Mudra (मुद्रा) is a Sanskrit word meaning “seal”, “gesture”. In the yoga practice it indicates symbolic gestures, usually hand and finger gestures, used to stimulate the energy flow throughout the body in combination with meditation.
The correct position of the hands has a strategic importance when meditating. This aspect gets often underestimated, and hands are positioned in a random way.
Every mudras engage different zones of our brain, and help us channel the energy into specific areas of our body.
The practice of the mudras started in India more than 5000 years ago. They could be found in the ancient Shamanism and in the Vedic culture during holy rituals. They consisted in hand gestures associated with mantras which had the aim to channel the energy from the Earth and the Sky invoked by the Brahmins. This practice had the purpose of obtaining both material and spiritual benefits.
Mudras are still used also as artistic expressions during Indian dances, where they are performed to harmonize body movements.
The mudras are strictly related to the energy of the universe and their aim is to funnel it into our body in order to obtain given benefits.
Almost each mudra is connected to a god of the Vedic tradition, who represents an aspect of the energy related to a quality that we want to awaken in us.
The mudras and their gods are related to the five natural elements our world is made of, the Pancha Mahabhuta. They correspond to Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Space/Vacuum.
These five elements constitute the human body too. The nutrients from the soil (Earth) are absorbed by the plants which we consume – therefore, the Earth element is offering us nourishment. The blood flowing through our veins stands for the water element, while the body heat represents fire, the oxygen we inhale and the carbon dioxide we exhale the wind element, and finally the sinuses in our nose and skull are the space element.
As long as these five elements are balanced in our body, we are healthy. An imbalance or inappropriate level of any of them can cause diseases. The command of control of these elements is in our fingers.
The mudras are really a healing method bringing health at our fingertips!
A finger-element relationship exists:
Thumb – Fire
Index – Wind
Middle finger – Space/Vacuum
Ring finger – Earth
Small finger – Water
We recreate a mudra when the fingers are brought together in a given pattern and touch, or slightly press against each other.
When the five fingers are touched and pressed in a specific way to form a mudra, this action affects the system of the five elements in our body, with the effect of balancing those elements and inducing health.
Following I listed some among the most common mudras, together with their benefits and the guidelines to correctly perform them.
Shunya means “openness”, “emptiness”, but also “heaven”. When interpreted as the heaven mudra, it can open the access to heaven, by channelling the energy from the Fire (thumb) and the Space (middle finger).
The practice of Shunya mudra is useful to decrease space element in the body, and it is therefore recommended in ayurvedic therapy to treat disorders caused by an abnormal increase of space within the body. The element space is associated with ears, and this mudra in fact helps as a remedy for ear pain.
It can be practised when seated, prone, standing, and even walking, at its best during meditation. Good results are obtained when you perform this mudra up to three times a day for five to 15 minutes.
In this mudra we bring the fire element and the space element together. By increasing the element of space the practitioner unites with a specific deity or a broader cosmic power.
Also, it enhances spiritual enlightment and makes an individual’s thoughts nobler. Negative emotions such as anger, sorrow, and fear are removed and substituted with positive feelings and thoughts.
Aakash mudra activates the visuddha (throat) chakra, which governs communication, self-expression, truth and purification.
Daily practice of 30-45 minutes is required to get good results. You can perform it at any time or any posture, but early hours of the morning (2 to 6 a.m.) and the afternoon (2 p.m. to 6 p.m.) are the moments to prefer.
Surya means “sun” and it is referred to the sun god. Also, ravi is the name of one of the adityas, the 12 sun gods, each of which shines over a different month of the year.
With Surya Ravi mudra the Fire element and the Earth element are brought together. It represents vitality, sexuality, balance. It can also indicate that we are burning all the contamination induced by the Earth element.
For best results practise 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening daily.
When performing this mudra the fire and earth elements are brought together, increasing the earth element and decreasing the fire element within the body.
The Prithvi (Earth) element is an integral part of body tissues such as bones, cartilage, skin, hair, nails, flesh, muscles, tendons and internal organs. This mudra can increase and tone them, therefore enhancing vitality, strength, and endurance.
When part of a spiritual practice, the prithvi mudra is thought to influence the muladhara (root) chakra, which regulates the individual’s sense of stability and rootedness.
To be practised regularly, 30 to 45 minutes per day, at its best in the morning hours or during meditation.
Also referred to as chin mudra (from chin, “consciousness”), this is indeed the gesture of consciousness.
Here the thumb is symbolic of the divine force and the index represents human consciousness. When practising this mudra, you demonstrate your intent to unite your individuality with the cosmic consciousness.
It is widely used in association with meditation (e.g. padmasana) and with certain breathing techniques.
Also known as Varun mudra, the Hindu god of water (represented by the little finger). The little finger also represents communication. Therefore, when placed in touch with the thumb (divine nature and fire), it stimulates fluid communication.
The practice of Buddhi mudra improves feeling and intuition, as it is indeed considered as the mudra of psychic development and intuitive energy. Moreover, it provides relief from certain diseases caused by a lack of water in the body.
To be performed only when you suffer from the diseases this gesture cures, for about 15-20 minutes.
It is used to channel energy by stimulating the first chakra (muladhara chakra). It is considered as the seal of life (from prana: life force), as it can funnel vital energy throughout the whole body. In fact, the vibration coming from the root chakra activates and energizes all the organs. For this reason, it is also sometimes referred to as the healing mudra, as it offers numerous health benefits.
No specific time limit is set for this mudra, but it is helpful in particular when performed for 10 minutes after the meals.
In this mudra the fire element presses on the wind element. It is believed to help reduce the air element within the body of the practitioner.
What does this mean? By controlling and regulating the movement of air inside the body, vayu mudra will take care of the diseases and irregularities that can occur due to the air imbalance (see below). In this way body health is improved in the long run.
For best results it is recommended to practise this mudra regularly for 15-30 minutes for a period of around two months.
Apana mudra is a gesture representing purification, both physical and spiritual. In Ayurveda the thumb stands for the fire element, the middle finger the space element and the ring finger the earth element. Apana mudra brings together these three elements, which is said to give therapeutic benefits.
This gesture detoxifies the body and balances the elements of space and earth within it. It eliminates waste, toxins and chemicals in the body and prevents illnesses.
There is not a specific time or restrictions to perform this mudra. For best results, try to perform it for 45 minutes in morning hours.
Anjali is the Sanskrit word for “salutation”, and therefore, anjali mudra translates as “salutation seal” in English. No surprise this gesture is a common way of greeting in many countries. Anjali mudra is used as a posture of composure, of returning to one’s heart.
In yoga it is used in sun salutation, but also during meditation, and while holding poses such as sukhasana, tadasana and vrksasana.
Dhyana mudr represents total balance. While the right hand is a symbol of wisdom and awareness, the left one symbolizes the illusion of existence.
Dhyana mudra helps its practitioner to the inner self. While performing this mudra, stress and mental pressure are reduced to give space to happiness. The individual is immersed in an infinite space, without being concerned of the outside world. This is a mudra that is widely adopted for meditation and contemplation.
The word yoni means “womb”. In this context it is referred to as the isolation from the world, similar to the condition we experience in the mother’s uterus before birth. Therefore the yoni mudra helps achieve isolation and detachment from the mundane world. Like a fetus in the womb, the practitioner is kept out of contact with the outer world and experiences a state of bliss.
Yoni mudra is an excellent practice to be combined with meditation as it blocks distractions of all sorts.