I will always remember the first time I was introduced to the science of mudra (pronounced moo-dra). I was two days into a yoga therapy teacher training in California. My teacher, Joseph LePage of Integrative Yoga Therapy, had just enthusiastically announced that our morning practice would be focused on the use of hand gestures. He assured us we would be able to sense and feel the difference between touching the tips of the index fingers to the thumbs versus the ring fingers to the thumbs. “Mudra Schmoodra”, was my mind chatter as I listened carefully to his instructions, trying to remember if pointer was the index finger or the ring finger and where in the world was the second knuckle of my thumb? By the end of the hour long session, I was completely enamored with mudras. The effect of the hand gestures on my yoga practice was noticeable and very positive. My meditation was deeper, my breathing more open, and the alignment in my yoga postures was almost effortless. Since then, I have continued to study the mudras in depth, through a variety of sources, and continue to be amazed by the results. So what exactly are mudras and how do they influence body, mind, and spirit?
The word “mudra” is derived from two Sanskrit roots: “mud” which means pleasure or delight and “dru” which means to bring forth. So the word mudra means “to bring forth pleasure or delight”. Isn’t that amazing? The mudras are all about positive energy. In this climate of fear and economic depression, it is empowering to realize that we can bring more positive energy into the world with our fingers!
Think about it. In everyday life, we often use our hands to communicate feelings, wishes, and intent. We cross our fingers for good luck. Turn the thumbs up - approval. Thumbs down – disapproval. Actually, all of these gestures are mudras that portray a strong, and wordless message to those around us and also elicit an intentional feeling within us.
The effects of mudras can be divided into five categories, based on their intention and effect: Breath, Alignment, Relaxation, Intuition and Insight, and Therapeutics.
BREATH: The position of the hands can change the speed, focus, and quality of the breath. For example, Vajrapradama mudra awakens the breath in the back of the lungs, and Kali mudra opens the upper lungs. This affect is subtle, but noticeable and can help practitioners develop deeper awareness and volume of breath. There’s even a mudra for asthma.
ALIGNMENT: Used in active physical practice, mudras redirect energy in the pose, aiding the yogi in finding correct alignment. Prana mudra (fingers forming a peace sign) balances the energy in a pose like Triangle, expanding awareness into all parts of the body, from the groundedness of the feet to the extension of the arms.
RELAXATION: Some mudras directly affect the nervous system by stimulating the para-sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that “slows things down”. Many people spend their entire day in fight or flight mode. Mudras, like Apana mudra, aid in initiating the relaxation response and can effectively lower blood pressure.
INTUITION AND INSIGHT: When used during meditation, certain mudras can deepen awareness, allowing students to drop into a meditative state more easily, encouraging a connection with each individual’s definition of spirit, God, or all that is.
THERAPEUTIC: The therapeutic use of mudras is broad and fascinating, as each mudra affects a different system of the body. For example, Masahirs mudra can effectively reduce migraines with daily practice. I have used mudras with clients suffering with cancer, colitis, depression, and eating disorders. To be effective therapeutically, a mudra must be practiced for 5 – 15 minutes daily, along with meditation and breath. The results are subtle, but noticeable with time and patience.
The Wisdom of the Chickadee by Tina Romenesko
As I wander the shores of Blackwater Pond,
contemplating Oliver’s landscape of inspiration
I find myself immersed in contemplation.
Everything here seems clearer.
Is it the untrimmable light of Cape Cod?
The sharp contrast of pine and beech and sand?
with water and lily pad and cranberry bog?
My spirit and I reunited in awareness as we walk and listen together.
A homecoming of body and spirit for which I am filled with deep gratitude.
And in the next breath remind myself to remember her -
to remember my wholeness – again and again and again.
A cacophony of jays
squawking and soaring through a corner of the pond
distract me, gratefully,
from the circle of my thoughts.
Bringing me back to this path, this pond, the dune, the light –
This loud and crazy moment. And then again, silence.
And just as suddenly, another cacophony – but much gentler
The beep and peep of a flock of hungry chickadees and nuthatches
announcing their presence.
in hopes of receiving a tasty snack.
I pull out my tiny bag of sunflower seeds – as Polly emphatically instructed –
and extend my cupped palm as a bird feeder.
She immediately perches – stuffing her beak with the prized seeds,
so light she barely tickles my palm.
Her tiny feet – like gentle tweezers made of wood.
Another tickle – a peck – and then gone to make space for one of her sisters
to explore my gentle offering.
I decide to try a photo –
Fumbling for my iPhone with one clumsy hand
Enter the passcode – choose camera – and shoot.
One photo – and another – and then it hits me –
My hand is in pushpaputa mudra – the hand gesture of an offering.
At the last moment I decide to form Jnana – the mudra of wisdom.
Thumb and index finger forming a ring.
She jumps on top of my mudra and beeps again – a wise exclamation,
in the morse code of bird language.
She seems to pose – is that a smile? And then she’s gone.
Her image embedded in my iPhone – and in my heart.
She will soon star on my website –
an inspiration to those who are willing to explore the energy
of crossing and bending fingers
inviting in tiny spirits
and listening to the moment
Perhaps feeling something more than either of us ever expected.