Yoga Mudras 101 – Why You Really Should Know About Them?

Yoga Mudras 101 - Why You Really Should Know About Them?

Hello my dear ones, in Sanskrit, the word mudra is translated as 'gesture' or attitude'. Mudras can be interpreted as emotional, psychic, devotional and aesthetic gestures or attitudes. Yogis have known and experienced mudras as particular attitudes of energy flow, destined to link one’s individual pranic force with universal or cosmic force." The Kularnava Tantra traces the word mudra to the root mud denoting 'pleasure' or 'delight' and dravay, the causal form of dru which means 'to draw forth'. Mudra is also described as a 'short-cut', 'seal', or 'circuit by-pass'.

Typically, mudras consist of a fusion of subtle physical movements which alter one's attitude, mood and perception, and which leads to a deepening of one's concentration and awareness. A mudra may comprise of the entire body in a fusion of asana, pranayama, bandha and visualization techniques or it may also be an uncomplicated hand position. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and other yogic texts tend to consider mudra to be a yoganga, an independent branch of yoga, needing a very subtle awareness. Mudras are typically incorporated after some level of proficiency has been achieved in pranayama, asana and bandha, and gross blockages have been eliminated.

Mudras have been depicted in numerous texts from antiquity to the present day in order to safeguard them for posterity. Nonetheless, such references were never truly detailed or clearly delineated as these techniques were not destined to be learned from a book. As a matter of fact, practical instruction from a qualified guru was always considered to be a vital requisite before attempting them. Actually, mudras represent higher practices which lead to awakening of the chakras, prana and Kundalini, and which can bestow powerful siddhis or psychic powers, on the advanced practitioner.

Mudras and prana

The postures and attitudes that are followed during mudra practices actually build a direct connection between annamaya kosha, the physical body; manomaya kosha, the mental body; and pranamaya kosha, the pranic body. At first, this allows the practitioner to establish a clear awareness of the flow of prana within the body. Ultimately, it creates pranic balance within the various koshas and allows the redirection of subtle energy to the upper chakras, inducing higher states of consciousness.

Mudras wield prana in very much the same manner that energy in the form of sound waves or light is diverted by a mirror or a cliff face. The chakras and nadis continually emanate prana which generally escapes from the body and dissipates into the external world. By creation of barriers within the body through the practice of mudra, one's pranic energy is thus redirected within. For instance, when one closes the eyes with the fingers in shanmukhi mudra, the prana being emanated through the eyes is consciously redirected back and this likewise leads to conservation of one's prana. In the same manner, the sexual energy radiated through vajra nadi is actively redirected to the brain through the practice of vajroli mudra.

Tantric literature asserts that once the dissipation of prana is arrested through the practice of mudra, one's mind becomes introspective, inducing states of pratyahara or sense withdrawal and dharana, concentration. Due to their ability to redirect prana, mudras constitute as essential techniques for awakening Kundalini. On account of this, mudras are extensively incorporated in Kriya and Kundalini yoga practices.

A scientific look at mudras

In scientific terms, mudras present a means to access and influence one's unconscious reflexes and instinctive, primal habit patterns that come from the primitive areas of the brain around the brain stem. They build a subtle, non-intellectual link with these areas. Each and every mudra sets up a different connection and has a correspondingly distinctive effect on one's body, mind and prana. The objective is to build repetitive, fixed gestures and postures which can snap the practitioner out of instinctive habit patterns and lay the foundation for  a more refined consciousness.

The five groups of yoga mudras

The yoga mudras can be categorized into approximately five groups which are described as follows:

Hasta or hand mudras

The hand mudras are widely recognized as meditative mudras since they redirect the prana being emanated by the hands back into the body. Mudras involving the joining of the thumb and index finger stimulate the motor cortex at a very subtle level, generating a loop of pranic energy which moves from the brain down the hand and then back again. Conscious awareness of this process quickly leads to internalization. Techniques included in this category:

Jnana mudra

Chin mudra

Yoni mudra

Bhairava mudra

Hridaya mudra

Mana or head mudras

These practices comprise of an indispensable part of Kundalini Yoga and many are meditation techniques in their own right. They involve the ears, eyes, nose, tongue and lips. Techniques included in this category:

Shambhavi mudra

Nasikagra drishti

Khechari mudra

Kaki mudra

Bhujangini mudra

Bhoochari mudra

Akashi mudra

Shanmukhi mudra

Unmani mudra

Kaya or postural mudras

These practices employ physical postures combined with breathing and concentration. Techniques included in this category:

Prana mudra

Vipareeta karani mudra

Yoga mudra

Pashinee mudra

Manduki mudra

Tadagi mudra

Bandha or lock mudras

These practices combine mudra and bandha. They suffuse the system with prana and lays the groundwork for Kundalini awakening. Techniques included in this category:

Maha mudra

Maha bheda mudra

Maha vedha mudra

Adhara or perineal mudras

These techniques move prana from the 3 lower energy centers (Root chakra, Sacral chakra and Solar Plexus chakra) to the brain. Mudras involved with sublimating sexual energy are in this group. Techniques included in this category:

Ashwini mudra

Vajroli/Sahajoli mudra

Between them, these groups interact with sizable areas of the cerebral cortex. The relatively large number of hand and head mirrors indicates the fact that operation and interpretation of information coming in from these two areas involves approximately fifty percent of the cortex. Indeed, mudras can be extremely beneficial to the practitioner when performed either in combination with or after asanas and pranayamas.

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