by Meisha Bosma
The first few moments of any regular practice are precious. Whether you’re practicing in a group or solo, the beginning matters because it sets the energetic
frequency for the entire experience. I like to start with a Mudra. A mudra is a gesture, or seal. In Sanskrit, the word mudra is derived from two root words: mud,
which means, “delight,” “pleasure” or “enchantment,” and rati, which means, “to
bring forth.” When consciously used, mudras evoke psychological and spiritual
awakening that bring forth the subtle qualities that are necessary for optimal health and healing and support the living of life with vitality and purpose.
There are mudras for pretty much everything, and what I love is they’re non-
verbal. Without speaking a word, your capacity to communicate with the invisible,
yet highly potent layers of your physical body, mind and spirit, is palpable. In the
fingers and hands, the energies of the chakras, the elements and the planets are
housed. And because of this, specific finger combinations offer a wide range of
possibilities for balancing the whole being.
There are mudras for migraine headaches and allergies, menopause, the digestive
system, asthma and easeful breathing, weight management, healthy immune system and anxiety. There are mudras for boundary setting, flowing through the stream of life, fearlessness and letting go. You can also tap into mudras for heartfelt acceptance, compassion, opening to new possibilities and self-empowerment.
Mudras can be used when seeking refuge in the Divine, for cultivating devotional
love or to call forth spiritual freedom. There’s a unique essence to them all, and you can feel the resonance in your fingertips as they bend, cross and connect with one another. In a mudra practice, the gesture itself guides the breath and has the ability to change the speed, focus, quality and location of the breath almost
instantaneously. You can think of mudras as your energetic keys, and each one
unlocks a core quality from within that naturally leads to the waking up of what rests dormant inside.
I started a regular mudra practice three years ago. I use them everyday. I wake up
and ask my Soul what’s needed for the day. A thought, emotion or image might appear and I find the mudra to support it. After three years, the most important thing I’ve learned so far is this: You must believe the mudra is going to work. To not believe might feel something like skepticism, judgment or doubt. You must channel the mudra with conviction. In the land of judgment or doubt, it’s kind of strange, or maybe downright crazy to think that by simply touching my two pinky fingers together, my level of stress and high blood pressure will decrease, my connection to the earth will deepen and I’ll feel confident and supported by the universe. But to believe is to feel the tremendous pulse of unyielding certainty. To be certain is to know. Belief indicates an unwavering trust that something is true and real. Belief makes it happen, and when made with conviction, a mudra feels settled and profound. That’s why a mudra practice is, at its core, a practice that cultivates belief.
To believe a mudra is going to work for you, leads straight into seeing it, feeling it, embodying and being it. Our experiences are shaped by what we believe. When we believe – so strongly – in something, someone or a particular thought, it has an
energetic vibration that can be felt; it takes root and then grows into life. To doubt or judge has it’s own vibration, and although it usually doesn’t feel good to be in this landscape, it also manifests in its own gnarly manner. Judgment, skepticism and doubt can be completely transformed with a regular mudra practice. From my own first-hand experience I’ve come to believe in the mudra practice whole-heartedly, and it’s empowering to believe, at my core, that I am creating all of my life experiences, and shaping the reality of my body, my mind and my spirit moment to moment.
An excellent way to get to know each mudra is to hold it silently, so that you can
deepen your sensitivity to the subtle layers of your physical, energetic, psycho-
emotional and spiritual being. To go further, a guided meditation can be added to
the practice. I often start my classes with a Mudra meditation. This
links thought with gesture, and it’s radically powerful. I find this enhances the whole mudra practice.
Join us at the Lotus Temple during the entire month of August, where you’ll be introduced to the wide and abundant universe of the mudras. Come and Believe!
Meisha smiles to the healing balm practice of yoga and meditation. Growing up in a home where spiritual teachings were forbidden, her hunger for Truth was fueled at a very young age. She discovered her first sacred space in the dance studio where curiosity, imagination, and a practice of honest expression were celebrated.
