Gestures are an unintentional part of our daily life. However, when we bring awareness to specialized hand and body gestures and hold them with focused intention, we can receive numerous benefits for health and well-being through an age-old Yogic practice called mudras.
What are Mudras?
Mudra is a Sanskrit word meaning “seal”, “mark” or “gesture”. Symbolic or ritual poses, mudras have been used in Indian dance and yoga, as well as Buddhism and other traditions. These poses can be traced back more than 2,000 years. During the 5th to 15th centuries the use of mudras evolved in India into the fully developed form we know today.
Have you ever meditated while holding your hands in a palms-up position and gently touching your thumb to your first finger, forming a round open circle? This is called the Jnana Mudra and it specifically invokes higher knowledge for awakening clear seeing. It’s a specific hand position for supporting your meditation and enhancing concentration.
Mudras in yoga can be hand gestures, known as Hasta Mudra, head gestures called Mana Mudra or done with the whole body, called Kaya Mudra. In the West we mostly see mudras performed with the hands and fingers. Hand mudras link in with the large number of sensory and motor nerve ending in our fingers, making them a powerful vehicle for communicating directly with the brain and the rest of the body.
Signatures of Mudras
Each mudra has its own specific quality or “signature”, and each finger is traditionally related to one of the five elements so that different finger gesture combinations offer a wide range of possibilities for balancing the elements internally and optimizing our health.
Thumb – Fire
Index finger – Air element
Middle finger – Ether element
Ring finger – Earth element
Little finger – Water element
Much like a yoga practice where we create mudras with our whole body, hand mudras are known to create similar health benefits. They can bring calm to our body and mind, and are said to boost metabolism, help with physical pain and increase blood circulation. They are also thought to increase longevity, by moving stuck energy in the body and creating prana (life-force).
By holding our hands or body in a yoga mudra for an extended period, we are creating an energy loop of this life-force energy in our subtle body. Every mudra has a particular purpose and moves the energy in a specific way throughout the body to create subtle physical, mental, and emotional changes.
The beauty of hand mudras is that there are some simple hand positions you can use in your daily life to bring mental and physical benefits. I’ve even used a mudra while standing in a long line at the post office just before Christmas. Waiting my turn while surrounded by many stressed-out people, I held my package under my arm and touched the tips of my thumbs to my middle fingers. Able to do this without anyone seeing, I was practicing the Akasha Mudra.
Invoked for activating the space element (and I definitely could use space in that moment), it’s said to release muscular tension from the neck, shoulders, and jaw. I felt myself begin to relax immediately instead of linking into the stress that surrounded me.
Mudras You Can Practice at Home or on the Go
Each moment of our busy day can bring an opportunity for a gentle reset, and hand mudras are a great practice for finding that reset button. Mudras support you to be more intentional, so it’s best if you can sit quietly and relax your whole body while doing mudras. However, taking a break to do a hand mudra at your desk, while waiting for an appointment, or even in the elevator, can bring you back to your breath, calm the body and offer the opportunity to relax and recenter.
Here are some simple yet powerful hand mudras that can be used daily as a gentle reset, calm your energy and help refocus body and mind.
Jnana Mudra – Gesture of Higher Knowledge for awakening clear seeing and enhancing concentration.Touch the tips of the index fingers to the tips of the thumbs of each hand, allowing them to form a round open circle. Extend your little, ring and middle fingers straight out.
Akasha Mudra – Gesture of Space for activating the space element in order to sense the quality of spaciousness within your body, enhance intuition and release muscular tension from the neck, shoulders, and jaw. Touch the tips of the thumbs to the tips of your middle fingers. Extend little, ring and index fingers straight out.
Dvimukham Mudra – Gesture of Two Faces for facilitating deep relaxation. Hold your hands facing upward. Touch the tips of the little and ring fingers to the same fingers on the opposite hands. Rest your hands below the navel, with the forearms resting against the abdomen or onto the lap.
Abhisheka Mudra – Gesture of Anointing for focused concentrated. Especially useful for improving concentrating as a preparation for meditation. Make your hands into loose fists, with the thumbs on the outside facing up. Bring the base of your palms and fists together to touch. Straighten and extend your index fingers and join their pads together. Bring the sides of your thumbs together and rest them in the space between the raised index fingers.
Kapota Mudra – Gesture of the Dove for cultivating non-violence and inner peace, self-care, and self-healing. Hold your hands in prayer position in front of the heart, with the hands slightly away from the body. Keep the fingers and the base of the palms together while opening the knuckles away from each other, creating an open space between the palms, resembling a dove’s open breast.
Dharma Pravartana Mudra – Gesture of Setting Dharma in Motion for balancing all five elements within and supporting a sense of integration and harmony at all levels of being. Touch the fingertips of the right hand to the fingertips of the left hand. Bring the outer edges of the thumbs together along their length. The pads of the thumbs rest just below the index fingers without touching them. Form a round space within the palms, as if holding a globe. Place the hands in front of your solar plexus.
Bloom Post is a freelance writer, ceremonialist, teacher, and author of the books Shaman’s Toolbox: Practical Tools for Powerful Transformation and Plant Spirit Totems. For more information: www.BloomPost.com