Creating inner peace through the use of mudras
Article by The Inner Peace Conference, 24 August 2016
Creating inner peace through the use of mudras
These beautiful images of hand gestures we use.. what are they?
You may have heard of the word mudra if you practice yoga, Pranayama or meditation. You may have practiced mudras without realizing you did, or even knowing what they mean. In this blog we’ll share the meaning and benefits of working with mudras and invite you to practice with them as a way to find inner peace.
The Sanskrit word mudra literally means “gesture”. It is a physical, mental and psychic attitude which expresses and channels cosmic energy within the mind and body, according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika¹. Mudra is often translated as “seal” or “lock”. In the case of Udiyana Bandha Mudra (an advanced practice that involves an internal energetic lock while holding out the breath), the word is even referred to as “hidden” or “secret”. Within the scope of this blog we look at mudras as a specific way to hold the hands and/or fingers to enhance your ability to draw your senses inward (the practice of Pratyahara), to find balance and experience oneness.
In the Indian yoga tradition, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and Tibetan practices, amongst others, the fingers are considered to be related to different elements, physical organs and/or body parts. By gently pressing on the fingertips, or placing the hands together, we can stimulate the flow of energy connected to these elements, organs or body parts and so accommodating healing. For example: in Ayurveda and the Tibetan tradition the thumb is connected to the element Ether, the index finger to Air (think of moving air as you point in a certain direction), the middle finger to Fire (we can all think of a Western gesture using that finger!), the ring finger to Water, and the little finger to the Earth element. In this respect, Jnana Mudra (placing the tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger while keeping the other fingers straight) is a way to close the circuit of Ether and Air, which supports and enhances the practice of Pranayama (yogic breathing).
A mudra that many people are familiar with is Anjali mudra; placing the hands together in front of the sternum (which in yoga is called the “heart center”) with fingers pointing upwards. It is a gesture of greeting and reverence. We can use this mudra to simply say “namaste” to another person - which, in India, is the equivalent of saying “hello” -, or at the beginning of a yoga class. Yet, you may have experienced (especially if you have traveled in Asia) that greeting someone with your hands placed together feels very differently from a mere wave of your hand. It adds a sense of respect, and acknowledges and honors the divinity in the other person. Not surprisingly, the Sanskrit word anjali means “divine offering”.
Moreover, the practice of Anjali Mudra – which is sometimes also referred to as Namaste Mudra – helps us in our efforts to find and create balance. Ultimately, we practice yoga and meditation because we are seeking to join all opposites and to dissolve any illusion of separateness. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika introduces the concept of duality as a sun and moon in the body, with the sun representing the right (masculine) side of the body, and the moon the left (feminine) side. The aim of our practice is to unify our sun and our moon energy, creating a true balance within the body and mind – “a constant flow of energy, thought and behavior that favors neither light nor dark, good nor bad, up nor down, lazy nor energetic.'' ² It is only from experiencing those opposites that we can find balance. We keep moving from one side to the other – experiencing the many different facets of our lives -, until we come to rest in the center. And for a yogi, the center is the heart. So as we bring our hands together in Anjali Mudra in front of the heart, we remind ourselves of this search for balance. It is the ultimate gesture representing union, allowing us to reconnect with our innate knowingness what we are all one.
Mudras are sometimes used while practicing yoga poses, but most often they are practiced in conjunction with Pranayama and meditation. To list them all would go outside the scope of this blog, but we love how B.K.S Iyengar describes Sanmukhi Mudra (also known as Sambhavi Mudra or Yoni Mudra): “This brings a feeling of inner peace and one hears the divine voice of his self within, ‘Look here! Look within! not outside’, for the source of all peace is within yourself.'' ³ Consciously placing our hands in a certain position enhances our concentration and awareness, allowing us to go deeper inside. Mudras used in combination with Pranayama enliven the flow of prana (life force) in the body by stimulating the different parts of the body involved with breathing. Relating directly to the nerves, mudras create a subtle connection with the instinctual patterns in the brain influencing the unconscious reflexes in these areas. Therefore, by practicing mudras we can effectively influence the way our mind and body function and connect, so that we become less reactive and more pro-active. This allows us to cultivate the ability to make conscious choices in our lives, rather than feeling we are the victims of our circumstances. With the practice of mudras we take life into our own hands (pun intended!).
We certainly don’t suggest you should predicate the practice of mudras simply based on what you are reading. On the contrary, try it for yourself to experience what the mudras do for you. Here are some suggestions for practice (we recommend reading the full instructions before you start):
Give it a try
Find a comfortable seat, either on the floor or in a chair, in which you can sit effortlessly with an erect spine. You may have to sit on a cushion or yoga block if you are on the floor, or sit at the edge of the chair. Gently close your eyes. Take a moment to notice how you feel.
Breathe in deeply, and exhale with a soft sigh.
Now bring your hands in Anjali Mudra (hands together in front of your heart, fingers pointing upwards). Let this be a gesture of reverence and gratitude towards yourself. Notice how that feels. Can you feel the sensations in your hands? Can you feel the actual contact of the palms of your hands touching? Sit and breathe deeply for several minutes to center and relax. Then consciously being to breath into you heart center. You may imagine how the right and left sides of your body are slowly melting together as one in your heart.
When you feel ready, raise your hands to your face in Yoni Mudra* : your thumbs close your ears by gently pressing the tragus (the little flap at the entrance of your external ear) over the earholes; your index and middle fingers lightly rest on your closed eyelids; and bring the other fingers on the lips, one above, the other below.
Sit for a moment to notice the effect of this mudra. Generally, this mudra calms the mind and helps to increase Pratyahara, yet we suggest you experience for yourself what it does for you, without looking for a specific result.
As you keep your hands in Yoni Mudra begin Bhramari Pranayama (Bumble Bee Breath):
- inhale deeply;
- then press the top of the tongue against the roof of the mouth.
- Exhale strongly yet slowly through your nose, as you make the sound of a bumblebee in the nasal cavity. Your exhale will likely take much longer than usual;
- at the end of your exhale hold your breath out for a brief moment. Do not strain;
- inhale slowly and exhale normally.
Repeat 3 – 7 times.
Return to your natural breath and notice the effects of practicing this mudra and pranayama. Sit in meditation for as long as you like.
Did you experience inner peace after this practice? Did you feel more connected to yourself and everyone else? Please let us know! If you have any other questions or other comments; we’d love to hear from you.
Yours in peace,
The Inner Peace Conference team
¹ Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Light on Yoga by Swami Muktibodhananda, Yoga Publications Trust, Bihar, India
² From: Myths of the Asanas, the stories at the heart of the yoga tradition, Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij
³ From: Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar
* Contraindications for practicing this mudra are: neck and shoulder injuries, claustrophobia, intense grief, fear or recent trauma. If you are working with any of these contraindications, please use Jnana Mudra instead (tip of thumb touches tip of index finger, hands resting on your knees).