The practice of yoga mudra is said to facilitate the flow of energy in the body and using a specific mudra allows practitioners to enter certain states of mind and awaken the Five Elements in the body.
The word mudra is derived from Sanskrit words Mud and Dhra: ‘bliss’ and ‘dissolving’. This can be loosely translated as ‘that which dissolves duality and brings the deity and devotee together’.
Let’s dive deeper into the topic of Yoga Mudra:
- 1. What is a Mudra in Yoga?
- 2. How to Do Yoga Mudras?
- 2.1. How to Prepare for Yoga Mudra Practice?
- 2.2. How Do I Use Mudras for Meditation?
- 2.3. How Often Should I Do Mudras in Yoga?
- 2.4. What Benefits Does A Yoga Mudra Practice Have?
- 3. How to Use Mudras for Awakening the Five Elements?
- 3.1. Earth Mudra
- 3.2. Water Mudra
- 3.3. Fire Mudra
- 3.4. Air Mudra
- 3.5. Space Mudra
- 4. Are Mudras Scientifically Proven?
- 4.1. What Does Research Say?
- 4.2. How Could Yoga Mudra Work?
What is a Mudra in Yoga?
The word mudra means seal, gesture, or finger posture. With the practice of yoga mudra, we’re trying to harness the energy in our hands and to couple it with intention and conscious action. It is said that these gestures of our fingers and hands give us the ability to directly influence the elemental energies in the body.
This allows us to honor our physical body, our emotional body, and even our mental body. In the most basic terms, yoga mudras promote the flow of energy in the subtle body and support you on your journey within. Subtle means ‘that what is most delicate’, ‘that what is most refined’.
Even if the word mudra may not be familiar to you, you’re probably more accustomed to these hand gestures and finger postures than you might think. A large part of our communication is accentuated by using our hands.
Think about it: What do you do when you see someone you know from far away? You wave. Or you clap your hands to congratulate someone on a job well done. And chances are that you’ve already seen (and used) the peace sign.
The point is that you’re most probably already familiar with the power, energy, and vibrancy that the hands behold. And you certainly have already practiced the most common mudra in yoga: Anjali Mudra – the salutation mudra often accompanied by the expression Namaste at the beginning and end of a yoga session.
2. How to Do Yoga Mudras?
In yoga, mudras are usually applied in meditation and in combination with Pranayama to guide the flow of energy through the body. The underlying assumption is that different areas of the hand can stimulate specific areas of the brain. Applying gentle pressure to these areas of the hand with the fingers is said to activate the corresponding region in the brain. Apart from that, each mudra symbolizes a certain feeling, emotion, or state of being.
2.1. How to Prepare for Yoga Mudra Practice?
Mudra is an energy-body practice, i.e. subtle body training. Be prepared that it will take some time to build up the sensitivity to enjoy the powerful impact of this technique. That’s why it’s a good idea to prepare your hands before you start to do yoga mudra.
- Heat Up the Hands
Before starting your yoga mudra practice, heat up the hands by rubbing them together. You’ll notice heat arising in the hands. This activates the nerve endings in the hands and each cell by also stimulating all the vital organs. Also rub the backs of the hands together, which are often neglected.
Then, release the hands onto your lap and let the palms face the sky. Close the eyes and pay attention to any sensations in your hands. That might be a tingling or pulsating or even a change in temperature.
- Shake out the Hands
As a next step, start shaking out the hands. Think about all the tensions you hold in the fingers and hands from being on the phone all day, texting, messaging, etc. Try to shake out all the tension you’re holding in your hands. This exercise also stimulates the lymph gland and gets the circulation going.
Rest your hands on your thighs again and tune into your body and notice all the sensations going through your body.
- Energize the Fingers
The last exercise to prepare the hands for your yoga mudra practice is intended to energize the fingers. Reach the arms forward and spin one palm up and the other one down. Open and close the hands vigorously, extending the fingers all the way and clenching the fists. Switch sides after about 10 rounds. Your hands will probably get a little tired – that’s totally fine.
- Open Up the Energy Channels
Then, bring the hands in front of your body with the palms facing each other. Close the eyes again and notice what you feel. This exercise is intended to open up the energy channels in the palm of your hands. Maybe you can even feel a magnetic pulsation. Play with the distance of the hands to feel the density or expansion of energy between the hands.
If you don’t feel anything, feel free to charge your hands again. The more often you do it, the more receptive you’ll become.
Ground the hands down to release the energy. Now you’re ready to start your yoga mudra practice.
2.2. How Do I Use Mudras for Meditation?
As already mentioned, the hands are said to be closely connected to the brain, especially through neural activation. Therefore, the way you hold your hands in meditation can impact the way you hold your mind, making hand mudras a particularly powerful tool for meditation.
Yoga believes that the mind is influenced by the behavior of the breath and the body, the hands allegedly having the strongest relationship to the mind. This is why placing the hands in a calm and steady position or mudra during meditation enables the mind to also adopt these qualities. Yoga mudra can, therefore, be used as an instrument to calm the mind and prepare it for meditation.
