Everybody loves Viparita Karani. Can it actually prevent death, as cited in the medieval texts? Fifteen years ago I submitted this very question about Viparita Karani to B.K.S. Iyengar at the Yoga Intensive in Estes Park, CO.
Following my transcription — which is divided into six numbered sections — I will analyze his response section by section.
Q.: The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (III.81-82) says that practicing Viparita Karani for a yama daily “conquers death” (kalajit). How can this guide me as a student in my daily practice?
A.: B.K.S. Iyengar —
1. First of all, until now, no book has explained Viparita Karani — … except for Mr. Iyengar (referring to himself in the third person), who has found the right method in reading the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says that all inversions are Viparita Karani. Even Sirsasana is considered Viparita Karani. But one sentence says when the buttocks are slightly down below the trunk, is Viparita Karani.
Some say half way between Halasana and Sarvangasana is Viparita Karani. It is not Viparita Karani at all. No one knows what Viparita Karani is.
It requires a lot of intellectual “rubbing” [effort] to understand Viparita Karani in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It is easy to fool people.
2. [Manouso Manos demonstrates by back arching over a one foot high platform, buttocks on the platform with shoulders on the floor.] Bend the knees, and if too old to straighten the legs, rest the calves on a chair seat on the platform. Elbows touch the front face of the platform and the head rests on blanket support.
This is Viparita Karani for those like me, who are reaching ninety years old. If you can’t keep the legs straight for five or ten minutes, bend the knees, and rest the calves on a chair seat… in Viparita Karani. Even now I can stand with legs straight for twenty minutes, but Manouso can not keep up with me… in timings.
3. Buttocks should be down, chest up. What happened?
The venous blood collects in the abdomen, like an artificial tank. You can see [touching Manouso’s flat abdomen] that this is like a tank.
And then from here it gradually drips towards the heart, like a waterfall [pointing with his toe]. The blood is purified without strain, spreading to the entire set of lungs.
4. And that is why Svatmarama [author of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika] says the effect is that it conquers death. In those days they were saying statements like that. Can I conquer my own death? The Hatha Yoga Pradipika also says that Mayurasana allows you to digest poison. [Don’t] drink poison and do Mayurasana… [to see if it is true! Laughter.]
This is poetic language. You have to allow it a certain margin.
You cannot conquer death, but you need not suffer ill health, and your life may be prolonged. That means death is delayed. You cannot conquer death. You have to die.
You have to understand the inner meaning, not the surface meaning. Conquering death means that you will be free of diseases so that your life is prolonged. Death is delayed, so you have conquered death. That is the effect of this asana.
5. You can see that the brain is quiet. The pose induces a passive, pensive state. It is not an intellectual drug, but it will relax the brain, like chanting an AUM mantra inside. Chanting an AUM mantra is like a drug. The mantra is like a drug, according to Patanjali… — fourth chapter, first sutra. That can conquer enemies.
But, at the same time, he has said that samadhi is the highest state, not mantra, not incantation, not birth, and not herbs [that are cited in PYS IV.1]. I’ve only introduced awareness of intelligence here. Viparita Karani causes a natural pensive state of the brain without any oscillation at all, using neither herbs nor incantations.
[To Manouso:] Do you oscillate or go deep in?
[Manouso:] Deep in.
Is it not a meditative pose? We mistakenly think that if Iyengar does yoga, it is physical yoga. But if someone chants mantra, it is said to be spiritual yoga.
Here my normal breath is my mantra. I observe the breath. I control the smoothness of the breath. It is a normal breath. I don’t do deep breathing.
If I do deep breathing, as others suggest, I create spasms in the electrical cells of the brain. I want the electrical cells of the brain to be quiet. So what do I do? I maintain the same length of the normal inhalation and exhalation — same length, same vibration, same sound.
I would ask him to come [out of the pose] but he prefers to stay there. [laughter]
That is ‘natural’ dhyana. Not induced meditation, but natural meditation.
I have done yoga so much: Biological relaxation is the highest state of meditation. Psychological meditation is not the highest state of meditation. That is my experience. Because biological relaxation depends upon the nerves. Nerves are the medium between the mind and the spirit.
