Hand Mudras Introduction

The term mudra (“seal,” “mark,” or “gesture”) refers to symbolic positions and practices. In non-traditional usage, the term mudra is often used to refer to hand mudras, in particular.

This section of the site will focus particularly on hand mudras and we will sometimes simply use the term mudra.

Traditional Indian Usage

According to Dr. David Frawley, hand mudras have been used in India in three traditional forms:

  1. Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga – To channel higher energies into the body and mind.
  2. Hindu and Buddhist Rituals – To communicate with deities or their powers and to “draw divine grace in our lives.” (These “can be a part of yoga practice as well, particularly in devotional practices.”)
  3. Indian Dance and Drama – Part of an artistic language that projects attitudes and emotions or represents powers or deities.

Elements Relationship

In Vedic culture and in Ayurveda that derives from it, the five elements of earth, water, fire, air/wind and ether/space are foundational. From this perspective, the fingers each represent an element:

  • Thumb – Fire Element
  • Index Finger – Air / Wind Element
  • Middle Finger – Ether / Space Element
  • Ring Finger – Earth Element
  • Small Finger – Water Element

When a finger representing an element is brought into contact with the thumb, that element is said to be brought into balance.

Yoga Tattva Mudra Vijnana

Indian rishis (seers) discovered a direct connection between the Pancha Maha Bhuta [“Five Great Elements”] and the five fingers of the human hand… Through centuries of research and experimentation with techniques used to influence the bhutas—as well as influential exchanges with other Asian traditions—they developed an elaborate system called Yoga Tattva Mudra Vijnana. This unique branch of Vedic wisdom clearly describes the relationship between the five fingers and Five Elements. – Cain and Revital Carroll

Purpose & Practices

Purpose / Uses

The following are ways in which mudras are used:

  1. To heal.
  2. Practiced with pranayama, to direct prana.
  3. Used with asana,” to energize the asanas at a deeper level.” (Dr. David Frawley)
  4. To focus the mind in preparation for meditation.
  5. To “energize expression” and “organize subtle energy patterns.”
  6. For specific uses such as teaching.

Guidelines / Tips

Some instructions for practicing hand mudras include the following:

  • Most sources state that mudras can be practiced at any time and during any activity, including standing or walking, in addition to seated.
  • Unless a mudra requires both hands to create, it is recommended to practice with each hand; but it is clearly stated to be acceptable and beneficial to practice using only one hand when necessary.
  • “Exert enough pressure to feel the flow of energy through the nadis (psychic channels) up the arms but not enough to whiten fingertips.” (KundalinieYoga.org)

Readings

Relationship to the Mind

“The mind follows the habits of the breath and the body,” explains Eric Shaw, yoga teacher and scholar in Berkeley, California. “And the hands have a stronger relationship to the mind than much of the rest of the body.” If we place our hands in a position of calm or stillness, the mind can mirror the same qualities. Thus, a mudra can be an instrument to prepare the mind for meditation. – Karen Macklin 

Source of Tremendous Power

Our hands are a source of tremendous power. With such profound dexterity, sensitivity, and utility, the human hands may be one of our most defining features as a species. Playing guitar, delivering a baby, knitting a sweater, building a house, wielding a sword, painting intricate figures: through the use of our hands we create and shape the world we live in. Hands an heal, hands can harm. One touch can convey a wide array of thoughts feelings or intentions. Hands tell the story of our mood or state of mind. When we feel angry, a clenched fist; when anxious, fidgeting fingers. Even plants and animals respond to the subtle nuances of our touch. With the hands playing such a central role in our experience of being human, it comes as no surpirse that many of the world’s great spiritual and artistic traditions have considered the hands as sacred. – Cain and Revital Carroll

Direct Higher Pranic Energies

The hands are our seat of pranic connection and expansion in Ayurvedic medicine, and much of healing is through the hands. Mudras can help direct higher pranic energies into the body and link us with beneficial pranic currents in nature and in the universe as a whole. Mudras relate to the marmas and nadis, the energy points and currents in the physical and subtle bodies. This can afford them tremendous healing powers and the ability to change how our energy moves and works… The mudra forms a vehicle for one’s prana, and helps both activate and exercise the prana that one has… Mudras can also serve to focus the mind and direct its power of attention. – Dr. David Frawley

Affects Elements in Body

When the fingers are brought together in a specific pattern and are touched to each other, or slightly pressed against each other, the formation is called a “mudra.” When the five fingers… form a mudra, it affects the levels of the five elements in our body, thus balancing those elements and inducing good health. – Advait