She is passionate about sharing these teachings, and now enjoys walking side by side with others on the yogic path. Her classes are a cosmic expression of movement, meditation and inspiration. Meisha teaches from a place of personal experience and empathy, and she’s rooted in her belief that transformation happens when we begin to meet every part of ourselves, just as we are. She loves being part of the collaborative effort that reveals the beautifully peaceful voice, forever waiting to be nourished from within. She graduated from Laughing Lotus Yoga School in the summer of 2011 and has been serving as a teacher of yoga and meditation ever since.
by Steven Mih
There are many definitions of the term mudra. They are called gestures, seals, symbols, or closure. One transliteration of the sanskrit term is “moving toward delight.” As with many forms of yoga, mudras are better experienced versus understood conceptually. To me, mudras are intentions to harness and direct energy. They can be used as another set of tools to maintain, change, or direct our inner energies (aka prana). Mudras are typically a gesture with one or both hands called hasta mudras.
There’s a whole world of hasta mudras to explore and get to know how they work with your body. I would guess that there are as many mudras as there are asanas or postures. As asanas originate from the mechanics of the living form, mudras are expressions of the subtle body within. As such, it follows that many mudras are already commonplace and understood nearly universally. For example, you can probably easily picture the hand gestures for “stop”, “A-OK”, or “give me (something)”. I would suggest that those gestures are natural because they feel like the meaning. Putting your hand up as if pushing an imaginary wall… that certainly feels like “stop” to me. Just like we are taught to feel asanas, it is important to feel the mudras in order to explore their purpose and effect. I would like to share a couple of mudras with you.
One mudra you have likely seen or practiced is Jnana Mudra. It is the “A-OK” gesture with the thumb and index finger connected while the palm facing up. Try making a complete circle with your thumb pad on the nail bed of your index finger, and try to extend out your last three fingers so you feel your palm expanding. The circle represents yoga itself, making a connection between the individual soul, as depicted by your thumb, and the rest of the world, in the form of your index finger. When I first started practicing this mudra, I noticed that my index finger was quite inflexible and would cramp after a few minutes. Other than the newness of this mudra, I believe this had to do with the egocentric state of mind I was in at the time. Over time, I found my hands to become softer and Jnana Mudra is truly a delight to this day.
Not all mudras are formed with hands. There are mudras of the eyes, breathing techniques called mudras, and mudras involving the whole body. One of the whole body expressions is called Maha Mudra. Maha means great. Like its name, this mudra tends to increase your energies by sealing your prana in the sushumna, your main subtle body channel along the spine. It is physically very similar to Head to Knee Pose (Janu-sirsasana), except that your spine is extended instead of rounding the spine. With your hands on your foot or leg, use your foot or leg to counter balance the pressure created from leaning back. Find a long spine with the chin tilted back and down. In addition, Maha Mudra is initially practiced with the root lock and breathing steadily through the nose. In the more advanced versions, the navel lock, chin lock and retentions are added. While this mudra might look like an asana, set your intention on directing prana into your spinal channel and feel the effect on your subtle energies as you practice. Mudras are typically held longer so try 25 breathings before switching to the other leg. The grandfather of modern yoga Sri Krishnamacharya was known to favor practicing the advanced form of Maha Mudra well in to the late stages of his life of 101 years. I have found the Maha Mudra to be a prana packed combination of asana, bandha, and pranayama to help me live a happy and productive life.
Mudras are tools to increase, conserve, and direct your life force. They are all around us in everyday life. Most are very convenient; you can even create them while waiting in line at the store, instead of checking email on your smartphone! I encourage you to pick a few and take them with you to enjoy. Perhaps start with the hasta mudras – yoga of the hands!
by Carson Becker
I have a confession. When I first learned of Mudras, I thought them superfluous at best, superficial at worst. Superficial, as in “I have my thumb and finger together, this makes me look totally very spiritual.” Superfluous like a little paper parasol in my Pina Colada. “I need a parasol for me, not for my cocktail.” Similarly, when Mudras were brought up, I would think: “My hands don’t need yoga. My body needs yoga. Can we please skip to the part where we get into pigeon and I can barely breathe?”
That’s what I used to think. Until I discovered a secret. I’ll share it with you. Are you ready? You might want to sit on your hands for this, so they don’t hear. Shhhh… Here we go:
Hands have brains. Really. Little teeny tiny brains. Each hand has at least one. I’d bet there is a tiny brain in every finger, maybe even in every joint or nerve ending. Don’t believe it? I didn’t either. But I have proof!
Just watch your hands. They’re doing mudras all the time, all by themselves.
