Hand mudras are nothing new in the yoga world because they’ve been around for thousands of years. They were first seen in religions like Buddhism and Hinduism and were used in rituals as a part of these religions. The definition of the Sanskrit word mudra is that it’s a symbolic hand gesture, but there are also mudras of the body.
The mudras are mostly used with the hands though, and not the body. It makes sense that hand mudras were incorporated into the yoga practice because of how often we use our hands, and how extremely sensitive they are to sensations. But what is the true reason they were integrated into yoga and meditation?
The Purpose of Mudras
It’s been said that these hand gestures came about in order to deepen the practice of yoga and meditation. In Ayurveda, a holistic medicine system that has influenced parts of the yoga practice, the hands are linked to the different organs within the body. Therefore, the belief is that using these hand gestures will heal different areas of the body.
Another reason why mudras came into yoga is due to the belief that the way a body is held affects how the mind is held. This is why yoga asanas(poses) are used to create stillness in the mind. In the case of hands, because they are a lot more sensitive, the gestures have a greater effect on the mind. Thus, mudras were created to find shapes of stillness that the mind can copy.
When Mudras are Used
Mudras are used during the practice of meditation and yoga. A common meditation image is of the Gyan mudra, where the index finger and thumb touch whilst other fingers remain straight, are placed on someone’s knees whilst they meditate. This is the most popular mudra used and one that most can recognize. It’s a perfect example of creating gestures to encourage going inward. Meditation is when the most mudras are used but how do you know which to use and why some are used in certain yoga poses?
How Mudras are Used
Another theory about the hand gestures is how they connect to the five elements. Each finger is supposedly connected to an element and by connecting the fingers in certain ways the different elements can be influenced. The thumb is connected to space, the index finger is connected to air, the middle to fire, the ring to water, and the pinky finger is connected to the earth element.
When the fingers come into various mudras it allows the body’s energy flow to be recharged and focused because of the control that the fingers have over the elements. This is the exact kind of energy that people need to attain during meditation and why the mudras are so significant in a meditation practice. They help people to achieve that place of stillness, which is also important for a yoga sequence. They’re used in a way to ensure different energy areas are unlocked as they are needed.
The Different Mudras
There is a large number of mudras that have been seen, it’s been calculated that there are over 100 kinds. These are five of the most common you may see and why to use these specific ones:
This mudra is being mentioned again because of how powerful and popular it is. It’s commonly used to increase someone’s concentration and helps to release any kind of stress or anxiety. To get into this mudra, place the index finger and thumb together whilst allowing the other three fingers to remain straight.
Prana means life force and this mudra is used to activate that energy within the body. It’s commonly used during the pranayama (breathwork) practice Nadi shodhana. To get into this mudra, touch your ring finger, pinky finger, and thumb together whilst the other two fingers remain straight.
This mudra is about bringing on sensations of tranquility and peacefulness. It allows a person to enter into a deeper state of concentration. To get into this mudra, place the right hand on top of the left with palms facing upward and then connect the two thumbs in the centre.
This mudra is very commonly used at the end of a yoga class when namaste is said. It’s commonly used to say thank you and to return to one’s heart space. This is why when getting into the hands are above the heart centre. For the full mudra, the hands come into prayer position, facing each other, and they’re then placed over the area of the heart.
This mudra is associated with the elements of space and earth. It’s used to gain mental clarity and some use it to increase their own intuition. It’s said that this mudra brings about intuitive energy. To get into this mudra, bring the pinky finger and thumb together to touch and allow the other three fingers to remain straight.
Why the Mudras are Significant
The significance of these mudras is usually only taught at some meditation retreats or at a hatha yoga teacher training. It’s taught that not only are the mudras deeply embedded in specific religions, but they also have an incredible backstory. There are various stories about the mudras but the main reason they hold significance in meditation and yoga practices is because of their ability to draw a person into mindfulness. That is the ultimate goal of the mudras- to ground and focus you so that you can go further inward and heal.
Kapanen, K. (2015, May 21). 7 common yoga mudras explained. DoYou. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://www.doyou.com/7-common-yoga-mudras-explained-23667/.
Tomlinson, K. (2020, August 26). An introduction to mudras. Ekhart Yoga. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/an-introduction-to-mudras.
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mudras.jpg