What are Mudras?
The Sanskrit word mudra can be defined as “gesture”, “mark”, “seal”, or “circuit by-pass”. It is a combination of the root word mud (meaning “delight” or “pleasure”) and dravay (meaning “to fraw forth”). Through the attitudes and postures that we adopt while practicing mudras, we are essentially establishing a link between the physical body, the mental body and the energy body, which allows us to develop awareness of the flow of vital energy (prana) in our body. As we constantly radiate vital energy which releases from the body and into our external surroundings, practicing mudras can help to redirect the energy back within the body to vitalise different parts of our body.
Mudras can be performed either in combination with or after asanas and pranayama, to help bring balance to our mind and body. While we usually associate mudras with hand gestures, mudras can actually involve more than just our hands. Yoga mudras can be categorized into the following:
- Hasta – Hand mudras
Hand mudras are the most commonly practiced mudras, and utilise the fingers and hands to create a gesture. Each of our fingers actually represents a different element: fire (thumb), air (index finger), space (middle finger), earth (fourth finger), and water (pinky). When these five elements are not in balance, it can lead to disruption within our body and this will then manifest into various physical and psychological illnesses. Hand mudras can help restore balance among the five elements, by guiding the flow of energy within our body though different hand gestures.
Imagine the fingers of our hands as wires carrying electric current (i.e. energy). When we form a mudra with our hands, one or more of the fingers get in contact with the thumb to form a closed circuit, which allows the energy to flow through this closed circuit to balance the elements represented by the fingers that are in the mudra. As our body is a cross-system (i.e. the left brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa), hand mudras should hence ideally be performed with both hands to ensure maximum benefits.
Chin Mudra (also known as Gyan Mudra)
Chin means “consciousness” in Sanskrit. When the index finger is connected with the thumb, this creates a circuit whereby energy that would typically dissipate into the surrounding environment is now able to travel back into the body and up to the brain. Thus, practicing the Chin mudra regularly can help to increase our mental concentration and memory power, and also sharpen our brain.
Symbolically, the index finger represents individual consciousness, while the thumb represents universal consciousness. As we touch our index finger with the thumb in the Chin mudra, this indicates the ultimate unity of the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness.
In a comfortable seated position, rest both hands on the knees. Have the palms facing upwards, with the back of the hands resting on the knees. For both hands, flex the index finger to touch the inside of the thumb, as if forming an ‘okay’ sign. Extend the other three fingers out and relax the fingers.
Hridaya mudra is beneficial for the heart, as it diverts the flow of energy from the hands to the heart through the connection formed between the middle and fourth fingers (relates to the heart) and the thumb (acts as an energizer to divert energy flow from the hands to the heart). Hence, this mudra helps to energise our Anahata (heart) chakra by releasing any pent-up emotions and burdens that are weighing us down emotionally. The Hridaya mudra is a simple mudra that can be used safely and easily, even during emotional crisis or emergencies such as a heart attack. Practicing the Hridaya mudra regularly can also help to build up the ability to keep our heart open during difficult and emotional times.
Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight. Place the index finger at the root of the thumb, and join the tips of the middle and fourth fingers to the tip of the thumb. The pinky is extended straight and relaxed. Rest both hands on the knees, with the palms facing upwards and the back of the hands resting on the knees. Close the eyes and relax the body. This mudra can be performed for up to 30 minutes.
- Mana – Head mudras
Head mudras involves the sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and lips; and are mainly used as meditation techniques to focus the mind during meditation. These mudras can help to snap us out of our instinctive habits that may distract us in our meditation practice.
The Bhoochari mudra is beneficial for calming anger and stress as it tranquilizes the mind and brings the practitioner into a state of stillness and relaxation. This mudra develops the power of concentration and increases mental stability. It also helps to activate the Ajna (third eye) chakra, which is the center of perception, consciousness and intuition.
*Note: The Bhoochari mudra is not suitable for the following groups of people: those suffering from glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy; and those who have just had cataract surgery, lens implant or other eye operations.
Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight, and the hands in chin mudra. Ensure that there are no visual obstructions in the surroundings that may cause distraction to the attention.
Close the eyes and relax the body.
Open the eyes and raise the right hand in front of the face, so that the right forearm is positioned horizontally to the mat. Face the right palm down and keep the fingers close together. Side of the right thumb should be in contact with the top of the upper lip.
