By Gita Desyanti, yoga & breathwork teacher at Udara Bali

Yoga is esteemed for its holistic approach to well-being, acknowledging the interconnectedness of the physical body, emotional body, mental body, and energetic body. Each facet of our being is intertwined, contributing to our overall wellness.

As we deepen our practice and build more awareness of these different bodies and cultivate sensitivity to energy, I’ve discovered practices that help regulate the nervous system, facilitate transformation, and enhance energy flow. These practices engage not only our largest muscular body but also our minds and specific parts of the body, including the hands, fingers, and fingertips, that we want to cover in this blog.

Modern science corroborates the continuous emission of electromagnetic waves from our bodies, particularly from the fingertips, which are among the most nerve-dense areas. Ancient wisdom from various cultures suggests that by touching specific points on the hands and fingers and adopting various hand postures, we can restore elemental balance and energetic equilibrium, promoting optimal health. Chinese Medicine also emphasizes the presence of six meridian channels traversing our hands. You may have also experienced a simple and very classical practice on how we can create heat as we rub the palms. 

Hands and Ayurveda

Both in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and in Ayurveda, we acknowledge the meridian channels that flow through the hands and fingertips. We also believe the hands are also considered powerful tools for self-healing and spiritual growth and that each finger represents different elements. 

By tapping into the elemental energies of each finger, individuals can cultivate balance, vitality, and holistic well-being in their lives.

Thumb: Fire or sun (agni tatva): the thumb is associated with the fire element, representing strength and willpower. 
Index finger: Air (vayu tatva): The index finger corresponds to the air element, symbolizing creativity and expansion.
Middle finger: Space or ether (akash tatva): The middle finger represents the ether element, signifying intuition and consciousness. 
Ring finger: Earth (prithvi tatva): The ring finger is linked to the earth element, embodying stability and grounding. 
Little finger: Water (jal tatva): The little finger is representing fluidity and adaptability.

These elemental connections influence various aspects of our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. By understanding the elemental associations, it then becomes easier to comprehend how to activate and stimulate for specific purposes and objectives and how the individuals can utilize specific techniques such as mudras (hand gestures) to channel and manipulate energy flow within the body. 

The word “Mudra” means “sign”, “symbol” and “gesture”.  In the context of yoga practice, a mudra is sign language that sends a message from the body to the brain via the nervous system. “Mudra” also means “seal”, “short cut” and “short circuit” – indicating an actual physiological basis for the effects of hand gestures by closing and uniting certain neurological reflex points that terminate on the surface of the hands and fingers.

Traditionally mudras are mostly “hasta” or hand positions, but also eye positions, body postures and breathing techniques.

How do mudras help us live more consciously?

Certain mudras can be used to control the involuntary physiological processes, which normally occur outside our day to day consciousness at a subconscious level. Mudras allow the practitioner to develop awareness of the current of vital energy (prana) within the subtle body and eventually to gain conscious control over these forces. This enables the yogi to direct them to any part of the body at will (for the purpose of self healing) or outside the body (for the pranic or psychic healing of other persons).

Many of the classical mudras are composed of different bandhas, asanas and pranayamas, which are put together to form one practice. These make very powerful combinations, for each of the constituent parts will have definite benefits in their own right. Mudras can be used to prepare the mind for meditation by encouraging internal awareness of the source of the senses from external effects (pratyahara) and by making the mind one-pointed. Although they are primarily spiritual in purpose, many mudras give definite mental and physical benefits.

How are hand mudras practiced?

The pressure of the fingers should be very light and fine, and your hands should be relaxed. The flexibility of the hands has a direct relationship to the flexibility of the whole body. If we are tense in a certain place in the body, this tension will be expressed at a corresponding area in the hands. With time, the tensions will dissolve in the fingers or hand, as well as in the corresponding area of the body.

Mudras can be done while seated, lying down, standing and walking.

How long is a hand mudra held?

