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Definition of Mudra

Updated on October 5, 2012
Jnana mudra
Jnana 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.

Jnana mudra and Chin mudra
Jnana mudra and Chin mudra

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.

Statue of Buddha showing Vitarka-mudra
Statue of Buddha showing Vitarka-mudra

Would you like to practise mudras?

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    • profile image

      Ananth Sozhan 

      4 years ago

      Hello, Anna Sidorova.

      I'm an Indian, I know how Mudra is important to life. But one thing is sure, no proper information is being shared in the internet. Mantra is very important for each Mudra which was missing and most of them says Murdra can be practiced at any time and poster. that is not true

    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      5 years ago from Russia

      Christian, thank you! That's a very informative comment and thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    • profile image

      Christian 

      5 years ago

      Hello, Anna Sidorova.

      Thank you for an interesting article on Mudras.

      Personally, I think that there is no part of the body

      and mind that can´t be reached through the hands,

      and Mudras are very important in this regard.

      Practiced diligently and with perseverance, I think

      the powers of Mudras are infinite.

      I can recommend a few books on the subject, you may

      already know them:

      Mudras, by Gertrud Hirschi, The Healing Powers of Mudras, by

      Rajendar Menen and Taoist Healing Gestures by

      Emma I. Gonikman.

      Thank you once again for an interesting article.

      C.S.

    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      6 years ago from Russia

      KerryAnita, thanks for stopping by. I am happy to know that my hub was useful for you.

    • KerryAnita profile image

      KerryAnita 

      6 years ago from Satellite Beach, Florida

      Very nice hub! I now know more about the meaning behind these mudras that we do so often in yoga class!

    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      6 years ago from Russia

      dinkan53, thank you for your precious comment!

    • dinkan53 profile image

      dinkan53 

      6 years ago from India

      Enjoyed the article. The simple thing of mudra is that it can be done by any person and there is nothing complicated in that, as so many people thinks. For example chin mudra helps me a lot to sleep well. Thanks for sharing.

    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      6 years ago from Russia

      You are very welcome, Vanderleelie! Thanks for your interest.

    • profile image

      Vanderleelie 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for explaining these beautiful gestures and their healing properties. Now I better understand the importance of hands as iconography in Eastern art forms.

    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      6 years ago from Russia

      Vinaya Ghimire, thank you for your visit! I appreciate.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      6 years ago from Nepal

      This is quite a comprehensive article on mudra. Mudra is essential part of mediation, rituals, and worshiping in Hindu and Buddhist culture. It is interesting to note that our hand gestures are connected with our mind.

    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      6 years ago from Russia

      Thank you, Miss Mimi. Such a great comment.

    • Miss Mimi profile image

      Miss Mimi 

      6 years ago from On the road again

      Very interesting, this is the most in-depth description of the Mudras I've read so far. I knew a little about them before, next time I do yoga or meditation, I'll have to come back and look at this again. I do a lot of fitness, and I love thinking about using the whole body and the hands are such an important key to stress and injury prevention, it doesn't surprise me at all that they would also be so important in meditation. Thanks for posting this!

    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      6 years ago from Russia

      Marie Flint, thank you for this informative, interesting and profound comment.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      6 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I have seen at least one of the yoga hand gestures practised with Budhist chants as well. I agree that when we come to associate a particular muscle message with a state of consciousness we are trying to achieve, reaching that state of consciousness becomes easier with the use of those muscles engaged in the mudra.

      Another school of metaphysics associates the elements with the fingers a little differently, but the elements are the same. (I learned the thumb as the ether, then air, fire, water, and earth in order from the index finger to the pinky.) One could also rationalize that the thumb should be earth because it is the thickest phalange, then water for the middle, long finger because it is the next largest finger, and so on. until you reach the lightest/highest element of ether, which with this method would be the pinky. Of course, yogic teachings go back milleniums, and there is no argument against them. Whether the mudras are more important than the breath, I will have to put that idea "on a shelf" for awhile.

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