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Yoga for Neck Health: Exploring Brahma Mudra
For the past several years, I have been attending the annual yoga therapy conference, SYTAR, and did so again this past June. I always come away with both an expanding perspective on how yoga is being used to improve people’s health and well-being around the world and some new ideas that I can use in my personal practice and share with my students.
This year, while I was participating in a panel discussion on multidisciplinary approaches to chronic pain, I learned about a new mudra, Brahma Mudra (the Divine Spiritual Gesture), from one of my fellow panelists, Dr. Ananda Bhavanani, MD, from Pondicherry, India, who is both a Western-trained physician and a yoga therapist.
Unlike the hand mudra or gestures that I use often in my meditation practice, the Brahma Mudra involves movement and sound (Note: There is also a hand gesture by the same name, but that is not the subject of this post). Dr. Bhavanani said this mudra can help you on a physical level for pain and stiffness in the head, neck, shoulders and upper back and help to optimize the overall functions of the neck region.
The neck is a vital area for your overall health. It is the conduit between your head and body through which your spinal cord and several large blood vessels, as well as your large breathing tube and esophagus—your feeding tube—pass. And it is also home to your thyroid gland, which helps to regulate your metabolism.
Brahma Mudra Benefits
Dr. Bhavanani also stated this mudra helps cultivate psychosomatic harmony (body-mind balance), which can be useful for managing stress and mood swings, cultivating relaxation and instilling a sense of mental lightness. According to Dr. Bhavanani, it can also enhance and balance our perspectives on life. (That’s a lot of uses and potential benefits! It is important to keep in mind, however, that these claims come from the yoga tradition and results have only been reported anecdotally. As far as I know, the effects of this mudra have not been studied systematically or scientifically.)
So how, you may be asking, do you do Brahma Mudra? Just as the Hindu deity Brahma, the creator, has four heads that point in the cardinal directions of a compass, in this dynamic practice you move your one head in four directions with your breath, using the Bija seed sounds “ah,” “uuu,” “eee” and “mmm”on your four exhalations.
I was immediately interested in Brahma Mudra’s potential benefits for my own neck, having been involved in a car accident years ago that has left me with some chronic stiffness and changes in my range of motion, compounded by my lifelong violin playing, which tips and turns my head to the left.
Since the conference last mid-June, I have been doing this practice for 9-12 rounds almost every morning. So far, it has been very effective in reducing my stiffness and seems to be slowly improving the range of motion of my neck. Due to the mental focus on movement and on making the Bija sounds, it has both a meditative and pranayama effect of calming, quieting, and centering my mind. Excited by the accessibility and benefits of the practice, I have been teaching the practice to my students and yoga therapy clients in recent weeks.
It is worth mentioning, however, that as with many yoga practices, there is more than one way to do this mudra. In fact, my colleague Dilip Sarkar, MD has a slightly different version in his new book, Yoga Therapy, Ayurveda, and Western Medicine (pages 103-106). Dilip told me that doing this practice daily for some years now has helped him overcome the symptoms of his cervical radiculopathy, a technical term for neck pain due to degenerative changes in the bone and soft tissue structures of the spine.
The following instructions are based on the technique I learned from Dr. Bhavanani.
How to Practice Brahma Mudra
1. Take a comfortable seat, either on the floor or on a chair. Sit with good posture and your face forward, and close your eyes.
2. Inhale slowly (over 4-6 seconds) as you slowly turn your head to the right.
3. Exhale slowly (over 4-6 seconds) and make the sound “ah” as you slowly turn your head to center.
4. On your next slow inhalation, slowly turn your head to left.
5. On your slow exhalation, make the sound “uuu” as you slowly turn your head to center.
6. On your next slow inhalation, slowly tip your head back, keeping the back of your neck long.
7. On your slow exhalation, make the sound “eee” as you slowly tip your head back to center.
8. On your next slow inhalation, slowly tip your head down, bringing your chin toward your chest.
9. On your slow exhalation, make the sound “mmm” as you slowly bring your head back to center.
Repeat the Brahma Mudra for 3-12 rounds.
More great teaching tips from Baxter Bell, MD - Kick Start Your Yoga Practice: A Dynamic Yoga Warm-Up Sequence on the Floor.
Interested in teaching Restorative Yoga? Study with Judith Hanson Lasater and YogaUOnline - Teaching Restorative Yoga: Revitalize and Rebalance.
Reprinted with permission from Yoga for Healthy Aging.
Baxter Bell, MD, C-IAYT, eRYT 500, is a yoga teacher and educator, physician and medical acupuncturist. These days he focuses on teaching yoga full-time, both to ordinary students of all ages and physical conditions and to the next generation of yoga teachers, to whom he teaches anatomy and yoga therapy along with his accessible, skillful style of yoga. Baxter brings a unique perspective to his teaching, combining his understanding of anatomy and medicine with his skill at instructing people from all walks of life and all levels of ability. Baxter is the co-founder and writer for the popular Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, where he shares his knowledge of medical conditions, anatomy, and yoga with practitioners and teachers across the world. In addition to being a frequent presenter at Yoga Journal Alive events and yoga conferences such as IAYT’s SYTAR, he is often quoted as an expert on yoga and health by major national news outlets such as The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. To learn more, visit www.baxterbell.com, www.yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com, and his YouTube channel Baxter Bell Yoga. Baxter is the co-author with Nina Zolotow of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being.