Whether it’s typing out an email to a friend or using your hands to emphasize your conversation, your fingers and hands play an important role in communicating with the people around you—or on the other side of the planet. In your yoga practice, too, your hands say a lot. Often, your teacher will invite you to focus on the meaning of what your hands are expressing. Maybe you are told to visualize energy radiating out of your raised arms in Utkatasana (Chair Pose). Or maybe you have been instructed to feel like you are accepting the gifts of the class when you turn your palms up in preparation for Trikonasana (Triangle Pose).
Your hands are incredibly articulate. In yoga and meditation, mudras (hand gestures) are almost like a sign language. They allow you to deepen the dialogue with yourself. The placement of your fingers may be a small physical movement, but the significance each one has can serve to direct your focus as you practice or meditate. Each time you touch your index finger to your thumb, you can tap into the connection between the “I” symbolized by your first finger and the Universal symbolized by the thumb. Or, consider the feeling of stability as you wrap your first two fingers around your big toes then seal them with your thumb in a forward fold. Any pose that has the palms sealed, whether in front of you, behind your back or above your head, allows you to literally hold the spiraling energy of your body in your hands.
Mudras also serve as a tool to help remind you of your potential. Whether you need to feel strong, open or connected, adding mudras to your yoga or meditation practice gives you a physical reminder of those intentions. Your hands become a way to help turn your inner voice to be a helpful one.
Here are some mudras to try:
Benefits: This mudra, commonly practiced at the beginning and end of class, reminds you of your own power and that of the world at large. How to do it: Bring both hands together in front of your chest. Press the fingers and palms into each other. Focus on exerting equal force with both hands (your dominant hand will want to take over). You can practice this mudra in a variety of poses or while standing or sitting. If you are not doing it in the context of a class, you can hold for up to five minutes, then release.
Benefits: This gesture is a great reminder of the beauty and grace that is within you and those around you. How to do it: Begin by joining your palms in front of your chest. Separate your fingers, leaving only the base of the two pinky fingers touching. Your fingers will point upward. Spread them like flower petals. If you are meditating in this mudra, hold for a few minutes, then release.
Vajrapradama Mudra (Thunderbolt Seal)
Benefits: This mudra helps you feel empowered in the face of challenges and reaffirms both your strength and your belief in a higher power. How to do it: Cross your hands over your heart. Feel the rhythm of your heart and breath. Remain in this pose for a few minutes if you are meditating, then release.
Abhaya Mudra (Fearless Seal)
Benefits: This pose reinforces the idea that the way of the yogi is to offer peace and friendship. Often done in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose), it is symbolic of laying down weapons. How to do it: If you are doing in a practice, come to Virabhadrasana II, raise your hand on the side with the bent leg to about shoulder height. Face your palm forward, fingers together and thumb separated. Place the opposite hand on your leg. If you are meditating, bring both hands into this mudra. Hold for a few minutes.
Benefits: This mudra, considered one of the basic hand positions in Hatha Yoga helps you to be more aware of the interconnectedness of the world. How to do it: In a seated pose, press the end of your thumb into the end of your index finger on both hands. Let your hand rest on your legs. Stretch the other fingers. Remain in the mudra for a few minutes, then release.
Remember, too, that you don’t have to be in a specific yoga pose to practice mudras. Many poses, like Tadasana (Mountain Pose) offer the opportunity in your own practice to use whatever mudra you want. Or, if you need a reminder of your focus, let your hands explore a mudra while you are walking, or even at your desk. Think of it as a wordless mantra.