The concept of prana, or life force energy, is an important aspect of yoga. Prana is simple to explain, but difficult to grasp. It is the energy that makes us alive, the energy that makes us different than a shoe, but strangely similar to a tree. Prana is the ungraspable force that causes us to breathe unconsciously and experience the type of awareness that we do as humans. When prana is blocked or imbalanced, it manifests in both physical and emotional symptoms. An imbalance of energy in the heart chakra for example, could manifest as depression, and an imbalance in the third eye chakra could manifest as migraines.
Restoring balance is about removing energy blockages and freeing up space for prana to flow freely. In yoga, there are a number of practices specifically designed to stimulate and control prana and bring our systems into balance. One of these tools are mudras, hand positions that are often used during yoga and meditation. Picture the meditating yogi with hands at their heart, or strategically placed on the knees. This is not just for show; there is meaning behind the hand positions. In this post, we’ll learn about what mudras are, their significance in yoga and meditation, and a few you can try at home!
What are Mudras?
‘Mudra’ means ‘closure’ or ‘seal’ in Sanskrit. Mudras have been used for centuries alongside meditation, yoga, and pranayama. They are specific hand and finger positions designed to control or manipulate the flow of prana. Mudras work by balancing the five elements in our body: fire, air, space, earth, and water. When the elements are imbalanced, we can bring them into alignment by using specific mudras to either increase or decrease a specific element, and to direct energy to where it is lacking.
Mudras involve connecting the tips of specific fingers to promote energy flow in a particular part of the body. Each area of the hand is associated with a certain part of the mind or body. The hand and finger positions of mudras send energy to different parts of the brain. Similar to pranayama, or controlled breathing, mudras promote energy flow in our bodies to reach a state of equilibrium. Practicing mudras is relaxing, grounding, and helpful to our physical and mental well-being.
Each finger represents an element:
- The Thumb – represents the fire element
- The Index finger – represents the air element
- The Middle finger – represents the space element
- The Ring finger – represents the earth element
- The Pinky finger – represents the water element
Mudras and Yoga
In yoga, mudras are used along with pranayama and meditation. A class that specifically mentions one of these is a great opportunity to practice mudras. They are typically done in a seated position in poses like Sukhasana or Padmasana. In class, the instructor might offer a specific mudra to try while holding one of these poses. You might see yogis familiar with mudras using them on their own, or hear of a studio that offers a workshop on mudras. They can be practiced on their own, or as a supplement to an existing yoga, pranayama, or meditation practice.
Mudras are a way of connecting with the energy around us with purpose. We spend much of our lives unaware of the power we hold to heal ourselves. We accept ailments as a part of life, and might not even notice the energy vibrating from our bodies after asana practice. Mudras help us reclaim that power, and use it to help ourselves. Yoga recognizes mudras as a powerful way to increase prana in our bodies, and therefore increase our capacity to heal.
Mudras to Try
Anjali mudra is sometimes referred to as ‘prayer pose’ in yoga. We hold the Anjali mudra at the end of a yoga class when we bow to each other and say “namaste”. This loosely means (there are several different translations) “the divine in me bows to the divine in you”. It is a way of honoring and respecting ourselves, others, and the Universe.
Gyan Mudra is a simple yet powerful gesture known as the ‘mudra of knowledge and wisdom’. It activates the third eye chakra which is the seat of our intuition and ability to perceive Divine guidance. Incorporate this mudra into your meditation practice by connecting the tips of the pointer finger and the thumb, and resting your hands on your knees.
As indicated by its name, the prana mudra increases energy in our systems to facilitate healing. It activates the root chakra, our chakra of grounding, worldview, and our sense of safety and stability. Prana mudra is done by connecting the ring finger and little finger to the thumb with the other two fingers out straight.
We invite you to practice these mudras with us at Inspiring Actions! Our studios are located in Hudson and River Falls, Wisconsin, but some of our classes are offered online. Visit our schedule here for a full list of classes and events, and check out our Facebook and Instagram for information and updates. We offer many styles of yoga, including yin, restorative, chair yoga, somatic movement classes, and much more!
Inspiring Actions works closely with the Abundant Yoga Community, a non-profit organization designed to bring yoga to underserved populations in the St. Croix Valley. The AYC offers personal scholarships as well as grants for organized events. If you or someone in your circle would like to try yoga but do not have the means, please visit the AYC website for more information and to apply. Thank you for reading our blog, and we hope to see you in the studio!