Indiana & Yoga Magazine Summer 2016 Issue 1 - Page 68

SELF STUDY Mudras: Yoga of the Hands By Mindi Epstein What’s in a gesture? More than you can imagine. According to the Acharya Keshav Dev, the Indian yoga master and author of Mudras for Healing; Mudra Vigyan: A Way of Life, “Your destiny lies in your hands, and this should be taken quite literally.” Mudras are gestures and hasta mudras specifically, are those made with the hands. Hand gestures are prevalent in all cultures past and present. Sometimes the gesture is authoritative, such as the upraised palm turned outward in the universal expression of “stop.” Similarly, the hands are understood to be de- votional when the palms are pressed together in prayer. Mudras are correlated to palmistry, reflexology and the meridian points of Chinese medicine and acupuncture. The science of yoga assigns each of the five vital elements (pancha mahabhuta) to one of the fingers. Fire (agni) is associated with the thumb. Moving up the hand, the index finger is air (vayu), the middle finger is ether or space (akash), the ring finger is earth (prithvi) and the pinky is associated with the element water (jal). Forming the fingers and hands into shapes redirects the life force in our bodies (prana) to balance these five elements of nature. Regular practice yields demonstrated effects on both the physical and subtle body. The most recognized mudra is the Gyan, or Jnana, mudra. Used for meditation, one forms the Gyan mudra by resting the hands on the knees with palms turned upward. Both hands bring the thumb to lightly touch the index finger, creating a sacred circle, while the other three fingers extend from the palm. This meditative posture of wisdom has become so commonplace that we see Rafiki, the wise baboon from The Lion King, seated cross-legged in the pose. The Gyan mudra’s familiarity, however, does not belie its power. The thumb, symbolic of the Universe or Source Energy, forms a union with the forefinger, representative of the individual soul. The circle they create expresses the individual’s longing for union with the Divine. By turning the hands over and sliding the index finger down the inside of the thumb to press against the first knuckle, the Gyan mudra becomes the Chin mudra, the gesture of consciousness. These simple changes redirect the pranic flow and alter the posture’s effect. The mudra energetically connects the individual with the earth. This grounding effect promotes relaxation and longer periods of meditation. There are powerful healing aspects to creating these beautiful shapes with the hands. The Gyan mudra is said to improve memory and offer relief from tension, depression and other mental disorders. Similarly, the energy flow from the Chin mudra works on mental impairments and improvements to the mind. Holistic practitioners prescribe specific mudras to relieve any number of ailments, including respiratory conditions, digestive and circulatory difficulties, emotional fluctuations and issues related to muscles and joints. The mudras’ effects may be subtle at first, but continued practice balances the five elements and restores health. While it is best to practice mudras when meditating, the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of practicing mudras can be accessed any where, any time. The length of time to hold a mudra and the number of practices to do a day vary depending on the reason for employing the gesture. Typically mudras are held between 3 and 15 minutes, and at times for as long as 60 minutes. Controlled deep breathing, visualization and affirmations are all ways to enhance a mudra’s effect. Like any practice or ritual that spans cultures and millennia, it is difficult to find consensus on the details, such as how long to practice mudras. Even agreement on the name of a particular gesture is evasive. Depending on the source or scholar consulted, one will find the upward facing thumb-to-index finger posture defined as Gyan, Jnana, Chin and even Dhyana mudra. Nonetheless, these ancient hand gestures are undeniably graceful and elegant. They are rooted in a rich history of science, folklore and tradition, and each one holds a promise to bring us closer to achieving our purpose. ■ 66 INDIANA & YOGA MAGAZINE ISSUE I