The Sanskrit word “mudra” is often translated into English as “gesture”. It encompasses subtle movements that evoke moods, attitudes, and perceptions. A mudra can be formed with one or more fingers and hand positions—it can even include the whole body. The practice of asanas, pranayamas, and bandhas (locked postures) often includes mudras, which add to the mental and spiritual awareness of the practitioner and induce higher states of consciousness. They redirect energy that normally escapes the body, and help channel it back into the body. Moreover, mudras by themselves give rise to closed circuits, which preserve the spirit and energy of the human being. Each mudra has a different effect on the body and mind and helps in acquiring a more refined consciousness. We shall now consider 10 specific mudras used in yogic practice.
1. Chin mudra or the psychic gesture of consciousness: This mudra is used during pranayama or meditation. The hands rest on the knees or thighs with the index finger and thumb touching each other. As the thumb represents the supreme self and the index finger represents the individual self, when this mudra is performed, both are connected. This gesture has a salutary effect on the mind and helps the yogi progress from darkness to light and from ignorance to wisdom.
2. Jnana (knowledge) mudra or the psychic gesture of knowledge: In this mudra, the hands are placed on the knees with the palms facing down. It is a meditative gesture that gives the practitioner a feeling of spaciousness and helps uplift the body and mind.
The uses of these two mudras are listed below:
- They enhance the power of meditative asanas.
- The closed circuit between the index finger and thumb allows energy to travel back to the body and then up to the brain.
In the chin mudra, the chest area is widened, inducing a feeling of lightness and greater receptivity.
3. Nasikagra mudra or the gesture of Vishnu: This mudra is used to alternate breath through the nostrils during nadi shodhana or the purification of the nasal passage. The index and middle fingers are folded into the palm of the hand. The thumb is used to close the right nostril; the ring finger closes the left nostril.
4. Shuni (nothingness or void) mudra: This mudra is performed by touching the tip of the middle finger to the thumb while keeping the other fingers straight and relaxed. It improves intuition, alertness, and sensory perception. It also purifies the yogi’s emotions and thoughts.
5. Prana (life) mudra: This mudra is particularly important because it increases our ability to activate the body’s dormant energy. As its name suggests, prana is the vital life force within all living things. It also leads to the awakening and enlivening of one’s personal prana, and helps align it with the other pranas working around it. This is performed by bending the ring and little fingers to touch the tip of the thumb while keeping the other two fingers straight.
6. Surya (sun) mudra: This mudra increases the solar or fire element in the body. It is performed by bending the ring finger to touch the base of the thumb. The other three fingers in each hand are kept straight. This mudra improves metabolism and digestion, reduces feelings of heaviness, and combats colds because of the increase in solar power.
7. Apana (self) mudra: This mudra is performed by touching the middle and ring fingers to the tip of the thumb. The index and little fingers are held straight. This mudra is good for the mind; it also helps in digestion and in the elimination of waste from the body.
8. Vayu (wind/air) mudra: This mudra is similar in form to jnana mudra. The knuckle of the index finger is pressed against the thumb. It alleviates symptoms relating to physical imbalance, gas-induced pain, and abdominal disorders.
9. Rudra (lord) mudra: This mudra is performed by bending the index and ring fingers to touch the tip of the thumb; the middle and little fingers remain straight. The Sanskrit word “rudra” means “lord”. Rudra mudra tends to your personal power centre—the solar plexus. It also improves clarity and the inter-connectedness of thought.
10. Bhairava and Bhairavi mudra: Commonly used in meditation, this mudra is performed by resting the hands on the lap with the right placed over the left. Bhairava is the fierce or terrifying form of Shiva. Those who perform it promote the union of their individual selves with the supreme self-consciousness. The feminine counterpart of Bhairava, Bhairavi, is the embodiment of Shakti or feminine divinity; it is said to nurture consciousnesses as well as varied manifestations of female power.