Mudra is a Sanskrit word translated as “gesture”, “seal”, “mark”, etc. Mudras can be perceived as symbolic gestures which are generally practiced with hands, body and even eyes for channeling energy in the pranic (subtle) body to create a spiritual connection between an individual’s pranic energy and the cosmic energy.
According to hatha yoga pradipika, mudras are considered to be an individual branch of yoga and are only allowed to be introduced to the practitioner after he/she has attained a certain level of mastery in Asana, Pranayama, Bandha and after clearing blockages from the energetic pathways (nadis) present in our subtle(pranic) body.
Yoga Mudras when performed with proficiency, a well anchored mind and a stable body that exudes serenity, allows a practitioner to become conscious of the unconscious and influence the instinctive habit patterns that are instilled in the lower regions of the human brain. With the constant and consistent practice of mudras (repetitive postures and gestures) a practitioner often aims to revise and refine the instinctive and primitive behavioural patterns, so that it can lead us to an ultimate awakening.
But what are mudras? What is their origin and how to use them?
WHAT ARE MUDRAS?
The international Journal of Yoga defines mudra as a “physical/equivalent representation of mantras“. Mantas when voiced, generate a certain frequency at different stages of chanting that resonates within the body whereas Mudra when performed directs the energy or vital life force (constantly radiated by the Chakras) to different areas of the body and brain, hauling through the bid of energy channels (nadis) present in our subtle body which results in altering attitude, perception, experience that deepens and develops concentration and very subtle awareness, respectively.
Mudras are a self-expression and non-verbal mode of communication that acts as an ecstatic bridge between the gross body (annamaya kosha) and energy body (pranamaya kosha). In the beginning stages, it facilitates the practitioner to create a free flow of prana (vital force) in the body, and eventually allows the practitioner to influence and redirect the vital life force from mundane to exceptionally awakened parts of the body, inducing a form of experience where the mind expands beyond its given definitions and borders.
HISTORY OF MUDRAS:
The Origin of Yogic Mudras is unknown today though they are generally traced back to Asian roots on the contrary but they have always been practiced all around the world. If we dig through the archaic scripts, the ancient knowledge is engraved in the form of symbols. For reference – Egyptian scripts or Indus valley scripts.
The Vedic period is considered to be the oldest period of mankind. Sources state that it is 5000 years old while some say it has existed since the existence of the earth. Vedas are the oldest yogic texts preserved today which proves that the mudras were exercised on a daily basis during the Vedic period. Later the use of Mudra was elaborated in the classical hatha yoga texts “Gheranda samhita” and “Hatha Yoga Pradipika“. Hence these texts clearly mention the importance of Mudra in yoga practices.
The chakras (spinning vortexes along the spinal column), present in our energy body, constantly radiates vital force or energy that generally escapes from the body. Mudra creates a by-pass-circuit that forms a barrier to prevent the energy from escaping into the external environment and is rather redirected within.
An elaborate study confirms and unveils the fact that our fingertips are linked with the five fundamental elements that our body is made up of. By joining the fingertips, yoga practitioners evolve their ability to re-orient prana or vital force within the body that escorts the practitioner into the stage of Kundalini (dormant energy at the base of the spine) awakening.
Although the primary motive of Mudra is to awaken kundalini, studies have shown various therapeutic effects of practising Mudras. A survey was conducted by the Institute of Indigenous Medicine, University of Colombo based on a classical text, “Hatha yoga pradipika“. Total 23 mudras were practised in a three-month time span that resulted in rejuvenation, mental relaxation, prevention, cure of respiratory and rectum diseases, eye strengthening, improving concentration power, etc.
MUDRAS IN YOGA:
Practice of Mudra combined with asana, pranayama, bandha and visualization arrests the dissipation of prana, and the mind is completely drawn inwards, leading a Yogi to experience the higher stages of pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and dharana (concentration).
Though, a Yogi should be very cautious while practising various Mudras in order to arouse the kundalini (dormant energy) as, in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swami Svatmaram maintains that, “What good would it do to active it without even realising how to utilize it?”. It is like waking a giant, unarmed.
Mudras are described in many yogic texts, but a detailed reference is rarely given as the Mudra practices should only be learned from the Guru (who has awakened his own energy) and not from a book because the advanced practices of Mudra not only channel energy but also awaken the chakras, nadis and kundalini which lead to the attainment of psychic powers (siddhis) in yogis.