Making the Everyday Sacred with Magical Mudras
The Power of Mudras
My yoga life started right here in the Byron Shire. I’ll never forget falling out of crow pose in my first class. “You’ll get the hang of it,” my yoga teacher encouraged, “it takes time to build up the strength in your wrists”
It was after class in the local café with juices in hand that she and I discussed the meaning of life. I remember leaning in to ask, “Are you going for it?,” “Going for what?” she smiled, “Enlightenment!” I naively declared.
I don’t think either of us, knew the depth of what that word meant. But we knew it was something to strive for.
Years later I learned about Tantra.
The premise of Tantra is to use the limitation to free oneself of limitation. The example the body gives us is that it uses whatever it falls on to lift itself back up again. Like when it falls down it uses the ground to push itself back up.
In yoga we use the body to free ourselves of the limitation of the body. This is called asana (posture) which extends to using bhandas (locks) and mudras (gesture) in Tantra. We use the breath (pranayama) to free ourselves of the limitation of the breath and the mind and thoughts to free ourselves of the limitations of the mind.
Are we limited by these things. In reality, we can’t be. It only appears that way because we have learned to see ourselves as limited. The tools of Tantra, which comprise the use of sound and visualization are there to draw the mind into a one pointed focus so that we are drawn out of our habitual need to identify with our thoughts and ideas. The biggest habit being the thought we have about ourselves. Called the “I” thought, it is made up of our conditioning. I.e. what we’ve been taught by our parents, our education and society.
All stress in the body, breath and mind is caused by the need of identification. Loosening the grip of that habit is the job of the tantric and yogic practices.
One of my favorite ways to slow down and tune in is to work with the practice of mudra. Perfect for anyone at any age, you don’t need to be fit, flexible or have anatomical knowhow to practice them. All you need is your hands, a quiet place and some time to practice.
Mudras are gestures which seal energy into the body. They have been around for thousands of years in India, China and Japan. Even western traditions use mudras like the prayer position or a gesture of benediction by a priest. Before there was language we used gestures (sign language) to communicate. That’s why we still use our hands when we talk.
When my son was little I was enthralled by the gestures he made while asleep in his car seat. His thumb and forefinger would naturally come together while his eyes made rapid movements under closed lids. It reminded me of a Balinese dancer who moves their eyes and their head, wrists and hands to convey a story or mood. In the case of my baby it was the outward sign of inward brain development and the first time I sensed the connection between the hands and the mind.
As the quote, “Idle hands make fretful minds” by Shelley Shepard Gray implies, it’s by giving our hands a clear focus that the mind relaxes.
The part of our brain that connects to movement, called the leopard brain, is also connected to our emotions. For instance when a tiger runs towards you, you don’t just stand there, you run because your fear tells you to! At the opposite end of the spectrum, gently placing the hands into different positions tells the relaxed part of the nervous system to switch on, creating a feeling of harmony throughout the entire body mind system.
What are the Best Mudras for Everyday Use?
The easiest mudras are the ones we do naturally, crossing the fingers, placing the thumb and index finger together or resting the hands one on top of the other with the thumbs touching in the lap. There are other mudras used in a more traditional way to engage a deep state of concentration and meditation.
Before we try three of these traditional gestures here are some easy to follow guidelines to enhance your practice:
Make sure your posture while seated is balanced. Hold your arms about one inch away from your body. This simple position by itself makes you feel more relaxed because it regulates the nervous and hormonal systems.
Before executing a mudra become aware of your breath, at the same time think about your intention for the practice.
While practicing see if you can observe the breath becoming calmer and calmer
Keep the pressure between the fingers light yet firm
There is no right way to do this, if you find yourself becoming more relaxed its working
Matsya is the fish gliding through the ocean keeping a steady course. This mudra is often used in setting an intention. As you hold it think about what it is you want to achieve, what qualities would you like to adopt. How can you move forward in your life with grace.
To practice the mudra:
Have your left palm facing downward. Place your right palm on the back of left palm. Extend the thumbs. Hold for at least 5 minutes. This mudra improves concentration, enhances your immunity and engenders devotion.
Shankh means conch and is used in rituals in temples in India. The conch is blown loudly during ceremonies representing the start of something auspicious. The sound of the conch also represents the sound OM.
To practice the mudra:
Encircle your left thumb with the four fingers of your right hand. At the same time, touch the right thumb to the extended middle finger of your left hand. Together, the two hands look like a conch shell. Hold your hands in front of your chest.
Shankh Mudra helps with any throat problems. Chanting OM as you do it, may improve your voice. It has a very calming effect and deepens your experience of silence.
Mudra of the Inner Self
The mudra of the inner self is represented in the closed lotus bud. This mudra is perfect for inner contemplation.
To practice the mudra:
Cross the wrists and turn the fingers to face each other making sure all the fingers of the left hand touch all the fingers of the right hand forming the shape of a closed lotus bud. As you hold the pose imagine a warm inner glow settling in your heart.