Most of us would agree that it is easy to focus on the position of our limbs when in a yoga pose. Being aware of the posture of the mind and more subtle Pranic energies during your yoga practice however, is not quite as simple. One way of becoming more involved in these other aspects during your practice is to include the use of Mudras.
Mudra is a Sanskrit word that means seal. It refers to a physical gesture, performed with the hands, fingers or the entire body. Some mudras are practiced in a dynamic manner although most are done in a static state. Mudras can enhance your asana practice by focusing your mind and thoughts into a state of Dharana (concentration) and helping you carry forward a specific idea or intention into each pose.
It is also possible for mudras to guide your Prana, or life force energy, to flow through your body and mind in a controlled manner. The multitude of nerve endings in the fingertips are believed to be the pathways for channeling that energy to specific organs and glands in a way that is able to affect bodily functions. Mudras have even been shown to stimulate the same parts of the brain as language.
Elaborate systems of hand symbols existed long before verbal language was created and there are hundreds of them stemming from the Buddhist and Hindu traditions.
You can choose from the following most common mudras to add focus, meaning and inspiration to your yoga practice. While some types of yoga use Mudras more than others, Kundalini Yoga for example, you will likely recognize some of them from your own yoga practice, whatever the style. Once you understand the significance of each Mudra, pick one that matches your intention or augments the purpose of the pose that you are performing and then consciously cultivate that quality in yourself.
Anjali Mudra is sometimes called Namaste. Pressing the hands together is symbolic of the union being sought through yoga practice, the connection between body, mind, heart and soul, and also the union between the self and the universe. It is also a reminder that yoga is a physical form of prayer, an offering from yourself to yourself and to all that you believe in.
-Palms pressed together with flat hands and fingers pointing up, held at heart center.
Abhaya Mudra is a gesture of friendliness, welcome and peace, showing fearlessness to those approaching.
-Right hand held flat and open, palm facing outwards held up at shoulder height. Left arm usually relaxed by side.
Karana Mudra removes obstacles and negative thought patterns.
-Index and Pinky fingers held straight up while thumb meets middle and ring fingers.
Darmachakra Mudra is the Mudra of teachers and leaders, representative of offering truth and selflessly serving others.
-Thumb meets index finger while last three fingers spread out straight. Do this with both hands, touch together intersection of both thumbs and index fingers, left palm faces up and right palm faces down.
Dhyana Mudra is the meditation Mudra. It enhances inner and outer balance and concentration.
-Hands resting on lap, open palms, right resting on left, tips of thumbs touch.
Ganesha Mudra refers to Ganesha, the Elephant deity who is able to overcome all obstacles. This Mudra generates courage, relieves tension and strengthens the heart.
-Right palm facing towards body, left palm facing out, curl all fingers and hook together like a letter “S”, lock and tug.
Chin Mudra invokes and attitude of clear consciousness, calmness and allows for a free flow of energy through the body. It is used often for meditation, while sitting in padmasana (lotus posture).
-Palms facing up while tip of thumb meets tip of index finger. Other fingers straight and together.
Lotus Mudra is a symbol of loving kindness, purity and openness of the heart. It also reminds us that from the darkness can emerge brilliance, as the beautiful lotus flower grows up out of the swamp.
-Press heels of hands together while thumbs touch and pinkies touch. Open all outstretched fingers.
Shuni Mudra helps the practitioner settle into the present moment and acquire patience. Alleviates problems relating to the ears.
-Tip of thumb touches tip of middle finger.
Prana Mudra draws energy and life force into the body and promotes inner strength. The nervous system is refreshed and fatigue is eliminated.
-Palm faces up while thumb meets ring & pinkie finger, index and middle fingers outstretched.
Uttarabodhi Mudra represents the supreme wisdom that all is one and nothing is separate. Fingers interlock to show that strength arises out of unity.
-Interlock last three fingers while index fingers press together and thumbs cross. Usually pointing up above head, sometimes in front of heart.
Yoga Mudra is performed with the entire body. All loose ends are joined together so energy can continually circulate through the body. Prana is recycled in this circuit and is not transferred out to the earth. Used in the finishing sequence of Ashtanga Yoga.
-Sitting in lotus position with legs and feet, cross left arm behind back and hook left big toe with first two fingers then cross right arm behind back and hook right big toe with index and middle fingers. Lean forward with chin or forehead to ground.