In Sanskrit, the word mudra comes from the word muda, which means “to be happy.” Mudras are specific hand formations that align the energies of the body, resulting in a feeling of contentment and wellbeing. True happiness, on the material level, is felt when all your vital functions are working perfectly and your body and mind are in perfect harmony.
In terms of the body, this includes all the essential elements like plasma, blood, muscles, fat, bone, bone marrow and ojas, or vital energy. And in terms of the mind, muda, or happiness, is achieved when the senses are controlled and the mind is focused inward on the self. In its pure, unadulterated state, the Self, or ātmā, in Sanskrit, is inherently blissful. However, one needs a balanced body, a peaceful mind, and energized chakras in order to perceive this inner bliss.
Mudras are a powerful tool to help us balance the body, elements, muscles, chakras, and mind, in order to align ourselves more closely with our inherent state of bliss. The Yogic scriptures mention the practice of mudras is a sequel to the practice of asanas, or yogic postures, and pranayama, or breathing practices. In order to get the full benefit, mudras should be practiced once you have practiced asana and pranayama. Practicing in that way enhances the effects of the mudras on the body and mind.
The hand’s fingers represent the five elements of sankhya, also known as Vedic Physics — earth, water, fire, air and ether. These are the building blocks of all the body’s muscles, tissues and organs. These elements have a particular proportion, balance, and amount in the body, and this equilibrium needs to be maintained in order for the body to function properly. When these elements become imbalanced, we develop some sort of discomfort or disease. For example, too much air leads to high blood pressure, too much earth leads to obesity, and so forth. On the other hand, too little air leads to depression, and too little earth leads to malnourishment, etc.
All these imbalances can be addressed by combining deep breathing and mudras. Asanas are optional. For example, we can perform a specific hand gesture or mudra and maximize the benefits by sitting in a proper pose. We can even relax on the sofa and still get some results. However, sitting in the proper pose and relaxing our breath gives us the best results.
The Fingertips as Switches
By God’s design, the tips of the fingers are endowed with a specific power to increase or decrease the effect of the elements in the body. Here is a breakdown of the elements for each finger:
- The thumb represents fire.
- The index finger represents air.
- The middle finger represents ether
- The ring finger represents earth
- The little finger represents water.
When we touch the tip of the thumb to the tip of the other fingers, this activates the other elements within the body. In other words, the fire element increases the effect of the other elements within the body, up to the point of balance. Don’t worry about over-activating the elements of the body. There are no adverse effects when performing mudras. Nonetheless, performing the proper mudra for the optimum amount of time can give us the best effects.
The mudras performed with the right hand affect the left side of the body, and the mudras performed with the left hand affect the right side. Therefore, when we perform mudras with both hands, it affects both sides of the body equally.
The elemental mudras are the basic mudras which balance all the elements. This can heal many health conditions. For example, Gyan Mudra — connecting the thumb with the index finger — is a very powerful mudra for overcoming depression. Similarly, connecting the tip of the thumb with the tip of the little finger, known as Varuna Mudra, is very beneficial to hydrate the body.
On the other hand, when we bend the fingers and press the thumb on top of the fingers, it decreases the effect of the elements. This can also be used to treat many health issues. For example, pressing the index finger down, which represents air, reduces the air element. If we have high blood pressure, this mudra is very beneficial. Similarly, if we connect the element to the imbalances and the diseases they cause, we can increase or decrease it with the help of hand gestures, or hasta mudras.
Combination of Elements in Hasta Mudras
So far, we have dealt with single elements in the mudra. We can also have a situation where we need to balance multiple elements, as in the case of Ayurveda, where the body is divided based on a combination of elements like Vata, Pitta and Kapha. In short, Kapha is the body’s physical structure comprised of water and earth. Pitta is the chemical makeup of the body comprising all the digestive and energetic liquids like blood, plasma, Hydrochloric acid and bile juice etc. Vata is the body’s transport mechanism which creates pressure in the body and maintains the flow of vitals within the body.
Kapha is represented by the little finger and the ring finger, so if we want to energize the Kapha or the structure of the body, we combine the little finger and the ring finger and connect their tips to the Thumb. Similarly, Pitta is represented by fire and water, a combination of the little finger and the thumb. And Vata is a combination of air and ether, represented by the index and middle fingers.
We can then increase or decrease the effect of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha based on our bodily needs and symptoms. Several mudras combine the effects of these Ayurvedic combinations, and by manipulating them, we can get beneficial results.