As with any yoga or meditation practice any time spent being in awareness is better than none. A moment of truly present moment connection is better than minutes of unconscious practice.

With regards to specific yoga therapy, the great masters do not agree on the length of time to practice a mudra position. The Indian mudra researcher Keshav Dev recommends holding one mudra per day for 45 minutes; chronic complaints can be eliminated in this way. If this isn’t possible, these 45 minutes can be divided into three time periods of 15 minutes each. The kinesiologist Kim De Silva, who has tested the effect of mudras over longer periods of time, recommends an individually, precisely determined time for holding each mudra. If you use a mudra as support for some type of therapy or to heal a chronic complaint, then it is beneficial to use it routinely, like a meditation, every day at the same time for the same length of time.

Mudra and Its Different Practices

Mudras can be used in combination with different yoga (union to the self) practices to enliven the flow of prana in the body by stimulating the different parts of the body involved with breathing. Relating directly to the nerves, hand mudras create a subtle connection with the instinctual patterns in the brain influencing the unconscious reflexes in these areas. The internal energy is in turn balanced and redirected, effecting change in the sensory organs, glands, veins and tendons. This adds a whole new dimension to the yoga experience.

Here are some of different practice of mudra: 

  1. Breath and mudra

Incorporating mudras into breath and/or breath awareness like in a meditation practice can indeed enhance awareness and consciousness. The choice between long smooth breathing and natural breathing during mudra practice depends on personal preference and the specific goals of the meditation session. The long smooth breathing can contribute to a sense of grounding.  It helps to regulate the breath, calm the mind and foster a deeper connection with the present moment.  Some mudras that are suitable for long and smooth breathing vary from chin mudra, shiva shakti mudra, open or closed palm mudra on knees.  While the mudra that suitable for strong breath like kapalbhati, like loose fist or index and thumb pointed with three pats breathing with help to increase the supply of O2, to energize, to cleanse and to fire up the body 

Have you tried incorporating mudras into your meditation or in your breathwork or breath-based yoga classes? Please try our Yoga & Breathwork practice.

  1. Asana and mudra 

You may have noticed some yoga practitioners incorporating mudras with asanas: anjali mudra and tadasana pose; chin mudra and tree pose; lotus mudra and goddess are some of the most common mudras that are found in yoga class or sequence. (Please note that we will explore different mudras and how to perform them at the end of this blog.) 

The mudra can not only enhance the benefits of the asana but also add different benefits. It surely increases mindfulness and sometimes offers creativity in the sequence, enjoyable, and aesthetic purposes.

  1. Mudra and mantra 

While you may prefer to practice mudra and meditation using an affirmation, you may also want to try using a mantra. Mantras are ancient Sanskrit healing words that have a powerful effect on your entire being when chanted repeatedly during meditation or mudra practice. The hard palate in your mouth has 58 energy points that connect to your entire body. Stimulating these energy points with sound vibrations affects your mental and physical energy. Certain sounds that stimulate these points have a very healing quality. When you repeat aloud or whisper these ancient mantras or scientific healing sound combinations, the meridians on your hard palate are activated in a specific order that re-patterns the energy of your whole system.

Some popular classic mudras

  1. Anjali mudra (gesture of offering): is performed by pressing the palms of the hands together.  
  2. Shiva / Shakti mudra: is performed by placing one open palmed hand in the palm of the other – both palms facing upward. The right hand is the shiva and the left hand is the shakti hand. Which hand is placed on top determines which vital energy is being invoked, the masculine is the right and the feminine is the left. This simple gesture helps to balance the masculine and feminine energy in the body.
  3. Gyan mudra (concentration): is performed when the tip of the index finger and the tip of the thumb are pressed together. This mudra can enhance concentration and promote mental clarity.
  4. Lotus mudra:  is performed by having both wrists pressed together, the pinky fingers and thumbs also touched or pressed together. This mudra is believed to open the heart center. It also can tap into the energetic qualities of compassion, forgiveness, affection, and loving-kindness.