Yoga’s Hand Mudras: 3 Gestures for Calm, Clarity and Balance

When Joseph LePage, my primary yoga teacher, first introduced hand mudras into the Integrative Yoga Therapy Training program, I resisted. I simply did not get it. But having been raised a “good girl” with respect for teachers, I went along with the program. He introduced them. I listened. I practiced. And I felt nothing. Nada. No energy shifts, no sensations, no nothing. So much for mudras, I thought.
 
Then about three months later, I found myself in a stressful situation. My hands automatically moved into one of the grounding mudras I’d been practicing and wow! There it was. My palms tingled, my breath slowed, and I felt a sense of calm in the middle of that most uncomfortable situation. It actually worked. I was amazed and delighted.

What are Yogic Hand Mudras?

So, what are mudras exactly? The common English meaning of the word is “gesture,” or “seal.” The word in Sanskrit means “to bring forth pleasure or enchantment.” Mudras are thought to have arisen spontaneously from the deep meditative states experienced by the ancient Indian sages. Mudras can be used to recognize a quality, attitude, or energetic state that is already present within and waiting to be awakened. Examples of some desirable states for most of us modern humans are calming, energizing, focus, or balance. 

Gestures of the hands, face, and body are common in our everyday life. They can communicate moods and intentions that go beyond language. In some cultures crossed arms signal an attitude of defensiveness, palms together in front of the heart can mean devotion, and a bowed head can send a message of grief or sadness. 

Because I love metaphors as a way to help me understand new information, once I grasped the basic principle of mudras, I searched for a metaphor to make the information personal and memorable. It took a while but when I finally gave up my flip phone, bought a smartphone, and used the GPS function for the first time to get directions to a workshop I was attending, the light bulb went off. GPS! Global Positioning System! Simply put, at least for me, it goes like this:

Mudras can be thought of as a global positioning system for realizing the desired quality. Consciously place the hands in a particular position, pay attention, and allow the mudra to bring forth the quality.

How to Practice Yogic Hand Mudras 

Now I practice mudras regularly and can definitely feel their effects. Here are three of my favorites.

Adhi Mudra Adhi mudra, primordial mudra, mudra for grounding and stillness, mudra to calm anxiety

The Sanskrit word adhi means “primordial” and refers to our natural state of being. The gesture is said to bring the breath to the base of the body, help with anxiety, and instill a deep sense of grounding and stillness. 

Instructions:

  1. Sit with your spine comfortably aligned. 

  2. Soften your chest and shoulders.

  3. Close your eyes, or keep them slightly open and gaze down at the floor. 

  4. With both hands, form soft fists by placing your thumbs across your palms and folding your fingers around your thumbs.

  5. Rest your hands, knuckles down, on your knees or thighs.

  6. Hold the mudra and sit quietly for 2 to 5 minutes, as long as you are comfortable.

  7. Focus on your natural breathing process. 

  8. When you are ready to come out, release the mudra, and stretch your body in any way that your body needs to stretch.

Jnana Mudra      Jnana Mudra, Mudra for wisdom, mudra for clarity, well-known mudra

The Sanskrit word jnana means “wisdom.” Clear seeing, focus, and concentration are the qualities that this mudra brings to realization. Jnana mudra directs the awareness to the third eye, the space between the eyebrows. This is perhaps one of the most well-known mudras used for meditation. 

Instructions:

  1. Sit with your spine comfortably aligned. 

  2. Soften your chest and shoulders.

  3. On both hands, touch the tips of your index fingers to the tips of the thumbs. Your thumbs and index fingers will form a soft round circle.

  4. Relax the backs of your hands on your knees, with the middle, ring, and pinky fingers extended.

  5. Close your eyes or keep them slightly open and gaze down at the floor.

  6. Hold the mudra and sit quietly for 2 to 5 minutes, as long as you are comfortable.

  7. Focus on your natural breathing process. 

  8. When you are ready to come out, release the mudra, and stretch your body in any way that your body needs to stretch.

Hakini Mudra Hakini Mudra, Mudra for power, dominion, or rule. Mudra for balance and integration, mudra for overrall  good health

The Sanskrit word hakini means “power, dominion or rule.” The quality realized here is balance and integration. This mudra facilitates full yogic breathing and supports overall health and healing. 

Instructions:

  1. Sit with your spine comfortably aligned. 

  2. Soften your chest and shoulders.

  3. Hold your hands facing each other a few inches away from your solar plexus.

  4. Touch the tips of the fingers and thumb of your left hand to the corresponding fingers and thumb of your right hand.

  5. Create space between your hands as though you are holding a ball.

  6. Relax your hands in your lap, with the pinky sides of your hands, your wrists, and your forearms on your thighs or in your lap. 

  7. Close your eyes, or keep them slightly open and gaze down at the floor.

  8. Hold the mudra and sit quietly for 2 to 5 minutes, as long as you are comfortable.

  9. Focus on your natural breathing process. 

  10. When you are ready to come out, release the mudra, and stretch your body in any way that your body needs to stretch.

Mudras can be used in combination with asanas or practiced on their own. They are also a go-to practice when your body requires long-term rest. With some exploration and practice, you will find the ones that work best for you. 

Judith Hanson Lasater, Yoga teacher, Restorative Yoga, YogaU presenter, Alignment and anatomy in yoga twisting

 
Reprinted with permission from Yoga for Healthy Aging.

Beth Gibbs, MA, E-RYT 500, Yoga therapist, writer, YFHA

Beth Gibbs, MA, is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and a faculty member at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She holds a masters’ degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children, and a Yoga Nidra MP3, Release, Relax and Let Go. Beth is an experienced workshop leader and public speaker. She blogs at bethgibbs.com 

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