Some examples include Prana Mudra, which increases energy; Kapha Nashaka Mudra, which reduces Kapha; and Pitta Nashaka Mudra, which reduces Pitta.
The Five Pranic Airs
Another important division of the body is in terms of the five pranic airs. Although the index finger represents the sum total of the airs in the body, the airs have a vital function in the body. The pressure of breathing in the lungs is maintained by pranic air in the lungs, and the excretion of waste is maintained by the downward air called apana in the intestines. The fire of digestion is ignited by an air called samana, just as coal is fired up by air, and the body’s innate sense of balance is maintained by an air called udana in the throat. The air that balances the aura of the body is called vyana, or the Vata air.
There are mudras which specifically target these airs and balance their functioning. They are Prana Mudra, Apana Mudra, Samana Mudra, Udana Mudra and the Vayana Mudra. Hence the functioning of the airs can be maintained by the balance of these mudras.
Another use of mudras is in balancing the seven chakras within the body, and there are several mudras for each chakra. However, the easiest classification is based on the elements that each chakra represents:
- The root chakra represents the earth element.
- The sacral chakra represents the water element.
- The navel chakra represents the fire element.
- The heart chakra represents the air element.
- And the throat chakra, the third eye chakra and the crown chakra all represent the ether element.
When we perform the elemental mudras, the chakras are also positively affected. In addition, there are some mudras specifically to activate the chakras, too. For example, the Lotus Mudra activates the heart chakra, and the Rudra Mudra activates the third eye chakra.
In our series on chakras, we have dealt with the chakras as element and also in terms of the organ they represent, and thus we have presented appropriate mudras accordingly:
- Mudras for the Root Chakra
- Mudras for the Sacral Chakra
- Mudras for the Navel Chakra
- Mudras for the Heart Chakra
- Mudras for the Throat Chakra
- Mudras for the Third-eye Chakra
- Mudras for the Crown Chakra
We also have a section on the detox mudras. These mudras are very beneficial to detox the body. They are easy to perform and give us results very quickly. Let’s take a very easy example: the Visahara Mudra. Simply touch the tip of the thumb to the base of the ring finger. This simple mudra removes all the toxic metals in the body and heals the body. We have many such combinations like the Vajra Mudra, etc., which specifically target and remove the toxins in the body.
Lord Buddha taught us the path of Pranamaya and the mudras. Buddha mudras are a way of calming the mind and healing the effects of greed, anger and attachment. The mudras taught by buddha include Karana Mudra, which heals the inner visceral organs, and Bhumisparsha Mudra, which grounds us and keeps us calm and relaxed. Similarly, the Uttara Bodhi Mudra elevates our consciousness to the spiritual level. Lord Buddha gave us mudras to heal, revitalize and elevate our body, mind and consciousness. Other Buddha Mudras include: Dharmachakra Mudra, Varada Mudra, and Abhaya Mudra.
Do I need to practice asanas and pranayama along with Mudras?
Although mudras do give results by themselves, you will get better results when you practice mudras along with yoga postures (asanas) and breath work (pranayama). The reason is that yoga asanas help to heal and strengthen the body so that you can comfortably sit for prolonged periods of mudra-supported meditation, such as 30 minutes to 1 hour or more.
Pranayama practices, on the other hand, help to balance and purify our mind, increasing our ability to focus the mind’s energies. This helps you get the most out of your mudra practice. Later on, as you mature in your practice, you will be able to practice mudras on their own.
List of Mudra Guides
Mudras are very beneficial when performed with proper understanding. Mudras deal with individual elements, combinations of elements, the vital airs, the vital functions and even moods and feelings. Regular practice of each mudra based on our needs and present condition can help us achieve the specific results we are looking for. Please explore our various mudra guides and try out the practices that suit your needs
Individual Mudra Guides
- Abhaya Mudra
- Adi Mudra
- Agni Mudra
- Akasha Mudra
- Anjali Mudra
- Apana Vayu Mudra
- Bhumisparsha Mudra
- Brahma Mudra
- Dharmachakra Mudra
- Dhyan Mudra
- Ganesha Mudra
- Gyan Mudra
- Kundalini Mudra
- Lotus Mudra
- Musti Mudra
- Prana Mudra
- Prithvi Mudra
- Rudra Mudra
- Shakti Mudra
- Shankha Mudra
- Shunya Mudra
- Surya Mudra
- Udana Vayu Mudra
- Varada Mudra
- Vayu Mudra
- Vitarka Mudra
- Yoni Mudra