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Why Do Mudras: The ABCs of Yoga Hand Gestures

In Sanskrit, mudra means “seal” and in yoga, we use mudras or hand gestures to seal together our hands and fingers in different combinations to achieve particular results in our lives. This week in my yoga classes at Yoga Art Space, we briefly discussed generosity of finances, spirit, and time, through a mudra that looks like a cup. The hands are joined together, fingers up, thumbs and pinkies together. After class, a student asked me to describe the purpose behind some other common mudras or hand gestures. I was stumped. When I first became a yoga teacher, I regularly incorporated mudras into my classes. Since then, I have become a mudra slacker. So here is a brush-up course on a few common mudras.

We all know Anjali mudra. That is what we call prayer pose or bringing the hands to prayer. Anjali mudra accompanies the Sanskrit greeting Namaste but can be useful throughout your practice. In terms of purpose, Anjali mudra encourages humility, connection to other living beings, and connection to one’s own divine inner self. Pretty powerful stuff!

The other one we all know is the mudra with open palms on knees and circles made with the thumb and index figure, like the picture below. This is Jnana mudra (also called dhyana, gyan or chin mudra). Jnana mudra is used to bring us knowledge and wisdom, including self-knowledge. Maybe that is why so many Buddha statues feature it. Self –knowledge, though not for the faint of heart, always helps in every aspect of our lives.

Then there is Shuni mudra, the same exactly as Jnana but the thumb joins with the middle finger not the index finger. This one is used during meditation to create patience and help us have the courage to find and fulfill our life’s work or purpose. I am almost afraid to use this one because these mudras are powerful. Am I finally ready to find and commit to my life’s work? We can all only hope so.

Only one more for today and that is Garuda mudra. Recall that garuda is eagle pose, so this is a hand gesture to eagles. Like eagles, the mudra symbolizes “freedom, unlimited possibilities, a sense of taking flight with exhilaration.” Meta Chaya Hirschl, Vital Yoga 102(2012). Here is a picture of my hands in Garuda mudra, but you basically just cross your hands across your chest/heart and hook your thumbs.

So why do mudras when you are meditating or starting or finishing your yoga asana (pose) practice? Mudras seal energy or prana in our bodies and allow that energy to flow through our fingers and hands and channel positive vibes through the mind, body and spirit. These mudras can lift you out of a funk, and perhaps most critically, help you calm down enough to meditate.

Well, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading. I hope you have a day filled with beauty and light.



P.S. Please join me for class on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.

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