When I was growing up, I remember my mom taking sign language classes and coming home to show us kids the different signs. “Thank you”, “Please”, “What’s wrong with you” (my favorite) and “I love you” (still used to this day whenever I say goodbye to my mom). This was my first introduction to understanding that our hands can speak, our gestures have meanings, and our body language can say something
In asana practice we use different poses to do the same thing, connect and personify movements, gestures, and intentions with our body. Whether traditional poses brought to us by yogi’s past, or newer poses from the west, when we move our body with this kind of awareness we are creating language with our limbs.
Mudras are sign language (seals) of the soul. They are gestures to take our intentions further with the use of our hands. I have even heard them expressed as icing on the asana cake, something to bring us more fully into the present moment. We can use our hands, which can often times be limp or unexpressive or forgotten about in practice, to drive the pose deeper and bring more awareness. To seal the deal, so to speak.
One mudra that always seems to be speaking to me is the Ksepana Muda, the gesture of pouring out and letting go. As human beings we are constantly changing, shape shifting, and transforming who we are. The idea behind the Ksepana mudra is that we let go of the layers that no longer fit us: the identity, the preconceived ideas of ourselves, and the stuff that just doesn’t have any room in our lives anymore.
I often refer to the body as a storage unit. We accumulate past traumas, dramas, memories, habits, addictions, toxins, movements, and thoughts. It takes a constant clearing out process to help eliminate whatever negative energy we are storing and free that space up for what’s good. The entire practice of yoga is geared toward this action and to free of these things that bind us.
The Ksepana Mudra functions curiously like a hose. The fingers are clasped together, while the index fingers point out towards the ground, and the thumbs cross over each other. You can envision a stream of sludge or sewage pouring out of the index fingers unclogging the muck that has been stored for years, decades, or lifetimes. This mudra is to be held for 7–15 breaths with the concentration on the exhale.
It is no wonder that this mudra also stimulates elimination through the skin (sweat), lungs, and large intestines, releasing stored tensions as well for a physical and emotional clearing. It is all part of the letting go process.
With a baby on the way less then five weeks out, I find this mudra quite appropriate for my life. I am in a constant state of clearing and uncluttering my apartment, my body and mind. There has got to be an emptying out of my life to ensure space for this little one when he arrives. I don’t want my baggage to be stored in his closet so to speak.
An interesting occurrence I have recently been witnessing is my absorption of other people’s energy. This month I attended a large, 3-day music and arts festival here in San Francisco, surrounded by many people in a different situation than I was and found myself needing to have as much space as possible. Not only did I feel crowded but also like a sponge absorbing other’s energy that wasn’t always pure or aware. The Ksepana Mudra can help with draining the unconscious energy we pick up from others that we don’t want to hold onto.
Gertrud Hirschi, author of the book MUDRAS – Yoga in Your Hands, offers an affirmation to go along with the Ksepana mudra. “Spent energy in my body, mind and soul flows away from me, and I thankfully accept all things that refresh me.”
As you hold the mudra and think these positive thoughts you can envision the sludge becoming expulsed with each exhale; becoming more clear, all the while, knowing that this process of pouring out and letting go is a constant and gradual practice.
by Robin Wilner
Our hands are like the looking glass into our souls. We reflect our feelings, our moods, and our inner struggles through gestures without even realizing it. Do you clench your fists when you’re frustrated? Do things tend to slip through your fingers when you’re feeling anxious or depressed? Have you ever waved in a friendly greeting, given someone a cheerful thumbs up, clapped in excitement, or angrily raised your middle finger? Have you felt the impact of taking a new love’s hand for the first time? These are all subtle expressions that require no words, and yet they each have a complex simplicity that speaks volumes.
As a kid, when I had trouble finding the right words to express myself, I used my body through dance instead. Every limb had its own dialect to relate to the world, and even as I matured and my vocabulary grew, I still preferred the power of gesture as my form of communication. Whenever I tell a story even now, I use my hands and body to channel my thoughts. Until I found yoga, I had the hardest time keeping still. And then something shifted. I realized that my hands, creating their own special dance as conduits of my heart, were these incredible receptors of energy and healing. The stillness in meditation brought me such calm and clarity, and I was able to tap into my deepest Truth through the yogic hand expressions, or mudras.