6. When Lord Krishna showed his form to Arjuna, Arjuna said, “I’m frightened. I can’t see you… with ordinary eyes.” Then Lord Krishna graced Arjuna with a Divine eye so that he would be able to perceive Krishna’s terrifying cosmic form in the Bhagavad Gita. The Divine eye made Arjuna less nervous. You must have read it.
That is what I am building up. The Divine eye represents the nervous system. The nerves are the unconscious mind. The nerves are the hidden mind. All my practices are meant to develop the strength of the nerves so that when the light of the Self flashes, you do not become nervous.
That’s why I said that the nerves are the unconscious consciousness. When that man’s nerves [in the Supported Savasana for Anxiety demo at < It’s worth studying, is it not? In our lives the brain is the subject, but in certain asanas, the brain becomes an object… such as in Viparita Karani, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, and Viparita Dandasana.
Then you can [differentiate] the intellect from the intelligence. Intellect is the seat of the head. Intelligence is the seat of the heart. Yoga teaches how to yoke together the intellect seated in the head with the intelligence seated in the heart to build up a new person.
This was transcribed from B.K.S. Iyengar: 2005 Yoga Intensive at Estes Park 5-DVD Set, Berkeley: Yoga Journal, 2005. 9-29-05 AM The question starts at +1:34:48 of the Question and Answer session on disk 5. View the source video online at <https://youtu.be/GD37MGMJdyg?t=5688>
1. Guruji started with the premise that
all inversions are Viparita Karani.
Within the context of having described Sirsasana as also being included in Viparita Karani (BMR: as well as included in Shiva Samhita IV.45 and Gheranda Samhita III.35), Guruji began to differentiate his own interpretation based on the Brahmananda commentary on Hatha Yoga Pradipika III.81:
The body should be raised in the air by resting the back of the head and neck and shoulders upon the ground, supporting the hips with the hands, the elbows resting on the ground if required.
As a result, if the elbows were on the ground and the pelvis supported by the hands, the buttocks would have to be much lower than in Sirsasana. This is what he will go on to describe as
Buttocks… down, chest up.
“Chest up” means “sternum vertical,” as in Sarvangasana.
To support this viewpoint, Guruji explained that it took him a lot of effort and perseverance —
a lot of intellectual “rubbing” to understand —
to come to this conclusion.
2. Viparita Karani can be modified:
if too old to straighten the legs, rest the calves on a chair seat.
3. To explain the physiological effect, Guruji compared the lower abdomen to a reservoir — the flat abdomen acts as an “artificial tank” — that collects the venous blood on its return to the heart. Similarly, he characterized the upper abdomen as a waterfall that allows the blood to
gradually drip towards the heart [and] spread to the entire set of lungs.
This physiologically reverses (viparita) the blood flow process (karani). (BMR: According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it also increases the gastric fire (jathara-agni), or what can be equated with metabolism.)
4. As a result of altering the blood flow (and the metabolic process), life can be extended due to improved health. This is the implied meaning, which differs from literally conquering death.
5. Guruji then compared the mental peace and quiet produced by Viparita Karani, to the results of the siddhis described in PYS IV.1.
(BMR: In Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Guruji downplayed the credibility of acquiring siddhis through birth, the use of herbal rasayana elixirs and mantra, preferring yogic tapas, and samadhi as the methods to isolate purusha in kaivalya. Even Vyasa has noted that it was only the asuras (demons) who possessed the life extending elixirs that promised freedom from death and decay, although they never actually attained immortality.)
Thus, Guruji’s focus shifted to the unstated question of determining the role of siddhis in practice.
Concurrent with the analogy of Viparita Karani as an anti-anxiety drug, Guruji equated its effect with the mental quietude attained through the chanting of mantra. Because brain is part of the mind, when the brain becomes quiet, the mind follows.
Here’s where Guruji made a big leap: Viparita Karani is not just an anti-anxiety pose, but an act of meditation, dhyana. Dhyana is the key practice that leads to the samadhi that liberates purusha. The lack of oscillation that he cited is the lack of chitta vrttis that Vyasa has equated with samadhi in VB I.2.
When the intellect of the brain has been silenced, it allows the “awareness of intelligence” of purusha to surface.
Then Guruji began this defense of asana: If the pose were “meditative,” taking the mind “deep in,” how could that differ from chanting mantra as a spiritual practice?
normal breath is… mantra.
Bhoja Raja’s commentary on PYS IV.1 has mentioned the restoration of the normal breath (ashvasa) in relation to samadhi.
