Mudras are often part of yoga practice but how much do we know about them?
The origin of the mudras is a mystery. They can be found not only in Asia but all around the world (for example the prayer mudra). The meaning of mudra in Sanskrit is seal or closure and we mostly use mudras in pranayama or meditation to direct the flow of energy within the body. Mudras can be described as psychic, emotional, devotional and aesthetic gestures.
Different areas of the hand are connected with different areas in the body and the brain so when we place our hands in certain mudras we stimulate specific areas of the brain generating specific state of mind. A mudra may involve the whole body while practicing asana, pranayama, bandha and visualization or it may be a hand position.
The system of five elements are found in Vedas, especially Ayurveda, the pancha mahabhuta, or “five great elements”, of Hinduism are earth, water, fire, air and ether. They further suggest that all of creation, including the human body, is made up of these five essential elements and that upon death, the human body dissolves into these five elements of nature, thereby balancing the cycle of nature.
The five elements are associated with the five senses such as hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell. The basest element, earth can be created using all the other elements and can be perceived by all five senses. The next higher element, water, has no odour but can be heard, felt, seen and tasted. Next comes fire, which can be heard, felt and seen. Air can be heard and felt. “Akasha” (ether) is beyond the senses of smell, taste, sight, and touch; it is accessible to the sense of hearing alone.
The universe is made of five elements and each of the five fingers represents one of these elements.
Thumb represents fire (agni) and as well as universal consciousness
Index finger represents air (vayu) and individual consciousness
Middle finger represents ether or space (akash)
Ring finger represents earth (prithvi)
Little finger represents water (varun)
When these five elements are not in balance we experience disease (dis-ease) in the body. Mudras are one way of creating balance of all of these elements within us.
There are more than 100 known mudras that have developed through the centuries, here are six most commonly used hand mudras with their health benefits.
1. Jnana mudra
Elements: space and air
Method: Touch your index fingertip to the tip of your thumb while holding three fingers straight. It symbolizes the unity of fire and air as well as the unity of individual and universal consciousness.
This is probably the most familiar mudra in yoga practice and is also known as chin mudra. The intention of jnana mudra is to improve your concentration and sharpen your memory. We use this mudra while meditating for insight into a specific issue.
2. Chin mudra
It is also called consciousness seal. This mudra connects us to our higher Self, helps lift dull energy, creates a more receptive state, calms the mind, and brightens the overall mood. It is often used in meditation, pranayama, and asana.
Method: Rest your hands on top of your thighs with your palms open. Relax the back of the hands on top of the thighs, with the palms facing upward.
Visualization: Visualize colour white and then visualize a white wall and let yourself surprised by the forms and colours that descend upon you. There may be hidden messages in them.
Affirmation: Divine knowledge makes my life richer and easier.
What is the difference between jana and chin mudras? When your fingers point up to Heaven, it is called the Jnana Mudra. when your fingers point down to Earth, it is called the Chin Mudra.
These are the two best known positions in hatha yoga, these gestures symbolize the connected nature of human consciousness (thumbs), the three extended fingers symbolize the three gunas (tamas-lethargy, rajas-activity, sattwa-balance and harmony).
The closed circle of the index finger and thumb depict the actual goal of yoga- the unification of the Atman, the individual soul with Brahman, the world soul.
3. Buddhi Mudra
Elements: space and earth
Method: this mudra is performed by touching your thumb to your little finger, while holding your other three fingers straight
With this mudra we enhance intuitive communication and strengthen our intuitive knowledge. It is also called fluid mudra. More than half of our body weight consists of fluids, this mudra helps to restore or maintain the equilibrium in the fluid balance. It can be used against dry mouth, dry eyes or disorders in the kidney and bladder area.
Visualization: Imagine a clear mountain stream cheerfully splashing as it flows. Draw the water in the hollow of your hand and drink it. Let the cool liquid refresh you.
Affirmation: The great spirit that lives in the water purifies, refreshes and strengthens my body and soul.
4. Shoonya mudra
Elements: space and fire
Method: this mudra is performed by touching the tip of the middle finger to the thumb tip, while keeping the other three fingers straight and relaxed.
Shoonya means sky or zero and it has a healing benefit on the ear area. It can help with imbalance, dizziness, travel sickness.
It is also called heaven mudra as the middle finger is associated with the sky (ether). This is the gateway to higher dimensions.
While performing this mudra you can consciously listen to gentle, flowing, relaxing music.
Affirmation: I recognise the goodness of the universe in the heavenly sound.
5. Pran Mudra
Elements: space and water
Method: perform this mudra by touching your ring and little fingers to the tip of your thumb while keeping the other two fingers straight
activates the root chakra, this finger position stimulates the nourishing energy of the pelvic floor. Generally it increases vitality, reduces fatigue and nervousness. It can be also used against eye diseases.
Visualization: Imagine yourself as a tree, as you inhale see the energy flow into the roots and how the roots become stronger. While exhaling, let the strength flow into the trunk, from there it travels into the crown, far beyond the tree into the sky and toward the sun.
Affirmation: I have a healthy appetite for the small and large challenges of life. I digest the challenges with pleasure and joy.
6. Padma (Lotus) Mudra
Method: To practice Lotus mudra, sit comfortably either on the floor or in a chair. Bring the hands into Anjali mudra (palms together in prayer) at the centre of the chest. With the base of the palms together, touch the thumbs together and then the little fingers together.
Invite the other three fingers to open as wide as possible, like a lotus flower opening. Place the hands in front of the heart with the thumbs facing toward the chest. Start the breath practice with a floating lotus flower. Inhale and float the flower from the heart up to the forehead.
Exhale, draw the palms closed into prayer, squeezing the hands together and taking the elbows out wide to the sides. The hands can lower towards heart level or lower in order to feel a stretch into the inner wrists area. This mudra belongs to the heart chakra and the symbol for purity, it reminds you the beauty of your soul. You can do this mudra when you feel lonely or misunderstood.
Visualization: Imagine the bud of a lotus flower in your heart. Every time you inhale, the flower opens a bit more until finally it is completely open and can absorb full sunlight into itself.
Affirmation: I open myself to nature, I open myself to the divine so that I will be richly blessed.
***Mudras can be used during yoga practice and meditation or individually too. They are a great way to enhance our level of concentration, preserve our health and direct energy flow into certain areas of the body.