In the ancient practice of yoga, a mudra (or “seal” in Sanskrit) is the mystic sign language that translates the deep intentions of our hearts. Whether we’re creating shapes while in a meditative seat or whole body mudras during our asana practice, we have the means to transform our energetic state. Some gestures may act as physical or emotional healers, while others may help to heal us spiritually or connect to our divine inner nature.
“Each mudra ultimately creates a special connection to cosmic consciousness, [and the] primary goal of yoga is oneness of humanity with cosmic consciousness,” says Gertrud Hirschi, author of Yoga in Your Hands. Whether we are in search of our own personal connection to the Source, are working to heal a relationship or let go of past emotions, want to enhance our breath, calm our minds, or need help making everyday choices with better clarity, there are numerous mudras from which to choose your expression. These are just a few of my personal favorites to help you along your journey:
(1) Prithivi Mudra (stability): connect the thumb and ring finger together with the other fingers extended, resting both hands this way on your thighs. By stimulating the root chakra and connecting to the energy of the Earth, this mudra helps to create a powerful feeling of stability, security, and confidence.
(2) Anjali Mudra (gratitude): place both hands together in front of your heart with the palms facing inward. As you sit with your breath, express gratitude for the abundance of blessings in your life. This will create harmony, balance, and peace of mind.
(3) Garuda Mudra (inner freedom): clasp your thumbs with your right hand on top of your left and your palms facing your abdomen. This gesture activates circulation, refreshes the organs of the pelvis and chest, and creates a sense of fearlessness. Let this mudra take flight like an eagle above your head after several breaths and enjoy the inner freedom!
(4) Hakini Mudra (concentration): place all ten fingertips together, leaving a sphere of empty space between both hands. This mudra stimulates brain activity and improves concentration. Place it centered onto the third eye, which is the seat of our intuition, thoughts and perceptions, to help clear the mind and improve memory.
(5) Varada Mudra (forgiveness): point the left fingers downward with the palm facing forward, and rest the right hand in your lap or on your thigh. One of the popular gestures depicted by Buddhist and Hindu deities, this is a gesture of forgiveness and mercy. Practice being forgiving towards yourself for any past or present wrongdoings, as well as being merciful towards others who may have wronged you.
(6) Lotus Mudra (purity): place both hands in front of your heart, keeping only the heels of your hands, pinkies and thumbs together. The rest of your fingers extend wide open, blossoming like the bud of a lotus flower emerging from the mud. This gesture of purity opens the heart to the goodness in all beings and to our true Divine nature.
Give yourself time to sit and explore these mudras fully. Discover the energetic feeling that comes up, whether it is uncomfortable or uplifting. And remember that your hands have the ability to express your Truth louder than words.
Robin is a passionate dancer and yogi who loves to explore the power of expression through creative movement. Catch a class with her at Laughing Lotus on Mondays/Fridays @12pm, Tuesdays/Thursday @9am, or Saturdays @6:15pm.
by Nikki Borodi
It is a beautiful dance, when we move, connecting the languages of our minds, bodies and spirits. We have transformative gifts that allow us to use our bodies to calm our minds, our trust in spirit to calm our bodies and our minds to thread the pieces together that invite us to utilize different expressions at the ends of our fingertips.
A mudra is a tool that can invite our spiritual, mental and physical bodies to work towards the same goal. In Sanskrit the meaning of ‘mudra’ is a seal or closure. By creating specific hand positions we consciously connect a physical gesture to focus transitioning the energy flow of the body, which invite us to shift spiritual and physical aspect of ourselves. This seal is a pact we make between the divine and ourselves to call in change.
I love the using of tangible symbolism, whether it is the pieces on an altar or a gesture of the hands to intentionally call in evolution. Just like there are different ingredients for various recipes there are many mudras to call in specific energy shifts.
One of my favorites is the Padma or Lotus Mudra. This beautiful coming together of the hands in a way that forms a lotus flower invites in purity and an opening of the heart. To explore Padma mudra place the base of the palms together allowing the pinkies and thumbs to touch while the rest of the fingers blossom widely open. Inhaling the lotus flower from your heart up past your crown chakra call in the invitation to allow your heart to open to receive whatever comes your way, on an exhale draw your hands in prayer down to your heart closing the lotus pedals off to any fear of your spirit. Repeat this cycle for as few or as many times as you wish with a full intention focused on this expansion.
