all of which, except for the trigeminal are linked to the parasympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system. Thus, through the practice of khechari we stimulate these nerves which are concerned with relaxation and also monitor taste, secretion of the different salivary glands, respiration, and so on.
This may explain why yogis speak so highly of khechari, for in the heightened states of consciousness which they achieve, definite changes occur in the brain, endocrines and chemical structure of the body. The glands of the body mirror this change so that when khechari is performed, we taste the sweetness that is within ourselves.
This taste is monitored in the brain, so whether there is an actual excretion coming from a gland high up in the nasal cavity or whether it is an internal brain secretion, is yet to be determined. In the long run it matters little for the experience is said to be so overwhelming that one drop of this nectar confers immortality. Of course, at a higher level, this is symbolic of the bliss (ananda) of samadhi.
Before samadhi occurs, khechari helps us in our meditation. By its action on the nerves, it affects the midbrain in which are situated the breath, heart rate and other body nerve control centres. Through mastery of khechari, we gain control of these centres and relax them through parasympathetic dominance. Using ujjayi pranayama with khechari accentuates this effect on the brain stem.
Through the parasympathetic nervous system we gain access to the hypothalamus and the endocrine glands. Apart from controlling the autonomic and endocrine systems, the hypothalamus has centres for control of thirst and hunger. Khechari allows us to control these faculties. A side effect of using khechari mudra in the quest for higher consciousness is the regulation of the endocrine system, especially the pituitary gland, conferring a healthy, glowing body.
To ascertain for yourself just how effective khechari mudra can be in your life, you must practice it regularly. The best way to do this is through the method of kriya yoga devised by our guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Then you too will be able to enjoy the blissful inebriation that comes from the nectar of life and yoga.