The Sanskrit word mudra is translated as gesture or attitude. A mudra may involve the whole body in a combination of asana, pranayama, bandha or it may be a simple hand position. Each mudra sets up a different link and has a correspondingly different effect on the energy, mind and body. The yoga mudras can be described mainly in these two groups Yoga Hasta Mudra and Yoga Postural Mudras.
YOGA HASTA MUDRA
Yoga Hasta Mudra is a gesture or position of the hands that locks and guides energy flow and reflexes to the brain. The human body is made up of the five elements and each finger represents one of these five elements—the thumb is agni (fire), the forefinger is vayu (air), the middle finger is akash (ether), the ring finger is prithvi (earth) and the little finger is jal (water). An imbalance in these elements causes diseases. These imbalances can be set right by Hasta Mudras. When a finger is brought into contact with the thumb, that particular element is brought into balance.
Some Commonly Used Mudras and Their Benefits
The thumb and the index finger are brought together in gentle contact, not pressing hard, while all other fingers are kept upright. Form a circle between your thumbs and index fingers and keep your palms face up. This practice ensures mental peace, concentration, sharp memory and spiritual feelings. It cures insomnia, mental disorders and increase calmness.
Touch the points of the little finger and the ring finger to the tip of the thumb lightly and keep the other two fingers straight. It energizes the body and improves its vitality. It helps to improve eyesight.
APAN VAYU MUDRA OR MRIT SANJEEVINI MUDRA
Fold the index finger down and touch the tip of the thumb with next two fingers. The little finger should be held erect. It regulates complications of the heart and provides instant relief in a severe heart attack. It also purifies the entire body.
Bring the index finger to the base of the thumb and press gently the thumb over it. Let the other fingers be straight. It helps to cure arthritis and joint pain. It is also helpful in Parkinson and paralysis.
Place the tip of the ring finger on top of the tip of the thumb. Extend all the other fingers and keep them comfortably straight as possible. It strengthens the body and helps in gaining weight in people who are weak. It increases the energy and make the skin glow.
Join the tip of the little finger with the tip of the thumb while the other fingers are kept upright. It removes impurities from the blood and prevents from muscle cramps.
Place the tip of the thumb to the tip of the middle finger and the ring finger, having the other fingers stretched out. It reduces constipation and removes toxins from the body. It also provides relief in urinary problems.
Bring the middle finger to the base of the thumb and gently press the thumb over it. Have the other fingers straight. It helps to cure ear problems and cures the numbness in the body.
Interlock the fingers of both the hands and have the left thumb vertically straight up with the right thumb and the index finger encircling it. It helps to cure colds, coughs and chest infections by generating heat in the body, and destroying accumulated phlegm in the chest. It also improves digestion and help to reduce weight.
Yoga Postural Mudras
The postural mudras can be asanas with the contraction technique of the subtle skeletal muscles, mostly in the areas of the pelvis or it can be concentration or focusing techniques utilizing the sense organs of the ears, nose, eyes, tongue and lips. These types of mudras centralize and strengthen the energy in the body.
Shambhavi Mudra (Eyebrow Centre Gazing)
Sit in any comfortable meditation asana. Keep the head and spine straight, and place the hands on the knees. Close the eyes and relax the whole body. Relax all the muscles of the face, including the forehead, the eyes. Keep the whole body absolutely still. Next, look upward and inward, focusing the eyes at the eyebrow centre. The head should not move. When performed correctly the two curved eyebrows will form a V-shaped image at the root of the nose. This point is the location of the eyebrow centre. If the V-formation cannot be seen, the eyes are not converging as they should. Hold the gaze for only a few seconds at first. Release at the slightest sensation of strain. Close the eyes and relax them. Try to suspend the thought processes and meditate on the stillness in the dark space in front of the closed eyes. Make sure that you do not strain eyes. Practice only as long as you do not feel discomfort. If you feel discomfort, relax your eyes for few seconds and continue the practice again. After mastering the eye movement, coordinate it with the breath. Breathe in slowly as the eyes are raised. Hold the breath while maintaining the mudra. Breathe out slowly as the gaze is lowered. This practice can be start with 5 rounds and gradually increase to 10 over a period of time. This technique should not be practiced by those who have just had cataract surgery, lens implant or other eye operations.
Benefits: Shambhavi mudra strengthens the eye muscles and releases accumulated tension in this area. It calms the mind and removes stress. It develops concentration and mental stability.
Bhoochari Mudra (Gazing into Nothingness)
Sit in any comfortable meditation asana with the head and spine straight and the left hand in gyana mudra. Close the eyes and relax the whole body. Open the eyes and raise the right hand in front of the face. The elbow should point to the side of the body. Hold the palm so that it is flat and so that it faces downwards, with all the fingers together. This side of the thumb should be in contact with the top of the upper lip. Focus the eyes on the tip of the little finger and gaze at it intently for a minute or so without blinking the eyes. Try to maintain continuous awareness of the fingertip. If other thoughts arise let them but try to keep simultaneous and continuous awareness of the fingertip. Then after a minute or so, remove your hand but continue to gaze at the space where the little finger was situated. Try not to blink. Become fully engrossed in this point of nothingness. Continue the practice for 5 to 10 minutes. This technique can be practiced anywhere and in any position. However, it is best performed facing a blank wall or an open space such as the sky or a body of still water. This ensures that there are no visual obstructions to distract the attention.
Benefits: Bhoochari mudra develops the power of concentration and memory. It introverts the mind and is particularly beneficial for people who express a lot of anger.
Ashwini Mudra (Horse Gesture)
The word Ashwini means ‘Horse’. The practice is so-called because the anal contraction resembles the movement a horse makes with its sphincter once the horse evacuates its bowels. Ashwini Mudra concerns with the asana that embraces the contraction as well as the relaxation related to the buttock muscles, the perineum and the entire pelvic system.
There are two methods of practicing Ashwini Mudra.
First Technique: Rapid contraction
Sit in any comfortable meditation pose. Close the eyes and relax the whole body. Become aware of the natural breathing process for a few minutes, and then take the awareness to the anus. Contract the sphincter muscles of the anus for a few seconds. Try to confine the action to the anal area. Repeat the practice for as long as possible. Contraction and relaxation should be performed smoothly and rhythmically. Gradually make the contractions more rapid.
Second Technique: Contraction with Antar Kumbhaka
Sit in any comfortable meditation asana. Close the eyes and relax the whole body. Inhale slowly and deeply while simultaneously contracting the anal spincter muscles. Practise antar Kumbhaka while holding the contraction of the sphincter muscles. The contraction should be as tight as possible without strain. Exhale while releasing the contraction of the anus. This is one round. Perform as many rounds as is comfortably possible. The duration of this practice should be increased when the anal muscles become strong. In the beginning, it is difficult to confine the muscular contraction to the area of the anus; however, this is overcome with practice. Ashwini mudra may be integrated with any asana.
Benefits: This practice strengthens the anal muscles and alleviates disorder of the rectum such as constipation, piles and prolapse of the uterus or rectum. In such cases, this mudra is most effectively performed in conjunction with an inverted asana, for example, sarvangasana. Practice of this mudra redirect the energy upward for spiritual purposes.