Today, we’ll begin the first of a few-part exploration into yoga mudra. You probably hear the term from time to time in your yoga class.
During the first few years of my practice, I understood a mudra was when I joined my fingers in a particular manner. The reason for doing so, however, was often not elaborated upon (Note: as a teacher, I know there’s only so much information that can be explained in one class! Study outside of the classroom is incredibly beneficial.). I hope these blogs shed more light on what mudras are and why they’re used, and that this information can help deepen your practice on the mat.
The Sanskrit word mudra means “gesture” or “attitude”. The expression of mudra varies tremendously. A mudra can be a simple hand gesture, or a posture that involves the full body, breath, and engagement of bandha (energetic locks in the body). As Swami Satyananda Saraswati stated in his book Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, “Mudras are a combination of subtle physical movements which alter mood, attitude and perception, and which deepen awareness the concentration.”
Mudras establish a direct link between our physical body, mental body, and energetic body (pranic body). As Swami Satynanda Saraswati also expressed, “Each mudra sets up a different link and has a correspondingly different effect on the body, mind, and prana. The aim is to create fixed, repetitive postures and gesture which can snap the practitioner out of instinctive habit patterns and establish a more refined consciousness.” Mudras may be used in combination with or after asana or pranayama.
There are 5 groups of mudras:
1. Hasta, or hand gestures. These are frequently used in meditation to better channel our energy and deepen our awareness.
2. Mana, or head mudras. These utilize the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and lips. They’re often used in meditation and kriya/kundalini practices.
3. Kaya, or postural mudras. These are physical postures combined with breathing and concentration techniques.
4. Bandha, or lock mudras. These specify the use of the 3 major “locks” in the body (jalandhara, moola, and uddiyana bandha)
5. Adhara, or perineal mudras. These techniques redirect prana from the lower centers (such as pelvic area) to the brain.
Next week, we’ll take a closer look at some of these gestures and their benefits, especially hasta mudras. Stay-tuned!
Sophie Herbert is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), a singer-songwriter, and a visual artist. She has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India; teaches yoga in Brooklyn and Manhattan; and recently released her first full-length album, "Take a Clear Look." Please visit her website at SophieHerbert.com.