Feeling distressed and overwhelmed? Lacking energy, losing sleep, unable to focus clearly? Some might say that you need more rest, need to exercise, improve your nutrition, or take a "chill-pill." In other circles, people would say that your energy flow has been blocked or stagnant and these centers need to be cleared. Which reason is true when it comes to the stress you've been feeling lately? Well, both might be valid, but doesn't that last interpretation sound intriguing? What does it mean to have your energy centers blocked and how can you clear them?
In the yoga and meditation world, the answer night be right at your fingertips....literally. While practicing yoga, but more profoundly in some meditative sessions, you will practice what is known as mudras. Simply said, these are hand gestures that guide the energy flow and helps one to focus in a meditative state. These gestures or hand-postures are done in conjunction with breathing exercises to increase the flow of Prana in the body for specific results. This may all sound pretty ethereal, so let's break it down so it all makes more sense.
So....what's a Mudra again?
Specifically, a Mudra is taking your hands and creating specific hand gestures. (Be careful not to flash inappropriate hand signs to your neighbor, though.) An example might be pressing the tips of your thumb and index fingers together to spark a particular energetic charge in the body. (This happens to be a very popular Mudra which will be described later.) That charge can influence the patterns in the brain and the rest of the body when mudras are practiced along with breathing exercises in meditation. Have you heard of reflexology? It's a little like that.
Ok. So, what is reflexology?
Reflexology is an alternative medicine practice that often involves the head, feet, and hands. When pressure is applied to these areas, certain physical changes can happen in the body. The system claims that there is a series of zones and reflex areas, specifically in the head, feet, and hands, that reflect an image of the entire body. Applying pressure to trigger points in the hand, for example, can stimulate a response in another part of the body, like the liver or kidneys. The result may be an enhancement in detoxification if the liver seems to be malfunctioning. Reflexology and other forms of acupressure have been used as alternative methods or complimentary means to treating some illnesses.
Mudras are similar to the hand techniques used in acupressure and reflexology. The focus, though, is on the hands and fingers. The pressure of fingertips touching are said to stimulate a similar body-mapping that reflects other regions of the body.
You said something about Prana. Now what's THAT?
Just as reflexology triggers responses in other parts of the body when pressure points are targeted in the hands or feet, when a mudra is practiced in meditation, an increase in energy flow can occur. This is called Prana; it refers to the life force or energy flow through the body. Prana isn't something you can see necessarily. Think of it like an electrical charge that gives energy to a particular object. An obvious example is when you turn on a light from a switch on the wall. When the switch is turned on, it triggers an electrical current through a set of wires that allows for the lamp on the night stand to turn on. Prana is the same and it is represented by the breath. Breath is the life force for us; when there is no breath, there is no life.
And Prana and Mudras are related....how?
As mentioned earlier, mudras are often done in conjunction with breathing while practicing meditation. Think of it as a collaborative system. While sitting in meditation, mindfully focused on your breath, you can apply a mudra to help stimulate or enhance the intention you are setting in your meditative practice. That intention might be to feel more balanced, clear-minded, or to even send some healing to an under active liver or an overactive heart causing hypertension and stress. (Is it starting to make sense?)
Let's give it a try.
There are many mudras or hand gestures you can perform while meditating. All have very specific goals and intentions. Here are what each finger means in a mudra hand gesture and what they can treat when practiced.
Index finger: Air
Middle finger: Fire
Ring finger: Water
Pinky finger: Earth
Here are a few of the most popular mudras seen and practiced:
Gyan Mudra (The Mudra of Knowledge)
This is probably the most common mudra and, like must mudras, is easy to do. Press the tips of your index finger and thumb together. The other three fingers extend out with fingers touching. The gesture is calming and soothing and is best suited for a silent meditative practice. Aligning the air and space elements is said to improve your memory, concentration, and mental alertness. Further, the hand gesture may help with conditions like anxiety, stress, depression, and insomnia.
