In yoga, mudras are hand, face, and body gestures used to move subtle energy in the physical being and beyond. The translation of the Sanskrit word mudra is “seal”, “signature”, or “gesture” and the development of the postures as we know them today can be found in texts and images from the Tantra period of India. They were often depicted in use at the same time with yantra (sacred geometric forms) and mantra (sacred sounds). Many mudras are practiced in the Hindu faith, but sacred body positions are also found in other paths and religions such as Buddhism and Christianity - think hands in front of chest in prayer position.
Why do we use mudras and what are the specific benefits to mudras? Each mudra has an energetic quality connected with the posturing of the body. In hand mudras,or Hasta Mudra, hands and fingers are used to invoke what are called “Core Qualities” of ourselves. These qualities are our deep essence and purpose that are inherently inside, waiting to be realized. As well as spotlighting our souls, the benefits of mudras can be used with pranayama techniques and yoga asana on a yoga teacher training course or in studio practice to bring balance to specific physical imbalances in the body.
How many mudras exist?
How many mudras exist is a matter of debate. There are different types of mudras based on the part of the body expressing them.
Hasta – Hand Mudras / Finger Mudras
Mana– Head Mudras
Kaya – Body Mudras
Bandha – Heart Mudra
Adhara– Perineal Mudras
Because the most widely practiced mudras are hand shapes, we will explore the group of gestures called Hasta mudras. We can find reference to 108 hand mudras of the Vedic and Hindu variety, but there are many more forms and gestures from other practices around the world.
How to use mudras
Let’s dive into how to use mudra to be our optimal, sparkly selves. The vast number of mudras are perfectly applied to various ailments and specific qualities of health and wholeness. There are mudras for: specific health conditions, the koshas, the five elements, the vayus, the chakras, the nadis, the emotions, mental health, the eight limbs of yoga, prayer, meditation and much more! If there’s an imbalance, there’s a hand mudra for it.
Do mudras work?
With so many intentional uses, how do mudras work? Hand mudras are a powerful expression of energy exchange because the fingers hold so many sensory nerve endings that connect directly to the brain and endocrine systems. When a “seal” has been made through different nerve endings, a body channel is activated. The hands are also the most dextrous part of the body, leaving big possibilities for posturing.
On an energetic plane, each digit and part of the hand
is connected to an element: earth, air, fire, water, and ether
Each of the elements is connected to a specific body system with an overlying physical and energetic quality. When these connections or circuits are activated, mudras can nourish the overall function of our bodies.
Mudras – a beginner’s guide
To use mudras for overall well-being, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with a few basic hand gestures. Here are six mudras to get started with:
Find a comfortable seat where you can easily hold your back upright, making room for full breaths traveling in and out of the body. Bring yourself into a state of relaxation with conscious, deep breathing while the hands rest in the lap. When ready, bring the hands in front of the solar plexus and begin the mudra practice.
Connection to the earth, pelvic floor, muladhara (root) chakra. This mudra can lower blood pressure, alleviate stress and strengthen the skeletal system.
Move palms in front of the solar plexus, touch the tips of the pinkies together and curl the rest of the fingers toward the palms, resting the palms on top of the fists. Align forearms with floor and open shoulders and heart.
Aids in self healing, especially in addiction and co-dependency. Associated with reproductive and urinary systems.
Move palms in front of the solar plexus and press the tips of the ring fingers together and curl the rest of the fingers in towards palm. You can use the thumbs to hold the pinkies in. Align forearms with floor and open shoulders and heart.
Balances energy. Equalizes input and output. Can ease tension in the lower back as well as nourish the digestive system.
Move palms in front of the solar plexus and press tips of middle fingers together and other fingers curl into the palm. Align forearms with floor and open shoulders and heart.
Heart Opening. Relieves constriction in the chest and optimizes breath capacity. Can be a useful application for depression and sadness.
Move palms in front of solar plexus and press index fingers together and let other fingers curl in toward palms.
Inner Guidance and listening. Associated with upper back, cervical spine, and thyroid. Can be useful in vocal expression such as singing and speaking.
Move palms in front of the solar plexus, turning them down toward the floor and touch tips of thumbs together. Curl other fingers toward the palms. Align forearms with floor and open shoulders and heart.
Wholeness and Integration in overall physical, emotional, and mental health. Increases capacity for full expression of well-being.
Move hands in front of the solar plexus and turn toward each other. Touch all the fingers together, as well as the thumbs. Hold the hands in a rounded position. Align forearms with floor and open shoulders and heart.
Developing a mudra practice
Ready to put the mudras into practice? Begin by exploring the hand mudras above, holding each one long enough to notice the subtle energy move through your body and what places it starts to occupy. When the breath feels natural and the hand position comes with less effort, add a meditation or mantra that invokes the core quality of the mudra and repeat while holding hands in position. As your awareness becomes more acute to each specific mudra, start to practice other gestures based on the qualities you would like to bring into your life. Mudras are a refinement of a yoga practice, let them be a powerful tool in your health and healing toolbox.