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.