Using mudra for meditation can also help you increase your awareness to observe and quieten your thoughts. This is because a quiet and focused mind is open to universal consciousness and awareness.
Yoga mudra is typically practiced in a comfortable meditation sitting position such as Easy pose (Sukhasana), any variation of Lotus pose (Padmasana), or Hero pose (Virasana). You can even sit on a chair if you’re not comfortable with sitting on the ground. Once you’ve found your preferred sitting position, press the fingertips together in the relevant yoga mudra, applying enough pressure to feel the flow of energy but not so much that the fingertips start to whiten.
2.3. How Often Should I Do Mudras in Yoga?
When practicing a certain yoga mudra, maintain the position for a number of breath counts while also focusing on your breathing. The efficiency of any yoga mudra is said to increase the longer you hold it. That’s why it’s recommended to practice a certain mudra for a few minutes, eventually expanding time up to 15-20 minutes.
Also, try to do the mudra of your choice every day for anything between a week and thirty days for best results. You don’t have to do it just in meditation, you can even do it when walking around or adding it to yoga asanas and incorporating it into your everyday yoga routine.
2.4. What Benefits Does A Yoga Mudra Practice Have?
In yoga, mudra is the most simple practice that is said to improve the connection between body and mind. Practicing yoga mudra doesn’t require as much effort as asana or Pranayama practice. It simply brings stability to the body-mind system by connecting two energy points, i.e. fingers.
In addition, the practice of mudra in yoga provides a safe and convenient way to awaken the five elements of our body and balance them within your body. This is said to affect the body’s metabolism without spending a whole lot of money or time. This is why the fingers are often referred to as divine pharmacy and play an important role in the context of yoga and especially in connection with the five elements.
3. How to Use Mudras for Awakening the Five Elements?
According to the five elements theory, the entire world – and also our bodies – are composed of the five elements Fire, Air, Earth, Water and Space. Each of the elements is also represented in the hand:
- the thumb is representative of the element of Fire (Agni)
- the index finger is associated with the Air element (Vayu)
- the middle finger is the representation of Space (Akash)
- the ring finger represents the element of Earth (Prithvi)
- the little finger is associated with the Water element (Jal).
Joining the fingers to different shapes and postures enables you to influence how much of the relevant element is in your body by increasing or depressing it and to activate the emotional, mental, and physical qualities that are associated with each of the five elements of our body. You can, therefore, use mudras for awakening the five elements.
3.1. Earth Mudra
The mudra to connect to the Earth element is called Prithvi Mudra. Prithvi is one of the Sanskrit words for ‘earth’.
The ring finger holds the energy of Earth in the body. Sealing the ring finger to the thumb, which is the energy of Fire, nourishes and amplifies the energy of Earth within the body.
So simply push the ring fingers of both hands with gentle pressure against the thumbs. Extend the other three fingers out like branches. Rest your hands on your knees with the palms either facing up or facing down. Facing the palm down may give you more of a feeling of grounding. You can also place the hands onto the ground next to you to feel even more grounded.
This mudra of grounding and anchoring helps you strengthen the connection to your body, to bring health, healing, and vitality to any part of the body that needs it, and to feel at home and safe in your body. So practice this mudra whenever you feel disconnected from your body and seek vitality and nourishment.
3.2. Water Mudra
The Water element is associated with the little finger. The thumb nourishes and amplifies the element it connects to. So, create a seal with the pinky finger and the thumb of both hands to establish Jal Mudra.
Do not engage too hard, you only want to feel a gentle pressure. Let the other fingers soften down as if the hands were floating in water. Explore for yourself whether you want the palms to face up or down.
This gesture balances the circuitry of Water in the body, opens the gateway into the flow of feelings, and the movements of change in life. Flow implies movement. Resisting change and movement leads to rigidness and tightness. This creates a dam within us so that Water can no longer flow freely and we become dry.
The mudra helps us destroy the dam and enables us to follow the path of least resistance and move with the currents of life. We learn to accept the change as it’s happening. Since our body is 70% water, connecting with the fluid nature that we are, helps us find emotional balance.
3.3. Fire Mudra
The Fire element is represented by the thumbs. The relevant gesture is called Agni Mudra, created by connecting the two thumbs. There are many different ways to do that. The most common way is interlacing the fingers of both hands and drawing the two fire thumbs up.
Bring the hands right to the base of the ribcage so that the thumbs are facing up toward the solar plexus and into the direction of the heart. Ground down through the pelvis and rise up through the spine. Either focus the gaze onto the ‘flame’ of your thumbs or close the eyes.
The element of Fire is the connection to our energetic and passionate self. It’s the vitality that feeds our entire system. Use this mudra to reconnect with the soul fire flame that lives inside you and to ignite your life with purpose and power. Use the transformative force of Fire to bring you there.
