Have you ever cued bringing your palms together at your heart center during a yoga class? What is that? Why do we keep doing it?
Well, that hand gesture is called the Anjeli Mudra. And it is more then just touching the palms together on many levels.
In this blog we will focus on the Mudras. If you have been practicing yoga for a while you are probably familiar with them. Maybe you haven’t heard about the term Mudra, but I bet you still know some of them.
Many of us has very busy daily lives. We do our best to squeeze in some yoga classes in them. Since most of us just sit and work all day without any real movement, our bodies need a lot of attention. In most of the yoga classes the body gets all the attention.
Sometimes yoga teachers spare some time for a Pranayama practice. (Pranayama can be considered as breathing technique in a very broad sense.) Less number of yoga teachers will get a chance to integrate seated meditations. And most of the time the talk about the yoga tradition will happen in between the poses. So, mostly yoga teachers don’t explain the term Mudra but they still include them in their classes.
For example, I bet you all practiced the Gyan Mudra at one point of your Asana or meditation practice. Gyan Mudra is the most commonly practiced one. It is a hand gesture. To practice Gyan Mudra you bring your thumb and the index finger together, creating a circular shape. The remaining three fingers, middle finger, ring finger and gather pinky finger are extended and directed away from the wrist. You may practice this Mudra with only one hand or both of your hands. Maybe you were told to do this movement with your hands without being told that is was a Mudra.
Maybe you practiced it during your meditation. But I bet you have seen this one on Instagram or other social media mediums. We have more to discuss about this cool looking Mudra after we discussed some of the basic knowledge about the Mudras.
So what is so special about the mudras?
At the first sight, Mudras are basically cool looking shapes that yogins do with their hands. But there is more to Mudras, way more than how cool they look. In fact, Mudras are not limited with hand gestures, there are other kind of Mudras. They can be done through poses using the whole body, or through gaze, or through subtle muscle activations. But today we will focus on Hasta Mudras, i.e. Mudras practiced by the hand gestures.
We borrow Mudras from the ancient tradition of yoga. They have been practiced for thousands of years. When we practice a Mudras, it usually feels good. Feeling the warmth and the gentle touch of one’s own hand spreads a sensation of serenity, and creates a centre of focus. But if you really stop and think about how does practicing a Mudras affects you, you will most probably discover more and more with each observation.
Mudras are believed to affect our physical, emotional and energetic bodies. Some of the listed benefits of the Mudras are as follows: better memory, healthy sleeping habits, lower stress levels, better control over the mind and the body, cleanses the toxins, relieves pain, etc.
One might ask: “how come something such subtle can work such miracles?” But isn’t that also the case for Yoga Asana practice or the Pranayama practice? People who haven’t practiced yoga but heard about its grounding calming effect sometimes approach to yoga instructors with some queries. They ask what exercises they can do to deal with stress if they don’t have time to come and do yoga. When that happens I usually start talking about Pranayama exercises. What happens is that they usually don’t believe me when I tell them they can deal with stress just with using their own breaths. But they can, I know they can. Some goes for the Asana practice.
One might define yoga asana practice as “a physical practice in which you stay on the poses for longer times”. Then the spiritual aspect of the yoga asana practice will sound unlikely. Actually, yoga is spiritual journey, a journey toward self realisation. Yoga transforms one’s whole life. The ancient wisdom of yoga teaches us that all those subtle things matter. The breath, the Parana (life force energy), the Drishti (your gaze) as you practice, etc. every little thing matters. In the same manner, what you do with your fingers also matters.
The word Mudra means seal. Mudras are composed of sacred gestures that help us to direct our life force energy according to our needs. The wisdom of yoga offers amazing tools for us to control our energy flow. Besides Mudras we also have Bandhas (the energetic locks), we have Mantras (chanting Sacred words or sounds), Dristhi (directing the gaze) etc to help us redirect our Prana (life force energy). But today we focus on Hasta Mudras. With the help of the ancient wisdom we learn how to use our hand gestures to direct our life force energy.
Two questions come into the mind at this point. What is so special about the hands? And, why do we need to direct our Energy?
Let’s begin with the first question. How can a Mudras can help us direct our Prana (life force energy)? Our hands have highly active and sensitive energetic centres. Even if you are not sensitive to energy you may be able to feel the hand Chakra (energy centre) by doing a simple exercise. Spread the arms to the sides to shoulder height. And begin to vigorously extend the fingers and making fists really fast for 20 seconds. Now pause and flip your palms up. Try to feel the tingling sensations in your palms. But this is not just about the palms, each finger is associated with a certain energy channel. By touching the fingers in a certain way, we regulate the energy flow in those channels.
Each finger represents one of the five elements. The thumbs is the fire, the index finger is the air, the middle finger is the ether, the ring finger is the earth, and the little finger is the water. The thumb is also associated with will and rationality. The index finger is correlated with wisdom. The middle finger is all about patience and balance. The ring finger is correlated with health. Finally, the little finger is associated with creativity.
Now on to the second big question: Why do we need to redirect our life force energy? Did you ever kept worrying about the same thing for days when there was nothing you can do about it? I guess it is a very frequent and a very common experience. When we keep worrying about one thing we constantly send some of our energy into that direction. This means that we are wasting our energy on something that we cannot change. In such cases we use the tools that help us to redirect our energies, like Mudras, we can make use of our personal power for something beneficial. So, in one way Mudras help us not to waste our energies. On the other hand, Mudras can be used to direct more energy towards the issues we are struggling with. For example, if you are having a health issue, you may direct you life force energy so to help with your recovery period.
Let’s get familiar with four very common Hasta Mudras (hand mudras)
Gyan Mudra: It is also known as the Chin Mudra.
Gyan Mudras helps to focus the mind and calm the consciousness. You bring the index and the thumb together. In this Mudras the thumb symbolises the universal consciousness and the index finger symbolises the individual consciousness. By bringing the thumb and the index finger together we bring the individual and universal consciousness together. We send the other three fingers our. Each one of those fingers symbolises the three aspects of the physical world: Tamas, Rajas, Satva. This gesture done by the three fingers symbolises the liberation from the limits of the physical world. This is why it is very common to practice this Mudra during meditation.
Vayu Mudra: It is the Mudra of air.
To practice this Mudra, you need to fold the index finger towards your palm and place you thumb over the index finger. This Mudra focuses on balancing the energies of air in the energetic body encouraging calmer nervous system. This one is especially beneficial during the moments of anxiety.
To practice this Mudra all you need to do is to bring the pink finger and the thumb together. The connection of the elements of fire and water encourages intuitiveness and enhances communication and skills.
It is also called the prayer pose. You bring all the energies together. Pressing right and the left palm equally into each other. By the Anjeli Mudra you are aiming to bring balance into the feminine and masculine energies of your life. The yin and yang energies.