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Unlocking the Power of Mudras: A Transformative Guide to Hand and Body Posture Yoga Practices

Updated: May 22, 2023

Have you ever seen images of people meditating with their hands in intricate positions and wondered what it all meant? If so, you’re not alone. These hand gestures or specific postures are known as mudras, and they have a rich history and significance in various spiritual practices. Mudras are used to evoke a particular state of mind and have the ability to change one’s mood, attitude, or perspective.

Mudras

What is a Mudra?

In simple terms, mudras are hand gestures that enhance the flow of energy in the subtle body and enrich your yoga practice. A mudra, often referred to as an "energetic seal," locks the energy within, preventing it from dissipating. This internalization of energy enhances the connection between the mind and body, promoting focus and aiding in the healing of physical and mental ailments.


The word "mudra" originates from the Sanskrit term "Mudam anandam dadati iti mudra," which means specific actions that bring pleasure or bliss. According to the ancient tantric text "Kularnava Tantra," the term is derived from the Sanskrit words "mudam" (bliss or happiness) and "drava" (to draw forth). This suggests that mudras have the ability to awaken the hidden joy and happiness that resides within us.


When we perform a mudra, it directs the flow of Prana (life force) in a rhythmic manner. The longer we hold the mudra, the more beneficial the Prana flow becomes. Continuous and balanced Prana flow induces a shift in consciousness, cultivating a calm state of mind.


While mudras are widely used in yoga for therapeutic purposes, they also hold significance in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. In these traditions, mudras are integrated into classical rituals, folk dances, and mantra chanting. This demonstrates that mudras encompass various artistic aspects and carry profound meanings.


A Brief History of Mudras

Mudras date back thousands of years in Eastern traditions. They were first mentioned in ancient Indian texts known as the Vedas around 1500 BCE.

In these texts, mudras were used during religious rituals to communicate with divine beings. Mudras continued to evolve into different forms such as dance forms or martial arts styles like Kung Fu.

In Buddhism and Hinduism, mudras were used by holy men and women as a way to intensify their meditation practice and connect with higher states of consciousness. Today, they continue to be an essential part of many spiritual practices across the world for their powerful ability to tap into our inner energies for physical and mental benefits.


Types of Mudras

There are five types of mudras we practice in yoga. They are categorized based on the body parts involved to make the gesture. Most commonly we use hand mudras (or hasta mudra) in yoga.

  1. Hasta Mudra (hand gestures) – Performed using hands and fingers

  2. Kaya Mudra (postural gestures) – Involved the whole body.

  3. Mana Mudra (head gestures) – involved sense organs (eyes, nose, tongue, lips & ears).

  4. Bandha Mudra (lock gestures) – Performed using 3 bandhas or more precisely subtle skeletal muscles (vocal, respiratory and pelvis).

  5. Adhara Mudra (perineal gestures) – Involves pelvis muscles


Hasta Mudra (hand gestures) – Performed using hands and fingers

Diseases occur due to an imbalance in the body, which arises from an inadequate or excessive presence of the five elements: air, water, fire, earth, and space.


Each of these elements plays a distinct and vital role within the body, and our fingers possess the qualities associated with each element. When a finger representing a particular element touches the thumb, it restores balance to that element. Consequently, the illness caused by the imbalance is treated. Mudras, through the alteration of energy flow, adjust the equilibrium of air, fire, water, earth, and ether, thereby facilitating the process of healing and restoring overall health.

  • Index Finger - Represents Air (Vayu)

  • Thumb Finger - Represents Fire (Agni)

  • Little Finger - Represents Water (Jal)

  • Ring Finger - Represents Earth (Prithvi)

  • Middle Finger - Represents Space (Akash)


Kaya Mudras (Body Posture Mudras)

Kaya Mudra (postural gestures) – Involved the whole body.

Kaya mudras are gestures that incorporate the entire body posture to create a specific gesture. They are also known as postural gestures. These mudras share similarities with various yoga asanas, as they involve the active engagement of the entire body. Holding a specific gesture in kaya mudras demands focused concentration.


Mana Mudras (Head Mudras)

Mana Mudra (head gestures) – involved sense organs (eyes, nose, tongue, lips & ears).