Start by watching your hands at a party. Do you stand with your arms down by your side, palms open as in, “here I am?” I never do. If you’re like me, your hands are crossed over your chest (Mudra of Don’t Touch My Heart), around your waist (Mudra of Don’t Touch My Belly), or around your hips (Mudra of Don’t Touch Anything). In my past, at parties, my hands have independently curled around a drink (Mudra of I am Seeking Courage), or patted the chair next to me (Mudra of Come Tell Me a Story). Maybe these aren’t the sacred gestures of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, but they are nonetheless expressions of our lives.
Next, take a mudra tour of the world. Look at all the hands acting independently. There are talking hands in Italy, haggling hands in open markets, angry hands in Parisian roundabouts (I admit I may have used that single fingered Mudra). When you get to the Karen regions of Burma, say hello using the Mudra of Holding Your Belly. In India, use only Right Hand Mudras to eat and greet. At the auction house, be especially careful: the tiniest mudra can raise the stakes by thousands of dollars. Don’t miss the greatest mudra show of all: an argument in sign language, watch hands clapping in anger, flying into explanation, settling into reconciliation and embrace.
Or just stay right here and consider the lexicon of hands: “Give me a hand,” “unhand me,” “hands up this is a hold up,” “if you have to live hand to mouth you’d better be ambidextrous,” “raise your hands in the ai-yar and wave them like you just don’t ca-yar,” “put your hand on your heart and your heart on your sleeve,” “hand in hand”…. You have to hand it to hands. They are hand in glove with all that matters.
There is even music for hands: Ben Harper’s With My Own Two Hands, Bill Withers’ Grandma’s Hands, Arrested Development singing in United Front: “Put your hands up, people put your hands up/ Put your soul up, people put your soul up,” Sarah Kay’s beautiful slam poem, Hands.
Look at the murals of San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. They are filled with hands: giant orange hands, open hands, seeds-sowing hands. Have you noticed that these hands are often portrayed alone? Hands know what they are doing. They don’t need us. Your hands were doing their own thing before you were even born.
I only recently learned about the secret lives of hands. I was in massage school. It was my first day. I suddenly realized that I was terrified of using my hands on others. What if my hands were cold? Clammy? Creepy? Rough? What if my fingers slipped somewhere they weren’t supposed to? What if I hurt someone? This is why, when it came time to choose a massage partner to practice on, I settled on the biggest and hairiest person I could find, a huge man the size and shape and texture of a bison (a bison standing upright in shorts and teevas). I picked him because I hoped his size and pelt would protect him from my clumsy hands.
When he took his shirt off on the massage table, I found myself gaping at a dense growth of back hair the likes of which I had never seen. Far and wide, there it was, as thick and black as the Schwartzwald of Grimms’ fairy tales. Underneath, here and there, I made out tattoos, overgrown with tendrils like the great jungle temples of Cambodia.
I did not know what to do. Legs shaking, I put my hands together (Mudra of Here Goes Nothing). Then I closed my eyes and let my hands fall down, down, into his hair, touching down through the jungle like the helicopter in Apocalypse Now. I closed my eyes. I waited for my hands to get lost. But they never did. When I opened my eyes, I found my hands going off all by themselves, unknotting muscles, softening joints, dancing, sending a message back to my brain that sounded like “Wheeeee!!! This is what we were meant to do! What took you so long?” This wasn’t because my hands are special – they’re definitely not. It happened because hands know, and have always known, the Mudras of Healing.
All hands have this knowledge. Watch your hands pat a shaking shoulder, reach across the table to a person you love, scratch a cat right in the itchy spot, touch a cheek, hold a peach from the farmer’s market just so – never squeezing, only asking: are you ripe yet? Hands, more than any other part of our bodies, hold the intelligence of caring and healing. It is an intelligence so subtle that it requires five fingers, 26 bones, 40 tendons and twenty muscles on each hand, not counting twenty more muscles in the wrist.
To honor our wise and wayward hands, I have therefore decided to think about Mudras differently. I now approach them not as yoga for my hands, but as yoga originating from my hands. In other words, I see my mudra-ing hands as tiny teachers for the rest of me. I hope that the clever little wits in my digits can teach the plodding sludge in my skull a thing or two. I trust that if I bring my thumb and index together, I can create a meeting of finger-minds in wisdom. I’ll try to follow this – that care, that precision, that potential for healing – with my wrist. Then with my forearms. Then my elbows. We’ll see how far I get before the whole thing falls apart. After that, if only for this month, I will try again. Hands first. Hands on.