Mudra means ‘seal’ or ‘gesture’ and we use them in yoga to facilitate the flow of energy. By placing the hands in certain positions, it helps to stimulate parts of the brain. We often use mudras in pranayama and mediation, but you may also be familiar with them in some asanas too.
Each of our five fingers represents one of the five elements that make up the universe and mudras help to balance the elements within us:
- Thumb – fire
- Index finger – air
- Middle finger – ether/space
- Ring finger – earth
- Little finger – water
Gyana Mudra, also know as chin mudra, brings the thumb and index finger together, with the other three fingers gently outstretched. Gyana mudra is known as the gesture of knowledge – palms facing up allows you to receive and palms resting on the knees, facing down is observed for feeling more grounded.
Prana Mudrais the mudra of life and is performed by touching the tip of the thumb with the tips of the ring and little finger together, keeping the other two fingers extended. Observing this mudra provides energy and strong health, stimulating the entire body.
Shunya Mudra is performed to reduce the space element in the body. Bending the middle finger and holding with the base of the thumb, gently apply pressure with the thumb, just below the knuckle. Practicing shunya mudra is thought to provide relief from a range of hearing and balance issues and it can be performed for 15 minutes up to 3 times a day.
Varun Mudra– by touching the tip of the thumb and little finger together, varun mudra, the water mudra, reduces dryness in the body particularly the skin.
Anjali Mudra – bringing the palms together at the heart center symbolizes honor and respect. Anjali means ‘to offer’ and this mudra is often performed at the beginning or end of an asana practice – it connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain and represents the yogic unity.
Try practicing some of these mudras and observe how you feel over time…
Yamas form one of the eight limbs of yoga. The best way I like to describe them, is the ‘guidelines’ that we should follow in our practice, to enable us to behave morally and ethically. Yamas can sometime get lost amongst the popularity of asanas, but they form a valuable part of finding true yogic strength, both on and off the mat.
- Ahimsa – Ahimsa translates to ‘non-harming’ or ‘non-violence’ and extends to physical, mental and emotional violence. You may be mistaken in thinking that violence applies only to others, but in fact, one of the ways we can practice ahimsa is to be non-harming towards ourselves. So often, we are too hard on ourselves, become frustrated or angry. We should try to allow ourselves time to heal and live without criticism or judgment.
- Satya – Truthfulness that extends to our words, our thoughts, our actions and everyone & everything around us. Living honestly means to have respect and integrity both internally and externally. Be truthful and your practice will be free form burden, allowing it grow in the spaces you create within.
- Asteya – Described as not taking what is not freely given, or ‘non-stealing’, Asteya is not as straightforward as it may seem. Whilst physical theft may be easy to define, stealing in the emotional or societal sense can be more difficult to quantify. We should steer away from asking too much from others or ourselves and believe that we are enough, have enough and give enough. Asteya encourages generosity and once we reach the place where we can be truly accepting, our practice becomes enlightened.
- Brahmacharya – The translation for brahmacharya is sometimes debated, however in literal terms it means ‘behavior which leads to Brahman’ or ‘The Creator’. By practicing this yama, you will embrace balance and proper use of energy, directing it away from external factors, practicing moderation and using our energy in a balanced way to find a higher purpose.
- Aparigraha – The idea of ‘non-possessiveness’ or ‘non-attachment’ has become somewhat lost in the modern society, however Aparigraha teaches us to only take what we need and let go of what we do not. This can apply to material possessions as well as our thoughts and emotions. Once we let go of what is weighing us down, we are able to see our true self .
In practical terms, the Yamas support us to be conscious and conserve energy to continue the yogic path; they allow us to live a full life and have true awareness of ourselves and our relationships.
In today’s modern word, it’s hard to avoid the impact of the media, especially the ‘social’ kind. Many industries have boomed with the rise of social media attention and yoga doesn’t seem to have escaped this growing trend. But, with such an ancient practice, how has modern day media ‘shaped’ the art of yoga and is it detrimental to the fundamentals of what it means to be a yogi?
It seems inevitable in a capitalist society, that nothing is exempt from commercialisation, including yoga. Falling under the ‘fitness’ banner in many western countries, yoga has become big business and with the rise of social media platforms, such as Instagram, yoga has been steadily growing in popularity. You don’t have to search for long to find vast numbers of yogi profiles from around the globe, proudly posting photos of pincha mayurasana against a pristine-white-beach backdrop, or another demoing a dynamic flow, wearing the latest stylish gear. The thriving yoga industry has led to the rise of the ‘celebrity yogi’ – a diverse group of accomplished practitioners, with a strong Instagram following. Many of these high profile yogis will openly share their own views about how social media has led us away from what it means to practice yoga, yet the irony is that the platform from which they post these views, isn’t able to truly capture all that yoga stands for.
We’re taught in the YTT200 how to ensure correct alignment in postures to avoid injury, which is such a fundamental part of a safe and sustainable practice, but what about if you come to yoga with a pre-existing injury?
I tore my piriformis around 18 months ago – I was not fully warmed up, I was practicing in a cold room on a cold tile floor and I dropped down into hanumanasana on my right side, extended over my right leg into a forward fold and that’s when I heard it… RIP! The piriformis is a small muscle located deep in the buttock, underneath the Gluteus Maximus – it originates at the sacrum and inserts at the top of the femur. My glute was incredibly sore for several weeks and didn’t seem to be improving, I continued regular practice, determined not to let the injury stop me from progressing, despite the pain. Eventually, the isolated pain began to radiate down my leg towards the back of my knee and so I sought the advice of a physiotherapist. The sciatic nerve passes directly behind, or in some people, through the piriforis and any trauma to the piriformis can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve, resulting in radiating pain or spasms. My original muscle injury had now led to compression of my sciatic nerve, making most standing asanas incredibly painful, in fact, it even hurt to sit down for any length of time.