Mudras : Yoga of the Hands
By Mindi Epstein
What ’ s in a gesture ? More than you can imagine . According to the Acharya Keshav Dev , the Indian yoga master and author of Mudras for Healing ; Mudra Vigyan : A Way of Life , “ Your destiny lies in your hands , and this should be taken quite literally .”
Mudras are gestures and hasta mudras specifically , are those made with the hands . Hand gestures are prevalent in all cultures past and present . Sometimes the gesture is authoritative , such as the upraised palm turned outward in the universal expression of “ stop .” Similarly , the hands are understood to be de- votional when the palms are pressed together in prayer .
Mudras are correlated to palmistry , reflexology and the meridian points of Chinese medicine and acupuncture . The science of yoga assigns each of the five vital elements ( pancha mahabhuta ) to one of the fingers . Fire ( agni ) is associated with the thumb . Moving up the hand , the index finger is air ( vayu ), the middle finger is ether or space ( akash ), the ring finger is earth ( prithvi ) and the pinky is associated with the element water ( jal ). Forming the fingers and hands into shapes redirects the life force in our bodies ( prana ) to balance these five elements of nature .
Regular practice yields demonstrated effects on both the physical and subtle body . The most recognized mudra is the Gyan , or Jnana , mudra . Used for meditation , one forms the Gyan mudra by resting the hands on the knees with palms turned upward . Both hands bring the thumb to lightly touch the index finger , creating a sacred circle , while the other three fingers extend from the palm . This meditative posture of wisdom has become so commonplace that we see Rafiki , the wise baboon from The Lion King , seated cross-legged in the pose .
The Gyan mudra ’ s familiarity , however , does not belie its power . The thumb , symbolic of the Universe or Source Energy , forms a union with the forefinger , representative of the individual soul . The circle they create expresses the individual ’ s longing for union with the Divine .
By turning the hands over and sliding the index finger down the inside of the thumb to press against the first knuckle , the Gyan mudra becomes the Chin mudra , the gesture of consciousness . These simple changes redirect the pranic flow and alter the posture ’ s effect . The mudra energetically connects the
individual with the earth . This grounding effect promotes relaxation and longer periods of meditation .
There are powerful healing aspects to creating these beautiful shapes with the hands . The Gyan mudra is said to improve memory and offer relief from tension , depression and other mental disorders . Similarly , the energy flow from the Chin mudra works on mental impairments and improvements to the mind . Holistic practitioners prescribe specific mudras to relieve any number of ailments , including respiratory conditions , digestive and circulatory difficulties , emotional fluctuations and issues related to muscles and joints . The mudras ’ effects may be subtle at first , but continued practice balances the five elements and restores health .
While it is best to practice mudras when meditating , the physical , mental and spiritual benefits of practicing mudras can be accessed any where , any time . The length of time to hold a mudra and the number of practices to do a day vary depending on the reason for employing the gesture . Typically mudras are held between 3 and 15 minutes , and at times for as long as 60 minutes . Controlled deep breathing , visualization and affirmations are all ways to enhance a mudra ’ s effect .
Like any practice or ritual that spans cultures and millennia , it is difficult to find consensus on the details , such as how long to practice mudras . Even agreement on the name of a particular gesture is evasive . Depending on the source or scholar consulted , one will find the upward facing thumb-to-index finger posture defined as Gyan , Jnana , Chin and even Dhyana mudra . Nonetheless , these ancient hand gestures are undeniably graceful and elegant . They are rooted in a rich history of science , folklore and tradition , and each one holds a promise to bring us closer to achieving our purpose . ■
66 INDIANA & YOGA MAGAZINE ISSUE I