Tuesday, January 25, 2011


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.

applying yoga to everyday life

Take a moment to imagine how you feel in savasana at the end of a Yoga class… Personally, I feel blissful, relaxed, peaceful, non-reactive and at one with myself and the world. Now imagine 30 minutes later after you have left the class and headed off into the rest of your day. That feeling is almost completely gone, isn’t it?! If you agree that it would be nice to be able to retain the feelings and mindset found during your yoga practice then read on.

Part of the reason we feel so calm and composed throughout yoga practice is our regimen of breath control, or pranayama. If you can consciously breathe more slowly and deeply as you move through your day, especially during stressful situations, you will be able to hang on more easily to that sense of calm. If you feel yourself getting agitated, tense, or breathing shallowly in the upper chest, give yourself a moment to breathe. Step away from what you were doing, or close your eyes, and count slowly to five while you inhale, and again five counts to exhale. Try to make the intensity and length of the inhale and exhale similar without forcing air in or out. Repeat this eight to ten times and return to what you were doing. This will send a message to your nervous system that you are not in danger and your fight or flight reflexes can shut off, allowing your body and mind to be more relaxed.

Another reason we feel great at the end of a yoga class is that we are aligning our body in ways that allow energy, blood and oxygen to flow freely. As soon as you hunch forward and drop your chin to send a text message your neck and shoulders will tighten up, or if you sit in a chair for a long period of time your hip flexors will become tense putting strain on your low back. These kinds of physical discomforts will likely translate into general irritation and short temperedness. To counter this, be aware of your posture as you walk, drive, sit, text, etc. Cue yourself to pull your shoulders back and down, chin slightly in and spine tall. If you have to sit for long periods of time, give yourself breaks to walk, stretch, or get a drink of water. Keeping your body upright, properly aligned and comfortable will help you maintain a sunnier disposition throughout your day.

And then there is the issue of driving! This applies to bikers, walkers and train riders alike. How often do I get in my car after a beautiful yoga session only to get cut off by another driver, or hit every red light on my way home, and within minutes I start to feel enraged! It’s true, and it happens to all of us. To make driving a calmer ordeal, make your car a haven of peacefulness. Keep your favourite relaxing music on hand, or use your Ipod if walking or riding transit. Scents are powerful tools that send specific messages to the mind, so leave an air freshener in your car, like relaxing lavender or soothing eucalyptus. Give yourself extra time to get where you are going. Nothing is more stressful for most of us than the thought of being late. Schedule your appointments a few minutes farther apart so you’re not in a rush. If you always leave an extra few minutes then you will have no worries if traffic or other disruptions in your normal route arise.

You can also make a habit of enjoying red lights. Decide that each red light you arrive at is an opportunity to engage in deep breathing, proper posture and a chance to have a little stretch. Instead of internally cursing when you hit a red light, smile and take a mini meditation. The issue of other drivers being careless or dangerous may not be as easy to deal with. All you can do is be alert, physically reactive in the sense of being ready to get out of the way or brake if necessary, but remaining mentally and emotionally nonreactive. For instance, instead of getting angry I have started chuckling or shrugging when someone on the road does something selfish or unsafe, because there is nothing I can do to change the way they drive.

As a matter of fact, this applies to any situation in life. When you encounter a situation that threatens to rile you up you can choose not to react. Imagine yourself in yoga class, holding navasana (boat pose), shaking like a leaf, abdominals screaming for rest, but you simply stay there and breathe. This is a great lesson to take into everyday life. When you find yourself in an uncomfortable place you can similarly decide not to react and choose to just breathe. Your mind will remain calm and clear and you can select a course of action that is reasonable and you can avoid getting into conflicts or acting impulsively which often ends in feelings of regret.

Although we can’t practice yoga or meditation every second hour of the day, it is possible to sustain that yogic feeling throughout daily life. Remember to breathe, align your body properly and move around often, and try to be nonreactive in those less than ideal situations that will likely never cease to exist. Make your car or travel routine a pleasant experience and nurture your peaceful qualities so they will be more prominent. Yoga is not a practice that only exists on a two-by-six sticky mat. The practice on your mat is exactly that, just practice. Take the lessons you learn in a yoga class such as patience, humility, resolve and composure and apply them to your life. This will allow you to feel tranquil, be more receptive to others, and experience that post savasana bliss whenever you wish.