You may have seen hands and fingers take an interesting shape or form during yoga practice or meditation. The likes of hands in prayer position before Surya Namaskar or connecting the thumb and index fingers of both hands in meditation? Well, these positions of the hands and fingers are sacred gestures called mudras. Like other practices in yoga, they have purpose and significance. Read on to find out more about mudras!
What are Mudras in Yoga?
A mudra is a gesture or seal used in yoga. The practice of these gestures and seals channel the flow of prana life force. There are many mudras. They are categorized as hand hasta mudras, body (kaya) and consciousness (citta) mudras. We commonly use hand mudras.
Ayurveda and mudras
Ayurveda explains the body as being made up of five elements; fire, air, space, earth and water. A healthy body has a balance of these elements. Conversely, a dominating or weakening element would cause imbalance in the body and have a negative impact on one’s health. This would be expressed as illness or disease.
There are five elements and five fingers .Each finger represents an according element. In yoga philosophy it is said that through each finger, runs the prana for each element. By manipulating the pranas we can increase or decrease the prana to a specific part of the body. That is why a mudra is also referred to as a seal. We are sealing or locking the pranas for a specific purpose.
When a specific mudra is used for a specific purpose, it can help restore balance of the 5 elements of the body using prana.
The fingers represent, accordingly, each element:
The Thumb - represents the fire element
The Index finger - represents the air element
The Middle finger - represents the space element
The Ring finger - represents the earth element
The Pinky finger - represents the water element
The five pranas
Apana – the force required for excretion, like sweating, urinating, etc.
Samana – the force required for digestion and metabolism.
Prana – the force required for the heart to pump.
Vyana – the force required circulation and movement.
Udana – the force required for upper body actions like talking, thinking, eye movement, etc.
5 Mudras for Yoga & Meditation Practitioners
Mudras function as a unifying force to bring together and balance the body through the hands. As we have two hands, so too do we have two sides of the body; solar energy on the right side and lunar energy on the left side. The Gyana Mudra for example, connects the right solar prana via the Pingala Nadi to the left lunar energy via the Ida Nadi. Mudras work to singularly stimulate solar or lunar energy too.
How to incorporate mudras in your practice
Here are 5 commonly used hasta mudras - hand mudras:
1. Namaskar Mudra
In this mudra we join the palms and fingers together in a prayer position in front of your heart. This mudra joins elements together and balances both sides of the body. It invokes the feeling of calmness and compassion and that is why we use it often in meditation.
2. Chin Mudra
This is one of the most commonly practiced mudras. It is the mudra for wisdom. It involves connecting the thumb and index finger with the palms on the knees and palms facing up. Imagine holding a sheet of paper in between the fingers to get an idea of the gentle pressure to be applied between the fingers in this mudra.
This mudra helps you build concentration in meditation and it is used widely during pranayama and meditation. We use this mudra during the day as the fingers and palms face toward the sun’s energy.
3. Gyana (Jnana Mudra)
The positioning of the fingers is like Chin Mudra but with the palms and fingers facing downward. When the sun is up, we use Chin Mudra to receive the energy of the sun. When the sun has set, we use Gyana Mudra with palms facing downward as we keep the sun’s energy we have received during the day. This mudra has the same benefits as China Mudra such as helping to gain focus and internal awareness.
In this mudra we bring the thumb fire element and index air element together to burn the air and decrease vata (air) energy, helping us to concentrate better. To explain further, too much of the air element disturbs the mind. Decreasing the air element using the fire element helps to decrease mental disturbances.
4. Vayu Mudra
This mudra is created by folding your index finger into the base of the thumb then crossing your thumb over the index finger. This mudra is not to be confused with Chin Mudra.They are similar in their positioning of the hands and effect however, in Vayu Mudra we use it to vastly decrease the vayu air element. If the air element dominates the body, for example too much stress or anxiety issues, skin infections or much air in the intestine, you use this mudra.
5. Dhyana Mudra
This is referred to as the ‘concentration mudra.’ For Dhyana Mudra you bring your right hand above your left hand. Rest your right hand over the left hand. Bring the tips of your thumbs together and keep the fingers together. The fire element is connected via the thumbs and the other elements are at rest. This mudra engages the intellect and calms the mind. It is a mudra for meditation and there are iconic pictures and statues of Lord Buddha in Dhyana Mudra.
This was an introduction to the amazing practice of mudras. They are great tools to boost your yoga and meditation practice!