Yoga Journal|May - June 2020
We often see statues of ancient yogis, gods, and goddesses sitting in meditation and holding their hands in certain positions. Or we may go into a yoga class in which the teacher encourages us to sit in silence with our hands perched on our knees, index fingers touching thumbs, and wonder: What do these hand gestures have to do with meditation? Turns out, quite a bit.
Hasta Mudras—literally meaning seals, stamps, or gestures—are sacred hand movements that have been used for thousands of years in many different traditions as a way of deepening one’s practice and awakening the power of the Divine. Today, Hasta Mudras continue to be important tools to free up energy (prana) and direct it to areas of the body that need healing. Every mudra has a particular purpose and moves the energy in a specific way throughout the body to create subtle physical, mental, and emotional changes. For example, if you come into your meditation practice feeling agitated or anxious, placing your palms face down on your thighs will usually calm and ground your energy. If you feel sluggish or sleepy, a palms-up mudra might enliven you.
Nubia Teixeira, founder of the Bhakti Nova School of Yoga and Dance, says that our hands are an extension of our hearts and connect our innermost thoughts and prayers to the outside world: “They are how we reach out, touch, express, heal, work, cultivate, cook, paint, write, play music, and hold one another,” she writes in her book Yoga and the Art of Mudras. So it makes sense that Hasta Mudras can help you positively direct your thoughts and actions to bring beauty into your life and the world around you. Mudras can help you “evoke the presence of a great goddess within you so she can empower you physically, allowing you to feel her force and echo her voice. With this personal experience imprinted in your heart, you can then be empowered to be your strong, true self,” Teixeira writes.
Yoga, as well as Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, teaches that all reality is made up of five elements collectively known as tattvas—earth, air, fire, water, and space (or ether)— and that the relationship among them informs how all cosmic life unfolds. It’s a divine composition at play—or, in the case of imbalance, at war—within each of us. Mudras are a valuable tool to create harmony among the internal tattvas and help you focus in on whatever aspect of your life feels challenging.
According to Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, each finger on either hand connects to and balances a different tattva. So when you assume a mudra, your fingertips create an energetic circuit that simultaneously connects and stimulates the elements associated with those tattvas that you wish to activate. The thumb, which corresponds to fire, offers the warmth of the breath. When the index finger (which is linked to the air element) touches the thumb, it enhances the movement of the breath throughout the body; the middle finger (space or ether) and the thumb together increase spaciousness; the ring finger (earth)-thumb connection (also called Mother Earth Mudra) brings a sense of stability; and finally, the pinky finger (water) joining with the thumb can improve circulation.
On the following pages, Teixeira offers a practice that invites you to explore how these hand gestures can change your experience of yoga asana, get the prana flowing, and perhaps awaken a deeper sense of self-awareness. Teixeira begins with a simple ritual, the Lotus Flower Offering (right), which is a salutation to akasha (ether), the most subtle of elements. Invoking ether with this mudra and reciting the accompanying prayer while sitting in Half Lotus allows you to open space for the other elements to creatively expand.
LOTUS FLOWER OFFERING
Sit in Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose) either on the floor or with hips elevated on a blanket. Cross your right leg in front of your hips, placing the top of your left foot on your upper right thigh. Place your right foot under your left knee, switching sides on different days—sometimes with the right foot on top and other times the left.
This mudra, Alapadma, represents the offering of a fully bloomed lotus flower, or poola. Open your hands wide, and then gently curve your fingers to create a round shape like the petals of a lotus flower.
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May - June 2020