Focus the eyes on the tip of the right pinky and gaze at it for 1 minute, without blinking. Try to maintain constant awareness of the pinky.
After 1 minute, lower the hand but continue gazing at the same point, without blinking.
Become engrossed into this point of nothingness and be aware of any thoughts raising in the mind at the same time.
Whenever you feel like you’re losing focus, raise the right hand again and focus on the tip of the pinky. Then lower the hand and continue to gaze into the same spot in the space. Stay in this mudra for 5-10 minutes.
- Kaya – Postural mudras
Postural mudras are a combination of physical postures with breathing and concentration, and requires the involvement of the whole body. Kaya mudras are similar to yoga asanas.
This mudra massages the abdominal organs and stretches the neck and back muscles, hence ensuring good general health. It also helps relieve anger and tension, and fosters a sense of relaxation and awareness for meditation practice.
*Note: The Yoga mudra is not suitable for people who are suffering from sciatica, high blood pressure, pelvic inflammatory disease or any other serious abdominal illness.
Sit in padmasana (lotus pose) and rotate the arms backwards. Use the left hand to take hold of the right wrist behind the back.
Close the eyes and relax the body. Bring awareness to the Muladhara (root) chakra.
Inhale slowly and feel the breath gradually rising from the Muladhara (root) chakra to the Ajna (third eye) chakra. Hold the breath for a few seconds while concentrating on the Ajna chakra.
Exhale slowly and bend forward from the hips to touch the forehead on the floor. Feel the breath gradually descending from the Ajna chakra down to the Muladhara chakra. Hold the breath for a few seconds while concentrating on the Muladhara chakra.
Inhale and raise the torso up to a vertical position. Feel the breath moving upward from the Muladhara chakra to Ajna chakra.
Remain in the upright position and hold the breath for a few seconds, concentrating on the Ajna chakra. Exhale slowly while moving the awareness back down to the Muladhara chakra. This completes one round.
Perform 3-10 rounds.
- Bandha – Lock mudras
Bandha means “lock” in Sanskrit. Bandha mudras combine mudras and bandhas together, engaging the skeletal muscles such as vocal, respiratory and pelvis muscles to hold the energy and awaken the kundalini energy (i.e. a dormant life force resting within the base of the spine) in the body.
Mula Bandha (Root Lock)
Mula means “root” or “base” in Sanskrit. Mula Bandha massages the entire pelvic region such as the urinary, excretory and genital organs; and helps to strengthen the uro-genital and excretory systems. It is also able to relieve depression, and aids in the realignment of the physical, mental and psychic bodies in preparation for spiritual awakening. Additionally, the Mula Bandha helps to redirect sexual energy upwards for spiritual growth and can hence be used as a method to achieve sexual control.
*Note: The Mula Bandha should not be practiced during menstruation.
Sit comfortably in Siddhasana or Sukhasana (Simple cross-legged position). Close the eyes and relax the body. Focus the awareness on the perineal/vaginal region. Contract this region by pulling up on the pelvic floor muscles and then relaxing the muscles. Continue to contract and relax the perineal/vaginal region in a rhythmic and controlled movement. Continue to breathe normally throughout the practice.
Contract the perineal/vaginal region and hold the contraction. Contract a little tighter without tensing the rest of the body. Relax the pelvic floor muscles slowly in a controlled movement.
Focus on contracting only the muscles related to the Muladhara (root) chakra. Repeat the contraction and relaxation for 10 rounds.
- Adhara – Perineal mudras
Perineal mudras aim to redirect energy from the lower centres of the body upwards to the brain, and involves the pelvic floor region to stimulate the Swadisthana (sacral) chakra.
The Ashwini mudra is beneficial for people with pelvic floor dysfunction or urinary incontinence, as it strengthens the pelvic and anal muscles. It is also effective for people suffering from piles (hemorrhoids), as it increases blood circulation in the anus and treats swollen veins in the rectum. This mudra also helps to prevent the escape of pranic energy from the body and redirects this energy upward for spiritual purposes.
Technique (Rapid contraction):
Sit in a comfortable position. Close the eyes and relax the body. Bring the awareness to the anus. Rapidly contract the anal sphincter muscles for a few seconds without any straining, and then relax the muscles. Perform contraction and relaxation of the anal sphincter muscles for 10-20 times, in a smooth and rhythmic manner. Gradually try to make the contractions more rapid.