Meditation mudrās: Why do they matter?

I have now been meditating regularly for about a year and a half; I have experienced the highs and lows of meditation; I have meditated daily and skipped weeks of practice; I have tried guided and unguided meditation; I have meditated with my eyes closed and I have meditated with my eyes open; I have meditated lying down, sitting up, and on the go; I have meditated with incense, music, and Tibetan singing bowls; and I have now found myself in somewhat of a routine, with my “go-to” meditation practice being unguided, in a cross-legged sitting posture on my meditation cushion, with my eyes closed, and my hands palms up on my thighs with thumb and index finger lightly touching (the Gyān mudrā).

But sometimes I do change the position of my hands and often it is the only thing that I change during my practice. So I started wondering about the different mudrās used in yoga and meditation practice. The purpose of this blog post is not to list all the mudrās in existence (as there are many), nor to give a detailed account of their purpose. I simply want to share what I have discovered about meditation mudrās through my own practice and the very brief research that I have done (and will continue doing as my practice progresses – after all, learning is a life-long process).

The Seal and the Elements

Mudrā means “seal” or “closure” in Sanskrit. The term mudrā applies to the use of hand gestures during meditation that carry specific goals of channelling our body’s energy flow. Our hands are thought to channel this energy flow through the five elements:

  • Thumb: Space
  • Index Finger: Air
  • Middle Finger: Fire
  • Ring Finger: Water
  • Pinky Finger: Earth

The choice of which mudrā to use during your practice should therefore be a conscious one, but understanding them truly requires not only research, but actual practice as well.

Here are the three main mudrās that I currently use in my meditation practice. The one thing that I have learned during my research into the mudrās was how much there was still to learn… But if you are still with me on this journey, read on below.

Gyān mudrā

chin mudra upGyān mudrā (also known as the Chin mudrā) is probably the most commonly used mudrā in mainstream society and is often used in both yoga and meditation practice. It is said that the intention of the Gyān mudrā is to improve our concentration and sharpen our memory, and it is often used as a gesture of knowledge.

chin mudra downTo do this mudrā, bring the tips of the thumb and index finger together, while the remaining fingers remain lightly extended, but relaxed. I use the Gyān mudrā in the “palms up” position to receive knowledge, insight, and energy. I use the Gyān mudrā in the “palms down” position to feel grounded and induce relaxation and absorption. Further variations include placing the second, third, or fourth finger under the thumb instead of the index finger; each mudrā invoking a different energy flow and thus having its own unique purpose in the practice.

Dhyāna mudrā

dhyanaThe Dhyāna mudrā (possibly a variation of Cosmic mudrā or Buddha mudrā) is often practiced in Zen Buddhism (Zazen) and is said to bring deeper, more profound concentration. This mudrā is often used for contemplation and reflection, as well as to gain insight during meditation practice.

cosmicTo do this mudrā, place your hands on your lap, one hand under the other with palms facing up and the tips of the thumbs touching gently. The shape of the hands can form a triangle (Dhyāna mudrā) or an oval shape (Cosmic mudrā). The shape of this mudrā is meant to aid our practice by alerting us when our thumbs have separated from one another or the shape has lost its integrity, as these may be signs that our mind has wandered.

Añjali mudrā

anjaliFinally, the Añjali mudrā symbolizes honor and respect toward ourselves and the universe. This mudrā expresses love and gratitude and is often used at the beginning and at the end of yoga or meditation practice. It is also commonly used as a greeting or salutation, particularly in Asian countries, and symbolises (embodies) Namaste.

Añjali mudrā is performed by pressing the palms of the hands together firmly and evenly with the fingertips pointing up. The hands are often placed in the heart space over the heart chakra.

How do you meditate?

So maybe from now on I will pay more attention to what my hands are doing during my practice, or, more accurately, what I am doing with my hands.

But maybe we all have a “go-to” way of practicing; after all, isn’t our true practice separate from the position we meditate in, the clothes we wear, or the tools we use? Maybe our true practice is different every time anyway, because it comes from the inside and it changes every day and from moment to moment. We can employ various techniques within our practice, but our breath is eternal, and, despite what we sometimes want to believe, is not entirely under our control.

In the meanwhile, keep channelling that energy and always approach your practice with open-mindedness and curious awareness.

More information about the mudrās can be found at these amazing websites:

Do You Yoga

The Chopra Center

The Conscious Life

Yogapedia

 

 

 

 

 

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