Before I truly discovered the wonderful world of yoga, my pre yoga-loving self had a few uninformed preconceived notions about "yoga" and "meditation". I believed that "yoga" was some kind of borderline-sexual hippie workout plan; and if you are "meditating" you looked like a buddhist monk, sitting in full lotus pose, eyes closed, with the hands resting on the knees, palms up with the fingers lightly touching. Although now I realize that I was simply mystified (and my prejudicial thoughts are kind of laughable), it wasn't until recently, a full 12 years after delving into yoga, that I started understanding what those meditative hand gestures were all about.
The 'mudra', sanskrit for 'seal', is often thought of as yoga of the hands. They are specific hand gestures that are believed to impart healing properties on its practitioners, in connection with yogic breathing (pranayama), through stimulation and redirection of life energy (prana), affecting the nervous and endocrine systems. Most mudras are believed to reduce stress and anxiety, but each one serves a specific purpose.
Mudras have their roots in both Hinduism as well as Buddhism, and are vehicles of meditation. They are also used in traditional Indian dance and Tantric rituals. Mudras can be one-handed, two-handed or joint-handed. Any one-hand mudra can be done with two hands; two-handed mudras are believed to be more powerful and effective than a one-handed mudra. The best way to practice mudras are in seated positions; Lotus Pose (Padmasana), Easy Pose (cross-legged) or Kneeling Pose (Vajrasana), for at least fifteen minutes at a time. However, a little mudra is better than no mudra and as such, can be practiced anywhere (at your desk, on the subway, in line at the grocery store) for any amount of time if you need a little centering and balancing.
Here are a few basic mudras and their intended benefits:
- Gyan Mudra: Palm up, press the tip of the index finger into the tip of the thumb, straightening the other three fingers and keeping them together.
- Benefits: Gyan Mudra stimulates the root chakra, easing depression and tension. It increases concentration and memory retention, and helps keep insomnia at bay. Practice this hand position to separate yourself with worldly things.
- Varuna Mudra: Connect the thumb and pinky finger at the tips, forming an 'O'. Three middle fingers should remain straight, together or disjointed.
- Benefits: Aiding in fluid circulation, Varuna Mudra also helps relieve muscle pains and spasms and prevents acne.
- Hakini Mudra: Lightly connect the fingers of the left hand to the corresponding fingers of the right hand, thumbs facing gently downward and the remaining fingers pointing up. Hollow the palms as if you are gently holding an imaginary ball.
- Benefits: Improving memory and concentration, this popular mudra also helps create calmness, clarity and unity of the mind.
By: Jessica Adams (G+)
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