What are Mudras?
I love working with hand mudras and I use them frequently both in my teaching and in my private therapy sessions. "Mudras are gestures of the hands, face and body that promote physical health, psychological balance and spiritual awakening." "...The power of mudras to support health and healing rests in their ability to cultivate balance and harmony within all dimensions of our being." (Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian LePage). Mudras can be energizing and uplifting, or calming and grounding. They can help to direct breath and prana through the body and focus the mind. They can help to direct awareness towards areas of the body or towards the chakras, various energy centers within the subtle body. They can evoke qualities such as joy and enthusiasm, or instill a feeling of peace and serenity in the body and mind. They can be used to help balance the psychoemotional body as well as the physical and energetic body. They can also help us to still the mind for meditation. Last September, I hosted a 27-day mindfulness challenge, and each day I posted a different mudra for students to practice, and see which ones spoke to them or helped them in meditation. You can find these short videos on my Shining Waters Yoga Facebook page. I find that mudras can be extremely helpful in combination with pranayama practice and meditation. If you are new to using hand mudras, they may feel strange at first, or you may feel no sensation at all. One really simple way to feel how the hands can effect your breath and energy level is to simply come to a comfortable seat with an erect posture. You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor. Rest your hands in your lap. Turn the palms face up and take several breaths. Notice the expansion in your chest as you inhale. You may notice a slightly uplifting, energizing quality or a receptive feeling. Now turn the palms down, and take several breaths. Notice if you feel calm and grounded. Notice how you feel as you exhale all the breath out. Some mudras are difficult to hold, especially if you have arthritis or neuropathy and some may be contraindicated for certain health conditions or for the results you are seeking. For instance, if you have anxiety and your mind is racing - it might be better to work with a grounding and calming mudra then one that is energizing. If you have acid reflux, it might be helpful to work with a mudra that directs the flow of prana downward in the body to counteract the imbalance in your digestive tract, rather than one that stimulates movement of prana upwards. I always tell my students and clients if a mudra is uncomfortable, to release it. There are many mudras to choose from that you can work with.
Here are a few of my favorite mudras to work with for meditation and pranayama: Chinmaya Mudra for grounding: Chinmaya means "embodiment of knowledge". This mudra directs energy towards the base of the spine, emphasizing our connection to the earth. It is calming and stabilizing. Curl your fingers inward like a loose fist and touch your index fingers to your thumbs (see photo at right). Place the hands palms face down on your thighs. You can sit with both hands in this mudra. Or place the left hand in Chinmaya mudra while using the right hand for alternate nostril breathing.
Jnana Mudra for meditation: Jnana means "wisdom". This mudra is more energizing, and enables the mind to focus as it supports clear seeing. It directs our awareness towards Ajna chakra (the 3rd eye). Simply touch the tips of the index fingers to the tips of the thumbs and leave the other 3 fingers extended. Place the backs of the hands on the thighs, palms face up.
Hridaya Mudra for "Seeking Divine Refuge" (from Mudras for Transformation and Healing): Hridaya means "heart". This is a lovely mudra when you are feeling overwhelmed. It can be used to help lift us up when we feel depression and grief. It helps release stress. It can also be used simply to connect with the heart space, and balance Anahata chakra. Place your right hand over your heart, slightly cupped to leave a small sapce between your palm and your heart. Place the left hand over the right hand and bow your chin slightly forward. Relax your shoulders and elbows. (See photo at the top of this blog post.)
If you would like to explore using mudras for your pranayama, asana or meditation practice, I highly recommend the LePage book, "Mudras for Healing and Transformation", in which Joseph and Lilian give detailed information on how to use 108 hand mudras.