There is a long history of mudras in yoga, and there are many benefits of mudras in yoga. Mudras have been around for thousands of years. While we aren’t completely sure about the origins of mudras specifically, we do know that we have seen them come up in multiple religions, cultures and traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Tantric rituals, Taoism and Indian classical dance. They have also been seen in Egyptian artwork and hieroglyphics.
You may be wondering what mudra means. In Sanskrit, mudra means “seal” or “gesture.’ It can also be loosely translated as “mark.” Mudras are basically hand gestures that are practiced to create a new state of mind, to heal the body or mind of a specific ailment or to change the current conditions. Each mudra has a unique intention and its own specific meaning. Most mudras symbolize something larger such as an element.
Historically, mudras were always practiced beyond the yoga mat, although today we normally associate mudras with yoga or meditation. Mudras have also been practiced in religious practices and traditions. Bharatnatyam is a type of classical dance from India that embodies mudras. In this form of dance, mudras are used to tell stories about characters and myths through the way the dancer moves and places his or her hands.
The benefits of mudras are varied and vast, depending on the specific mudra. Each finger on the hand is connected to a specific element and every mudra has its own purpose, so there are many benefits of mudras, depending on the mudra that you are practicing. One mudra does not necessarily share the same benefits as another mudra, although there is some crossover. The common denominator with all mudras is that they are used in healing and wellness.
There are many popular mudras. In yoga, the mudra we most commonly see pictured is prana mudra which is normally depicted in a seated position with the hands resting on the knees or thighs. In prana mudra, you bring the tips of the pinky finger, ring finger and thumb together to form a circle. The index and middle finger stay extended and the mudra is practiced with the palms facing up. Prana mudra is all about directing the life force energy in the body, otherwise known as prana.
Prana mudra can be useful in locating and reactivating energy in the subtle body that has become stale or stagnant. It brings balance to all of the elements that are found in the physical body, including earth, air, fire and water. Prana mudra can be energizing because it awakens dormant prana. It is a mudra that is often connected to the root chakra and all 3 nadis.
Another mudra that many people are familiar with is Abhaya mudra which is where the palms face outwards and the fingers point up. This mudra is often connected to pictures of Buddha. Abhaya represents protection and peace. It can also be used to symbolize benevolence. In Buddhism, Bumisparsha Mudra is a significant piece of the tradition. This mudra is practiced by bringing the palm of the left hand to face upwards as it rests in the lap and the fingertips of the right hand touch the earth near the right knee. This mudra is significant in that its meaning is that Buddha is taking the earth to bear witness after suffering has ceased.