In uncertain times, what can we do? While we are staying at home, we can certainly wash our hands, consciously! And there is a way to get really into washing our hands without becoming obsessive-compulsive germaphobes.
I appreciate the World Health Organization’s short video tutorial on the proper way to wash our hands. Washing every surface of the hands is proven to be an effective way to reduce the spread of viruses. So let us hope that if we have the resources, we have started to pay much closer attention to washing our hands with these precious resources: soap, water, and mindfulness.
Columbia University School of Nursing’s Handwashing expert, Elaine Larson says, “quality handwashing matters just as much as quantity. Count to twenty seconds, sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice — heck, blow through a whole aria — but it will be for naught if you are not washing every surface of your hand.”
Good advice. Wash every surface. But let’s also contemplate beyond the surface.
As a yogi, I would like to take the handwashing protocol a step further, if I may. From a yogic perspective, the whole routine of washing every surface of the hands will be for naught if we do not bring our most expanded awareness to our actions. Yes, wash every surface of the physical hands; but also, involve every layer of being in the action of washing hands.
Health professionals tell us that washing hands is the most cost-effective way to reduce the spread of respiratory infections. Good news. When we are deeply mindful, there is also a deeper effect than monetary savings. To yogis, any activity that involves our attention on the subtle levels of being can and does impact our physical well-being. If we make it a practice not only to concentrate on the act but also to personally consecrate the action of washing our hands, this subtle level sacred offering can be a simple way to achieve collective upliftment in the collective human subconscious. Bringing consciousness of the subtle realms during this time of social, physical “isolation” can help mitigate the stress we may experience from isolation. Also, bringing more sacredness and consciousness to the action of washing our hands can prevent the routine from becoming a boring, mindless chore. Instead, washing our hands will be a sadhana (a consciousness practice). Plus, making it sacred helps avoid making handwashing an obsessive-compulsive habit done out of fear.
This blog post offers a way to make handwashing into a yoga kriya that will activate multiple layers of experience. We will slow down, bring new consciousness to handwashing; plus, during this time when yoga studios are closed, washing your hands can be your yoga practice (please remember, yoga is not only asana / postural practice).
What is a Yoga Kriya?
A yoga kriya is a series of connected movements that infuse a certain kind of energy and consciousness into these movements. Yoga kriya gets us involved in our actions beyond physical experience. So, not only do the exercises engage the physical body, but they coordinate the physical body to harmonize with the mental body, the breath, the intuition, and non-physical dimension that, once we touch it, makes us blissful.
Why Practice a Yoga Kriya?
Yogis make it a practice to bring a certain frequency of consciousness to every movement, every action of every day. One way to do this is to internally chant a mantra while going about the day. This means that for a yogi, the advice to “slowly count to 20 or sing happy birthday while you wash your hands” seems frivolous or mindless in a way that risks not bringing multi-dimensional, slowed, calibrated attention to the task. When we wash our hands as a yoga kriya, we create an opportunity to bring more dimensional quality to our attention, and perhaps even give a sacred sense to our handwashing.
This yoga kriya involves all that we are in a slowed down moments when we are washing our hands. Please note, this practice is not coming from any yoga lineage, culture, or institution. This handwashing yoga kriya emerged due to our shared experience, and it is a kriya that invites you into the moment washing your hands to play and just be you here.
Handwashing Yoga Kriya Instructions (video is below)
Stand before a wash basin with hands in prayer mudra. Breathe long and deep for three long, slow, deep breaths. Be present with this moment as if you are in the presence of someone or something that you hold dear. In other words, bring a sense of endearment, or even sacredness, to this present moment.
Now open the palms and face the palms forward at the level of the shoulders. Continue to breathe deeply, and visualize a warm, white light beaming out from the centers of your palms. Greet the air around your hands with gratitude. Feel gratitude towards the air, the hands, and the breath. Dwell in gratitude with deep awareness of the element air.
Turn the water on and allow water to flow over the hands. Greet the water with gratitude.
Turn off the water (conserve water), and soap the hands.
Chant the Yoga Yoga Yogeshwaraya chant (or any mantra you like) with the movements:
Yoga Yoga Yogeshwaraya
( Move palms together in circles, circle in one direction then circle back. )
Bhuta Bhuta Bhuteshwaraya
( Touch all fingertips of one hand to opposite palms then move in circles,
left then right )
Kala Kal Kaleshwaraya
( Wring fingers within fisted palms, like wringing water out of a wet cloth, left on top then right on top. )
Shiva Shiva Sarveshwaraya
( Rub or massage interlaced fingers extended, right over left then left over right. )
Shambho Shambho Mahadevaya
( Rub or massage left thumb with right hand;
rub right thumb with left hand. )
Repeat the chant with movements, at least three times with soap.
If possible, use elbow to turn on the faucet and rinse the hands in a conscious set of hand positions: 1. Cup the hands to receive the water. 2. Turn fingers toward the drain, and let the water run off the hands. 3. Press palms together and rub in a circular motion under the water stream.
Use elbow to turn faucet off. Shake hands. Feel the air and water interacting. Feel the drops falling off the skin. Be so present with the elements of air and water that you identify with them. Gently towel dry with a clean towel.
Bring palms facing up just in front of shoulders and breathe long and deep for a few moments.
Inhale and bring hands up to the sky arms at 60 degree angle. Lift your heart closer to the sky. Feel lift in the rib cage. Feel more length in the spine. Feel the hands lifting up. Feel weightless.
Inhale, hold, engage the internal locks (the bandhas) from the root lock to the Jiva Bhanda. Close the eyes and roll the eyeballs as if to look through the top of the head. Engage all the locks, not in a forced way, in a gentle way. Root lock means tightening the muscles in the anus, sex organs and navel point. Feel the vertebra in the neck are lengthened not crushed. Apply Jiva Banda, which means press the tongue against the roof of the mouth. Just be sure you are concentrating on this internal muscle squeeze and pull up at the end of washing your hands. This internal pressure is what creates the difference between handwashing being a yoga kriya and handwashing being a mindless routine. The idea is to pull internal energy up the spine using these locks. (Note: the chin does not pull down to the chest as in Hatha Yoga style Jalandahara Bandha; the idea here is to keep the neck tall and pull energy all the way to the crown by rolling the eyes upward.)
With the breath held in and the locks applied, hold. Visualize the rays of the sun stretching into the palms of the hands. Feel absolute union with all that is. Feel palpable silence here, and dwell in that silence for as long as is comfortable.
Remain in this position and visualization with the exhale, gently throw all the breath out as you release the locks. When all the breath is out, engage all those locks inside the body again. On the exhale, include the diaphragm lock (called Uddiyana Bandha) in which muscles pull the diaphragm up into the rib cage (again, engage it gently, probably no need to do it full on). Again dwell in the palpable silence as long as possible while in a state of being absolutely empty.
Inhale and exhale powerfully and lower the arms to bring the hands back into palms pressed together at the heart canter. Send out an intention for health, union, peace, restoration, any creative intention…
May we treasure the unity the world is experiencing now because we are all facing the same challenge. The virus recognizes no national borders, but, hey, neither does human consciousness. The virus is a spiritual teacher in a sense that it is making us appreciate those things we take for granted and making us slow down and go within (plus it is a cruel teacher and often times spiritual teachers get cruel with us). May anyone who feels comforted by this know that I am here, consecrating my handwashing routine, and dedicating my clean hands and my clean heart to the health and wellness of all beings everywhere. Sat Nam! Namaskaram! Amen!