Throughout each day, we arrange our hands, eyes and even our entire bodies in various positions. From a handshake to a thumbs-up, the gestures we use both communicate and influence our state of mind; consciously or unconsciously.
In different traditions, from dance, yoga, or chi kung, to musical performances and spiritual practice, the intentional use of gestures can influence our thoughts, emotions, and health as well as the flow of energy within our bodies. Yoga philosophy describes an intricate array of hand poses known in Sanskrit as mudras. The word mudra means seal, and they are believed to be positions that draw in and affect energy.
Malibu, California-based yoga master Kali Ray, originator of Tri-Yoga, believes in the energetic potential of mudras. She teaches mudras because of their powerful mind-body healing.
Ray translates this to her students through the intentional practice of mudra. She says even the simplest mudras can be quite profound and allow for the communication of the inner and outer self. Rarely in our lives are our hands performing the exact same movement. “Synchronizing and matching the movements through mudra has the effect of balancing the activity of the right and left hemispheres of the brain”, Ray adds.
A movement that unites hands, mind, and body is one with which many students of yoga are familiar. Placing the palms of the hands together in a gesture of prayer while greeting ‘Namaste’, is known as anjali mudra. Anjali mudra is the primary gesture of greeting throughout much of Asia, including Thailand and India. Greeting is announced through uniting body, mind, and spirit.
A mudra used in meditation, evident on artwork depicting the Buddha is jnana mudra. Jnana means knowledge discovered through meditation. Jnana mudra is practiced by lightly touching the thumb and first finger in a circle. The other fingers radiate out and the palms are often facing upwards. Ray says that the thumb represents our higher self, true nature, and pure consciousness, while the index finger represents our individual soul. Uniting the two physically symbolizes the union found through yoga practice. Practicing jnana mudra activates the nadis, or meridians that flow through the heart. According to Ray, this connects heart and soul and is conducive to calming the mind to achieve a meditative state. Ray even suggests walking with the hands in this mudra, arms swinging by your sides, to promote calm and enhance a walking meditation practice.
More complicated mudras can be practiced, evoking the complex choreography of dance or divine images. Even viewing these energetic expressions can have a profound effect. In our everyday lives, simply uniting our hands in a gesture of greeting is a practice both ancient and timeless.