Mudras in Sanskrit mean gesture. They can be hand mudras, postural or head (and face related). A powerful tool, Mudras can deepen focus, quieten the mind, balance energies and improve overall well-being. They stimulate the flow of energy (Prana) throughout the body. Mudras can be applied during deep breathing, Pranayama practices, meditation and even while practicing certain asanas for a deep and intensified impact.
Why are mudras helpful?
Mudras can link the brain to the body, release blockages, stimulate endorphins, enhance mood, and boost energy and vitality. They have a healing impact on the body and mind. Traditionally, they have been used in Vedic and Buddhist rituals and customs for centuries. On a subtle level, Mudras encourage a link between the sheaths or layers (the Pancha Koshas), that is, Annamaya Kosha, the Manomaya Kosha and Pranayama Kosha. Furthermore, regular practice helps manipulate Prana and creates barriers within the body such that the energy is redirected within. For example, by closing the eyes in Shanmukhi Mudra (the way it is done during Brahmari Pranayama), the Prana being radiated through the eyes is reflected back. Mudras act as a means to access and influence unconscious reflexes and stored habit patterns. Each Mudra works on a different connection and has a different impact on the body, mind and Prana.
The more common mudras used are of the hands and fingers, and they are practiced with movements in wrists, forearms, shoulders, etc. To practice the right way, it is important to apply the right pressure. Only then will you feel the flow of energy. The pressure should not be too much that you feel pain or a numbing sensation. Mudras should be practiced regularly and held for at least 10-15 minutes to feel a difference - this is also why they are so effectively used during a 20-minutes meditation too.
Mudras can normally be practiced by anyone and do not have many contraindications. However, practicing under the guidance of a teacher in the beginning is important as mudras are higher practices which lead to the stimulation and awakening of Pranas, Chakras and Kundalini.
Mudras and the natural elements
Each finger is related to a natural element. Thus, each Mudra that involves one or more fingers and the thumb have a different impact on the elements, and subsequently, emotions, thoughts and regions of the body and mind associated with the element.
- Thumb: fire element
- Index finger: air element
- Middle finger: ether or space element
- Ring finger: earth element
- Little finger: water element
When applying mudras, the five fingers act as electrical circuits of energy. They adjust the flow of Prana, balancing the various elements and promoting healing. By controlling the flow of Prana, we can seal off energy in a specific region.
The Different Types of Mudras
Following is a list of the different types of mudras:
Hasta mudra are hand gestures that are often practiced along with Pranayama and meditation. Practitioners sit in a meditative posture while practicing these mudras. Hasta mudras redirect the flow of Prana from the hands back into the body, enabling deep focus and concentration and energizing the body. A few Hasta mudras are Chin mudra, Jnana mudra and Yoni mudra, among others.
This category of mudras refers to gestures of the head. They are important in Kundalini yoga and many meditation techniques. They also involve the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and lip. Mana mudras include Nasikagara, Khechari (practiced during Ujjayi and Sheetkari Pranayama), Kaki mudra, etc.
Kaya mudras are postural and they are practiced with asanas and in combination with breathing cues. They include Vipareet Karani mudra, Pashinee mudra, Prana mudra and Yoga mudra, among others.
This set of mudras are combined with Bandhas or locks. They encourage the flow of Prana in the specific region and prepare the body for Kundalini awakening. They include Maha mudra, Maha Bheda mudra and Maha Vedha mudra.
The last set of mudras are known ad perineal mudras. They redirect the flow of Prana from the lower parts to the brain. They include Ashwini mudra, Vajroli mudra (for men) and Sahajoli mudra (for women).
Common Mudras Used During Pranayama and Meditation
The following are mudras that can be applied while doing Pranayama and meditation.
The mudra that signifies knowledge or wisdom, Jnana mudra is practiced by folding the index fingers of both hands such that they touch the inside root of their respective thumbs. The other three fingers should be straight but relaxed. The palms are relaxed on the thighs facing downwards.
Benefits of jnana mudra: this mudra creates a circuit of energy when the ndex finger touches the thumb. It allows Prana to flow back through the body and up to the brain.
The position of the index finger and thumb is the same as Jnana mudra. The three straightened fingers are folded so that the tips touch or point towards the palm. The hands are placed on the knees facing upwards.
Benefits of chin mudra: Similar to Jnana Mudra, chin mudra encourages the flow of energy back through the body and up to the brain. Prana flows freely and practitioners feel a boost of energy. There is a pranic connection between the lungs and the abdomen that is established.
This mudra is practiced during Brahmari Pranayama with the thumbs closing the ears, the index fingers over the eyes, middle fingers over the nostrils, and the ring fingers above the mouth and little fingers below the lips.
Benefits of Shanmukhi mudra: Here, energy and heat from the hands is transferred, stimulating and relaxing the nerves and muscles of the face. It improves awareness and encourages a Pratyahara or withdrawal.
Practiced during Ujjayi and Sheetkari Pranayama, this mudra is a tongue lock. It is done by closing the mouth and rolling the tongue back so that the lower surface touches the upper palate. The lower surface should lie in contact with the upper palate. The tip of the tongue stretches backward as much as comfortable.
Benefits of Kechari mudra: This mudra stimulates pressure points in the back of the mouth and the nasal cavity. Several glands get massaged and stimulated, encouraging the secretion of hormones and saliva. Hunger and thirst is controlled and inner calmness is achieved. Vitality and healing is promoted.
Nasagra or Nasikagra Mudra
Practiced during Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, this mudra is done by placing the tips of the index and middle fingers gently at the eyebrow centre and keeping the finger relaxed. The thumb is placed over the right nostril, and the ring finger over the left nostril.
Benefits of Nasagra mudra: The benefits are similar to Alternate Nostril Breathing. The mudra encourages a balance between the Ida and Pingala, stimulates the flow of Prana, reduces stress, anxiety and mental tension. It improves respiratory and cardiovascular health and removes toxins from the system.
The hands are joined together with the palms and fingers in a prayer position in front of your heart. This mudra joins elements together and balances both sides of the body, invoking a feeling of calmness, compassion and gratitude.
While all mudras are helpful and as you progress in your yoga practice, an experienced teacher will guide you through how to apply almost all mudras (for example, Ashwini mudra is something a teacher will guide you through once you are experienced in doing the Sarvangasana) as you progress. Only with regular practice will you be able to attempt more advanced practices.