The term "Mana" refers to the head. Mana mudras are gestures that involve the participation of the sense organs, such as the eyes, nose, tongue, lips, and ears, to form the gesture. These mudras are commonly utilized to concentrate the mind during meditation, particularly in Kundalini meditation, which is why they are referred to as head mudras.

Head mudras possess significant power and have the ability to swiftly break free from instinctive habits that may hinder meditation, even within a short span of time.


Bandha Mudras (Locks)

Bandha Mudra (lock gestures) – Performed using 3 bandhas or more precisely subtle skeletal muscles (vocal, respiratory and pelvis).

Bandha mudras are mudras that involve the activation of the bandhas. When combined with mudras, bandhas utilize the contraction of specific skeletal muscles, including those in the throat, chest, and pelvic area, to hold and control the flow of Prana (life force energy). This intentional containment of Prana through bandha mudras serves to awaken the dormant kundalini energy within the body.


Adhara Mudra (Perineal Mudra)

Adhara Mudra (perineal gestures) – Involves pelvis muscles

Adhara mudras are mudras that incorporate the involvement of the pelvic floor organs. The term "Adhara" refers to the perineal area, which is why these mudras are also known as Perineal mudras.

By practising Adhara mudras, the sacral chakra is stimulated, enabling the harnessing of sexual energy within the body. This energy redirection occurs through the activation of the solar channel, known as the Pingala Nadi.


Benefits of Practicing Mudras

According to Ayurveda, when there is an imbalance in any of the five elements, it disrupts the harmony of the mind and body, negatively impacting one's health. Various mudras practised in yoga have the ability to regulate and manipulate energy in specific parts of the body. By utilizing mudras, we can maintain overall health and well-being by effectively modulating the energy within our bodies.


A Simple Analogy

We can understand the functioning of mudras by comparing them to an electric circuit within the human body. In this analogy, the flow of energy or current is represented by the nadis or energy channels, similar to the wires in an electric circuit. Just as an electric circuit has five terminals, the human body has five fingers, each connected to specific parts of the body and mind.

When we hold or apply pressure to a finger in a mudra, it completes the circuit. This completion of the circuit signals the brain, which acts as the power supplier of the circuit. As a result, the corresponding body part or gland associated with that finger gets stimulated in the brain. Once the brain receives this signal to modify the energy pattern within the body, it directs and channels the energy to the corresponding part accordingly.

By envisioning the human body as an electrical circuit and understanding the completion of the circuit through mudras, we can grasp how the stimulation of specific fingers affects the flow of energy and influences corresponding areas of the body.


The arrangement of fingers in a mudra determines whether it will increase, decrease, or balance a particular element:

  • Mudra for balancing the effect of an element: The corresponding fingertip is connected to the tip of the thumb. For instance, the gyan mudra balances the air element (associated with the index finger).

  • Mudra for increasing the effect of an element: The thumb is pressed against the base of the corresponding finger. For example, the Aditi mudra enhances the earth element (associated with the ring finger).

  • Mudra for decreasing the effect of an element: The corresponding finger is bent down towards the base of the thumb. For instance, the Vyana mudra decreases the air and ether elements (associated with the index and middle fingers).

These mudras provide us with a practical means of harmonizing the elemental energies within our bodies, promoting balance and overall well-being.


How to Practice Yoga Mudras

In the practice of yoga, mudras are often performed in conjunction with meditation, pranayamas (breathing exercises), or specific asanas (yoga postures). The primary purpose of incorporating mudras is to enhance the yoga practice and enable the body and mind to sustain a pose for an extended duration. There is a spiritual aspect to practising mudras, contributing to their significance.


To commence your mudra practice, find a comfortable sitting position. You may choose to sit in sukhasana (easy pose), padmasana (lotus pose), vajrasana (thunderbolt pose), or any other pose of your preference that allows for an upright posture and a straight spine. If sitting in a yoga pose is uncomfortable, sitting on a chair is also acceptable.


Once you have settled into your chosen sitting position, it is beneficial to prepare your hands for better receptivity before engaging in any hand mudras.


Begin by rubbing your hands together vigorously, focusing your awareness on your fingertips until a gentle warmth is felt. This activates the nerve endings in the hands and enhances the effectiveness of the mudra.