At this point Guruji began to highlight the importance of smooth normal breathing as opposed to deep breathing, which he had also discussed in the prior demonstration about Yoga for Depression: At that time he noted that labored breath is a sign of the obstacles — such as pain and anxiety. (PYS I.31)
He pointed out that deep breathing
creates spasms in the electrical cells of the brain
and criticized those who suggest otherwise as inexperienced.
Again, returning to Viparita Karani as a meditation, he described it as “natural dhyana,” as opposed to “induced meditation” produced by drugs or chanting. He declared
biological relaxation… [is] the highest state of meditation…, [not] psychological meditation. Biological meditation… depends upon the nerves… which are the medium between the mind and the spirit.
6. Finally, Guruji correlated the nervous system with consciousness:
The nerves are the unconscious… hidden mind.
He equated the strength of the nervous system that results from Viparita Karani with the Divine eye given to Arjuna so that he could observe without fear Lord Krishna’s true form as God.
The correlation of the nervous system with tantric physiology is explicitly rooted in Shiva Samhita II.6-12:
There is the nectar-rayed moon…, on top of the spinal cord, that rains nectar downwards through the ida nadi to nourish the whole body. At the bottom of the spinal cord there is the sun. It carries the fluid upwards through the pingala nadi…, and leads to nirvana.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika uses this same metaphoric language to describe the benefit of Viparita Karani: Constant and devoted (nityam… kala) practice (abhyaset) prevents the thieving (stena) sun (bhanuh, surya) — located near the navel (nabhi) — from devouring (grasate) the divine (divya) nectar (amrtam) flowing from (sravate) the moon (shashi, chandra) at the root of the palate.
7. To conclude, Viparita Karani does two things:
1. improves blood circulation
2. quiets the brain to make it an object
Viparita Karani means “reverse process.” It not only increases metabolism — through stoking the gastric fire (jathara-agni) — but everything is turned topsy-turvy: body, mind, and breath. It promotes spirituality over temporality: when ego is no longer the subject, it allows purusha to be the Seer.
Therefore, instead of literally translating HYP III.82 as
practice (abhyaset) it daily (nityam… kala), for three hours (yama-matram), to conquer death (kalajit),
I now interpret it as
The practice (abhyasa) of constant and devoted (nityam… kala) [yogic] restraint for the [entire] duration [of one’s life] (yama-matram) determines destiny, or fate at the time of death (kalajit).
This supports determining one’s own fate through continuous yogic restraint, which is in the same spirit as keeping the nerves strong and resilient in order to be able to face death with assurance, wonder, and awe.
 practicing Viparita Karani for a yama daily “conquers death” (kalajit): HYP III.78 There is an excellent karana, process, by which the sun is duped. This should be learned from the guru, and not through (theoretical) study of the sastras.
HYP III.79 When the sun is above and the moon below, whose navel is above and the palate below, it is Viparita Karani. It is to be learned through the instructions of a guru.
HYP III.82 After six months, the wrinkles and gray hair are not seen. He or she who practices it daily, even for two hours, conquers death (kalajit).
 It requires a lot of intellectual “rubbing” to understand: [British:] “to proceed, continue in a course, or keep going with effort or difficulty.”
 HYP I.33: (Mayurasana) cures quickly all diseases.. and causes to be digested even Kalakuta, a terrible poison.
 PYS I.29 Meditation on God with the repetition of AUM removes obstacles to the mastery of the inner self.
PYS IV.1 Siddhis may be attained by birth, the use of herbs, mantra, tapas, or samadhi.
 [the breath is] the same length of the normal inhalation and exhalation — same length, same vibration, same sound: See Light on Pranayama, p. 118
 BGXI.3: O Lord, You are as You have said, yet I wish to see Your divine cosmic form, O Supreme Being.
BGXI.8: But, you are not able to see Me with your physical eye; therefore, I give you the divine eye to see My majestic power and glory [the divine cosmic form of Brahman].
 BGXI.53: Neither by study of the Vedas, nor by tapas, nor by gift, nor by ritual, can I be seen in this form as you have seen Me: Enlightenment is a subjective experience, not an objective perception.
 PYS II.48 When asana is perfected, there is no duality between the intellect of the head and the intelligence of the heart.
PYS III.35 The heart is the seat of pure knowledge.