Definition of Mudra
Mudra: Bringing Happiness
During thousands of years the knowledge of yoga and some of its practices like pranayama and asanas was available to the majority of people in India, especially to those who were real truth-seekers. However, the knowledge of higher, more powerful practices was a privilege of some few chosen ones because it was either transmitted by a guru to his students, or was extracted from sacred scriptures written by ancient rishas (wisemen). Nowadays many people are interested in their spiritual growth and are looking for practices that can help them attain self-realization. Some practices that have been kept secret for a long time have been revealed to the public. One of them is that of mudras - hand yoga.
In Sanskrit, mudra means gesture or seal. The word mudra comes from Mud and Rad. Mud means happiness. Rad means to bring. So, literally mudra is "something that brings happiness."
In fact, mudra is a gesture or a posture that expresses a certain state of mind. In the classical dance of India mudras are symbolic hand gestures that transmit certain emotions and moods. The main purpose of mudra is spiritual: it brings you to contemplation. Even though many mudras are practised for a spiritual purpose, they are also beneficial as far as human body and psyche are concerned.
Classical Hindu Dance with Hand Gestures
Yoga in your hands
Mudras are considered even more powerful and important than asanas (body postures) and pranayamas (breathing techniques). They are believed to help awaken kundalini shakti which is a sleeping energy inside a human body. The most ancient source of literature dedicated to the practice of mudras and other yogic practices is Gherandya Samhita which is a scripture about Hatha Yoga. It was written by a risha named Gherandya. In this book, god Shiva talking to his spouse and student Parvati, explains: "O Devi, I have told you about mudras the knowledge of which will give you all the siddhas (powers)."
All in all, there are about 25 gestures described in Gherandya Samhita. Most of them can only be performed with the help of a guru.
Some mudras are also used to control physiological phenomena that usually take place without our awareness. Mudras help to develop the ability to feel the energy flow (called prana) inside the body and control this flow consciously. For example, mudras can help you direct the energy to a certain part of your body and heal it, or even heal other people as well. Mudras also prepare your mind for meditation.
Gestures that speak
When you fold your fingers in a mudra in this or that way, your hands start speaking. Mudra is a speaking gesture.
Every finger is meant to transmit a certain energy flow of one of the five elements: the thumb activates fire, the index finger - air, the middle finger - ether, the ring finger - earth, and the little finger - water.
In Hatha Yoga, two gestures or hastas are used more often than others: Jnana-mudra and Chin-mudra. Join your index finger and thumb in a circle-like way while keeping your other fingers straight. When your palms are upwards on your knees, this is called Jnana. Jnana is a contemplation gesture. When your palms are turned downwards, facing the earth, this is Chin, seal of harmony. These gestures symbolize the connection of human consciousness (the index finger) and the divine (the thumb). The three straight fingers symbolize three Gunas, qualities that sustain all the evolution in the Universe: Tamas (the lethargy), Rajas (the active state) and Sattwa (equation, harmony). The closed circle of the index finger and the thumb symbolize the true purpose of yoga: the union of Atman, a separate soul, with Brahman, the universal soul.
These mudras can be found in images of many Hindu gods. The right hand is raised on the level of the heart and the three fingers are directed upwards while the touching index finger and thumb are facing the viewer. This gesture is also known as Vitarka-mudra, the explanation gesture. With its help gods and Buddha showed the importance of their words. Jesus Christ is presented in Orthodox and Byzantine icons with this very gesture as well.
Would you like to practise mudras?
- Mudras and mantras of happiness and love
Have you heard of the book by Sabrina Mesko, a former ballet dancer, Broadway artist and a model who turned to yoga to cure a back injury? In her book “Healing Mudras” she describes hand yoga - mudras - that are positions of hands and fingers.