Inverting the Body: An evolution from Mudrā to Āsana


In the early texts of physical yoga, inverting the body was considered to be a mudrā. The term mudrā means 'seal' and it can be understood in the context of yoga to seal (i.e., stop) the downward flow of nectar (amṛta) from the head to the abdomen. The aim of retaining the nectar in the head was to prolong the lifespan of the yogin (for more details, see Haṭhapradīpikā 3.78 - 82).

After the time of the Haṭhapradīpikā (15th-century), inversions were also incorporated in yoga texts as āsana. For example, the 18th-century Jogapradīpyakā teaches viparītikaraṇ āsan ('the pose of inverting the body'), which is similar to a modern day shoulderstand (i.e., the head and neck remain on the ground). Headstand is described as an āsana in various texts of this period under the name kapālāsana or narakāsana. Also, the types of inverted āsana become more varied.

One such example is viparītanṛtyāsana ('the pose of dancing upside down'), which is a dynamic pose from the 18th-century Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati. It is described as dancing on the hands while keeping the feet in the air.

Having supported [oneself] with the palms of both hands on the ground, one should dance on the hands while keeping the tips of the feet lifted [in the air]. This is the pose of dancing upside down.
Translation by Jason Birch (2015)

The image seen above is an artistic representation from the 19th-century royal digest named the Śrītattvanidhi.

This topic (and more) will be discussed during the Keynote Session featuring Dr James Mallinson and Dr Jason Birch at the international academic conference 'Yoga Darśana, Yoga Sādhana: Traditions, Transmissions, Transformations' to be held in Krakow on 19th - 21st May, 2016.