You can also visualize your lotus flower freeing itself from mud and muck as it grows towards the sunlight. The lotus flower that shifts from darkness to light is a magnificent mirror to the human condition of how we all grow through murky waters to ultimately transform, shine and grow. We must honor the dark, pain, and struggle along with the joy, success and blessings within us that offer the lessons that most inspire our evolutions.
So anytime you are looking to add some mindfulness to your day and have even a few minutes to spare take seat, join your hands and enjoy the benefits of incorporating mudra into your meditation and pranayama practice. The shifts can happen anywhere and anytime when you invite yourself to be open to them. So whether you are on a yoga mat or waiting for the bus enjoy exploring the gestures that activate you the most.
Have you ever had the experience of being outside the Lotus temple and just needing yoga, yet the setting isn’t conducive to busting out into Trikonasana, or walking Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) out? It can be frustrating, right? Knowing that relief is just a pose away and it’s outside of your comfort zone, or more probably outside of others comfort zones. For instance, I had a friend who worked a high anxiety position with security. I showed him Childs Pose (Balasana) to ease anxiety and let him tap into his parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest side of the nerves. His experience was one of instant relief and his question was “Why aren’t people doing this more often?” Well, for many reasons, most of them nonsensical in my humble opinion BUT there’s good news!
Using simple hand gestures, known as Mudras (“seal” or “mark” in Sanskrit), we can tap into a vast world of healing. By use of our fingers we are able to effect our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being. The shapes we create can help stabilize our weight, clear energy blockages at each chakra, and call on the powers of deities as in Ganesha Mudra. You may have experienced our Mudra mascot, the Lotus Mudra, once or twice in class. The Lotus Mudra is said to be the “symbol for purity,” says Gertrud Hirschi, author of “Mudras, Yoga in your Hands.” The Lotus roots itself in the muck, the mud, our more difficult and darker sides… and grows towards the light. Flowering so that it can share the love that it has gained through hardship, and adversity, offering beauty for all to experience. Other aspects, maybe more tangible, include doing “this mudra when you feel drained, exploited, misunderstood, or lonely.” Hirschi says to “open yourself to the divine force and receive whatever you need – and much more.”
She goes on to explain how our hands are mirrors for diverse dynamic systems, small and large. As yoginis and yogis we begin to recognize the interconnectedness of all things. Whether it’s how the energy of a class begins to build on itself through breath and motion, creating a largely transformative experience together which can never be the same practicing alone; or feeling how blockages in our physical bodies may be indications of energetic stagnation in our other mental, emotional or spiritual bodies. The hands house connections to the systems of Ayurveda, our chakras, meridians through acupressure, reflexology, planetary classification (thumb representing Mars, index as Jupiter and so on) and palmistry.
Mudras are used all over the place… to bring them into todays textual world, think of the hand symbols emulated as emojis. During ceremonies those performing pujas will used mudras to work with the essence of the deity that the puja is held for. Each of our fingers has a stigma itself, the thumbs up! The “ring” finger, peace fingers and of course sometimes the center-most finger.
Mudras are extremely helpful in situations where physical asana may be difficult or inaccessible. During a 5 week pancakarma cleanse in India they were my lifeline. The medicine and practices involved in this Ayurvedic cleanse were deep, thorough, and had strict rules to increase their effective nature. I wasn’t supposed to do much physically, some folks are actually bed-ridden from the effects. Regardless, I tried and found that practice… even Yin and Tai Chi… were crushingly intense for me. I started to meditate more often and visit the library. I found Gertruds book and started to use the mudras to help connect with some of the same effects I craved from practicing asana.
They can also be combined with most any practice:
sitting in Bay Bridge traffic… to name a few… oh..
and yes… at the DMV.
Andrew, aka Prancing Pine, leads the Lotus community into the Dark Side of yoga. The “Yin-timate” spaces, if you will. Otherwise he’s spreading the love and light of Reiki healing and exploring inner spaces or trying to get into the woods.