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Building Presence in Your Practice: The Power of Mudras
Late last year, my colleague, Mary Northey, gave me a wonderful book on yogic hand gestures (hasta mudras) written by Joseph and Lilian LePage. As I first flipped through the pages, my curiosity was piqued. This book describes 108 hand mudras. (There are other categories of mudra we won’t get into here, such as facial gestures, whole-body gestures, and others.) There are likely many more hand mudras out there as well.
This was actually not my first exposure to the idea of the uses and potentials of specific hand gestures. Some years ago, I attended a workshop with Richard Miller, Ph.D., in which we learned the famous Indian chant and prayer, the Gayatri mantra, and the extensive series of hand mudras that are sometimes performed while chanting the mantra.
Many of my teachers over the years used the most commonly done mudras at end of class or during a final sitting meditation, such as Anjali Mudra (Prayer Position) or Jnana Mudra (Wisdom Mudra). I also remember seeing hand mudras as part of an Indian classical dance performance—an art long associated with hand gestures—on my trip to India in 2005.
So as I started to include mudras into my regular morning meditation practices, I very quickly discovered, to my delight, that my mind was more focused during meditation than it had been prior to introducing mudras. Regardless of the many other benefits that modern practitioners attribute to hand mudras, I was more than satisfied with this tangible initial benefit.
With that personal discovery, I decided to share a new mudra each week with my local yoga classes as part of the initial meditation we do at the start of each class. My students love it! Many have reported that they found the mudras they added to their home meditation and breath practices to be helpful in calming, energizing, and balancing their minds and bodies.
What I have delighted in discovering in my mudra exploration is how many of the mudras have potential benefits for physical and mental-emotional well-being. There are mudras to address headaches, pain, anxiety, depression, stress, the health of the lungs and heart, and really almost every system of the body.
The present challenge with all these “potential” health benefits is that to date we don’t have scientific studies looking at the outcomes of practicing mudras regularly, or how they might work. However, they are completely safe to practice and almost anyone can do the hand gestures, even if they cannot do full asana practice, as another way of experiencing yoga.
Joseph LePage suggests that they can also increase hand strength and finger dexterity as a beneficial side effect. As I observe my own mom’s gradual diminished abilities with hand dexterity, I am hopeful that including hand mudras in my practice can be both preventative now, and a form of treatment down the road if needed for my hands!
To recap, my discussion highlights the following upsides to learning and using mudras:
They can deepen your concentration and focus on meditation and pranayama.
They could potentially have a positive impact a wide variety of health conditions.
They have beneficial effects on your hands.
One of my favorite mudras is Bhramara Mudra, which is named after the bumblebee and is related to the same word as the breathing technique Bhramari (Buzzing Bee) Breath. I like this one because the position of the fingers and hands is just challenging enough to maintain that it works well keeping my focus on the here and now. This mudra is said to be useful for allergies and to help bolster your immune system, which is beneficial for the fall season.
You can do Bhramara Mudra in any seated, reclined, or even standing position, and can combine it with any meditation and pranayama techniques.
To practice the Bhramara Mudra:
1. With your palms facing up, curl the tips of your index fingers to the base of your thumbs, where your thumb meets your palm.
2. Touch your thumb pads to the edge of the last digit of your middle fingers.
3. Extend your 4th and 5th fingers.
4. If you are sitting in a meditation position, place the back of your hands on your legs. Maintain a lifted spine, relax your shoulders, and let your arms be slightly away from sides of your torso.
5. Because this mudra can be a bit challenging to hold, start by holding the mudra for 2-5 minutes and gradually work up to longer holds of up to 45 minutes. You can repeat up to three times a day (but probably not for more than a total of 45 minutes/day).
When you are done, shake out your hands and wrists, and wiggle your fingers.
Bhramara Mudra Photo in article courtesy of Melina Meza
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This article originally appeared in Yoga for Healthy Aging. Reprinted with permission.
Baxter Bell, MD, is a yoga teacher and educator, physician and medical acupuncturist. These days he focuses on teaching yoga full-time, both to ordinary students of all ages and physical conditions and to the next generation of yoga teachers, to whom he teaches anatomy and yoga therapy along with his accessible, skillful style of yoga. Baxter brings a unique perspective to his teaching, combining his understanding of anatomy and medicine with his skill at instructing people from all walks of life and all levels of ability. Baxter is the co-founder and writer for the popular Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, where he shares his knowledge of medical conditions, anatomy, and yoga with practitioners and teachers across the world. In addition to being a frequent presenter at Yoga Journal Alive events and yoga conferences such as IAYT’s SYTAR, he is often quoted as an expert on yoga and health by major national news outlets such as The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. To learn more, visit www.baxterbell.com, www.yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com, and his YouTube channel Baxter Bell Yoga.