After rubbing your hands, gently place them on the ground, allowing them to connect with the earth. Take a moment to feel the grounding touch of the earth, which helps release accumulated tension and opens up the energy channels in the palms.


Now, bring your hands into the mudra of your choice.


Before assuming the specific hand position of the mudra, start with your palms facing upward, resting on your thighs or kneecaps (whichever feels comfortable for you). Then, arrange your fingers in the prescribed pattern to form the desired mudra. If needed, you can adjust your fingers after assuming the hand gesture and place your hands with the mudra on your thighs.


It is acceptable if the free fingers in the mudra are not completely stretched or straight. During deep meditation, it is common for the free fingers to naturally curl up over time.

Ensure that there is enough pressure between the fingers so that you can feel a gentle touch between them. However, be mindful not to apply excessive pressure, as it may cause distraction and hinder the therapeutic benefits of the mudra.


It takes time to experience the impact of hand mudras. If you are new to mudra practice, aim to hold a mudra for at least 5 minutes in one uninterrupted stretch. Once you become comfortable with maintaining the mudra for this duration, gradually increase the time to 15-20 minutes. The effectiveness of any mudra intensifies the longer you hold it.


Are Yoga Mudras scientifically proven?

Indeed, the efficacy of mudras has been substantiated through scientific research. Numerous studies conducted to date have demonstrated the therapeutic benefits of mudras.


A noteworthy study carried out by S-VYASA University in India investigated the effects of yoga mudras. The study aimed to assess the impact of holding a hand mudra for a duration of 20 minutes or more on the surge of energy at the fingertips. This effect was measured using the Electrophotonic Imaging (EPI) technique.


The study involved 61 volunteers who were divided into two groups: the "control" group and the "mudra" group. In the mudra group, the volunteers were instructed to sit quietly with their eyes closed, practising the Prana Mudra for a continuous period of 20 minutes. The control group followed the same procedure, except they did not engage in the practice of the Prana Mudra.


The findings of the study revealed significant changes in the EPI parameters for the participants in the yoga mudra group compared to the control group. The EPI variable known as "intensity" was utilized, which measures the quantum activity of an individual by sequentially placing all ten fingers on the glass surface of the EPI equipment. This intensity value is represented in computer unit pixels and serves as an indicator of metabolic rate.

Through such scientific studies, the therapeutic effects of mudras have been empirically demonstrated, providing evidence for their efficacy in modulating energy and influencing physiological parameters.


Conclusion

Practising mudras during yoga or meditation practices is an excellent way to enhance both physical as well as mental well-being. The different types of mudras offer benefits such as stress relief, increased focus, and improved digestion and circulation among others.

Incorporating them into your daily practice does not require any special equipment or skill sets; they are simple gestures that anyone can practice anywhere at any time. Start by identifying your intention then choose an appropriate mudra that aligns with it.

Take a few moments each day to sit quietly while holding your chosen mudra, breathe deeply and feel the energy flow through your body. With regular practice, you'll begin to experience deeper benefits from incorporating these ancient hand gestures into your life - so give it a try today!


FAQs

How many mudras are there in yoga?

Yoga encompasses a wide array of mudras, with over 399 mentioned in various texts and by different yogis. Nevertheless, tantric rituals predominantly rely on 108 mudras. Specifically, referring to yogic texts, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes 10 mudras, while the Gheranda Samhita describes 25 mudras.


Can mudras be done during menstruation?

Engaging in mudras during menstruation poses no harm. On the contrary, certain mudras, such as the Apana mudra, aid in regulating the menstrual cycle. By practicing mudras, the discomfort experienced during periods can be alleviated by promoting a balanced Apana flow.


How many mudras per day?

To promote overall well-being, it is recommended to practice six mudras daily, dedicating ten minutes to each. These mudras include Jnana, Prithvi, Apana, Prana, ShoonyaVayu, and Dhyana. During therapy, it is advised to focus on a specific mudra for 50 minutes, followed by the Prana mudra.


How many days do mudras take to work?

While certain yoga mudras can harmonize the body's elements in 45 minutes or less, it's important to note that the full impact of certain mudras may require more time to manifest fully.


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About the Author

Namaste! I'm Pooja Chauhan

RYT 200Hrs | Meditation Coach 

Diving deep into the realm of yoga to revive its original teachings to create a significant impact in preserving and sharing them with the world.

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