Prana Mudra (The Mudra of Life)
This mudra stimulates the energy in the body and is aligned with the elements of space, earth, and water. To do it, the tips of the thumb, ring finger, and pinky finger touch. The other two extend outward. This life mudra is associated with a healthy life; it helps stave away diseases, removes tiredness, energizes the internal organs, and may even improve your eyesight.
This is a another very common mudra and widely seen. If you've ever seen a picture or statue of the meditating Buddha, his hands are in this mudra. It represents deep concentration, tranquility, and peace. (It makes sense that you would see the Buddha practicing this hand gesture while he is meditating.) It is simple to do, too. With your hands facing up, rest your open right hand in your open left hand. The tips of your thumbs will touch. Your right palm represents enlightenment while your left represents the world. (Pretty profound, huh?)
When performing these mudras, since they are often done in conjunction with a meditative practice, you may be holding the pressure points for 30 to 60 minutes depending on how long you can sit for meditation. But to experience the effects stated above, holding the mudras for long periods is suggested. Sometimes 5 to 10 minutes is just as effective.
Here are a few more mudras that are good for overcoming some body ailments.
Having any problems associated with your heart like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or stress? Try this Mudra for cardiac problems.
Apana Vayu Mudra: Place the tip of your index finger at the base of the thumb while the other three fingers are extended.
Hard to focus during that long meeting or just can't seem to get everything done on your daunting to-do list? Maybe a mudra that will help with focus is what you need.
Prithvi Mudra: Press the tips of your thumb and ring finger together. These are the space and water elements coming together to help with clarity. Probably best performed in the morning to get your mind ready for a full day. Or perform it when you're exhausted and need a mental boost.
So many things can negatively effect our immune systems: poor diets, erratic schedules, lack of sleep, stress at work, reduction in physical exercise, and more. Here's a mudra that may help get things back into balance.
Shankh Mudra: This hand gesture isn't as common as others, but it's worth giving it a try. Give a "thumbs-up" gesture with your right hand. (Your thumb will point straight up while the other fingers fold into your hand.) Now, place your left thumb in the folded fingers of the right. (You'll basically be squeezing your thumb.) The four fingers of your left hand will touch the thumb of the right. That's it!
And speaking of poor diets, feeling guilty about that last meal AND second helping of dessert? Not to worry, there's a mudra to the rescue!
Apan Mudra (The Mudra of Digestion): The elements of space, fire, and water are triggered when you perform this mudra. Rest the tip of your thumb on the tips of your middle and ring fingers. Holding this mudra can help with the elimination of toxins, efficient digestion, relieving constipation, and ailments related to the kidneys.
Problems with dry or oily skin? Yep, there's a mudra for that, too.
Varun Mudra: This simple mudra is done by placing the tips of your thumb and pinky fingers together. When held for at least 10 minutes daily, you can experience a balance in your skin tone; you'll look (and feel) brighter with that natural glow.
Trying to get rid of that dreaded cold and runny nose? Try this hand posture.
The Surya Mudra has many benefits, but is said to help ward off colds and regulates your body temperature when you have a fever. Since Suyra means "sun" it makes sense that this heated mudra can help with colds and other conditions like digestion and metabolism. Start with an open palm. Bend your ring finger toward your palm and place your thumb on the knuckle of the ring finger. The other fingers will extend outward.
We will finish our mudra journey with another very common mudra. It is often associated with meditation and prayer. You will also see this hand gesture practiced in many religions. It is the Anjali Mudra. Simply, it is bringing the two hands together at the heart. It is a symbol of spirituality and it means "to offer." At the end of a yoga practice, you may be instructed to bring your hands to Anjali Mudra. As the class closes, perhaps with a short intention or chant, you may bow and say "Namaste." One meaning of the word is "I share the light in me with the light in you." With this symbol, we declare or offer our hearts to one another as a symbol of peace.