3.4. Air Mudra
The finger related to the element of Air is the index finger. Seal the thumb and the index finger together for Vayu Mudra. Rest the hands on the knees and let the palms face up as an action of openness and connection to the infinite.
For the yogi, Air may be the most important element because we cannot survive without air. We can only go for a few minutes without breath. This is why breath is synonymous with the element of Air. The breath never tires of nourishing and energizing us and establishes the relationship between the inner and outer world. You can think of Air as the power of our thoughts, our mind, and inspiration.
3.5. Space Mudra
The middle finger is connected to the element of Space. Since the middle finger is our longest finger, it’s often referred to as the stairway to the divine as it’s facing up into the direction of the ever spacious infinite of the Space element. The relevant gesture is called Akasha Mudra and is done by sealing the middle finger with the thumb of each hand.
You can let the palms face either up or down with the remaining fingers relaxed.
Space is the all-encompassing mother of the five elements and contains all the other elements. It’s also the element of the rhythm of music, the vibration of singing, and the creativity of dance. It determines how we communicate and express our authentic truth to the world.
You can practice this mudra when you have to speak and need to use your voice, for example before an important speech or conversation. This will help you purify your mind and your thoughts and to come into your highest alignment and integrity to allow the words to flow out.
4. Are Mudras Scientifically Proven?
4.1. What Does Research Say?
A study published in the International Journal of Yoga used an electrophotonic imaging (EPI) instrument to capture discharges at the fingertips induced by a pulsed electrical signal to investigate the immediate effect of mudras just after one day of application and also on the third day of mudra practice.
The study subjects were divided into a mudra group and a control group. In the first part of the study, the mudra group practiced prana mudra in a sitting position for five minutes. The control group followed the same procedure but did not practice the mudra. Instead, they sat quietly with closed eyes for five minutes in a similar sitting posture.
In the second part of the study, varying durations of the yoga mudra practice were examined: 10 minutes on the first day, 15 minutes on the second day, and 20 minutes on the third day.
Applying a mudra and sitting quietly with eyes closed for 5 minutes did not have a big impact on the EPI parameters. However, when the mudra was practiced for a longer time, a significant change in the EPI parameters became apparent. Consequently, a yoga mudra must be practiced for more than 20 minutes in order to be able to observe a detectable change in the EPI parameters. Change in this variable is an indication of possible energy manipulation within the human body.
4.2. How Could Yoga Mudra Work?
An analogy may help you better understand the potential effect yoga mudra can have on the human body. Imagine the body as an electric circuit in which energy flows through wires, i.e. the nerves. The nerves, in turn, connect the different body organs just like wires connect the different units of an electrical circuit. This circuit begins and ends in the hands and feet.
Pressing the fingers together in a particular hand gesture, i.e. a yoga mudra, stimulates the power supply of the circuit: the brain. The brain then receives a signal to change the energy pattern within the body. This is done by regulating the flow of energy, or Prana.
Here are a few explanations of how the application of mudra in yoga could affect your body and mind:
1. Sensomotoric stimulation
Both the motor and sensory cortexes (i.e. the sensitivity system of the brain) allocate almost one-third of their surface to the hands. This means that attention on the hands may affect large percentages of this area of the brain.
2. Improved posture
An upright position and awareness of the upper extremities can improve postural control, breathing patterns and, as a result, autonomic nervous system activity. Subtle perceivable changes in breathing rate, muscle activity, chest and belly movements during mudra practice might indicate a relationship between observable physical behavior and subjective experiences of mudra practice such as an impact on the Chakras or the Five Elements within the body.
Bringing awareness to a certain region of the body or a certain sensation, such as the position of the hands and fingers during yoga mudra, can ease the experience of pain, isolation and other negative sensations and can, thus, contribute to a sense of well-being.
4. Epigenetic effect
Drawing your attention to your breathing as well as physical and emotional experiences can modify genetic expression and produce a relaxation response. Yoga mudra practice is said to generate similar epigenetic responses both when practiced alone or in combination with other mindful practices such as yoga and Pranayama.
“Mudra allows us to honor our physical body, our emotional body, and even our mental body.”
Yoga mudra is a subtle and often neglected part of yoga. But that doesn’t make it less effective or vital.
In some yoga traditions, mudras are not practiced until the other areas, i.e. asana, Pranayama and bandha, have been mastered.
However, since mudra practice is said to have the potential to alter physical, mental and spiritual characteristics of a person, you shouldn’t miss incorporating it into your yoga practice. You can practice yoga mudra in isolation or in combination with your asana and/or pranayama practice.
A regular yoga mudra practice may also help you channel the internal energy and, thus, balance the Chakras and awaken the Five Elements in your body.
If you’re looking for guidance to starting your yoga mudra practice and learning how to use mudras in yoga to balance the energy of the Five Elements, you should definitely give Cristi Christensen’s Soul Fire Elemental Activation on TINT a try. This is a five-week workshop that works on each of the elements and also provides a mudra practice for each of the Five Elements.
Header picture by Yongsubi.