I like to think of mudras, or energetic gestures, as medicine. Whenever I’m giving a client Ayurvedic recommendations for diet, lifestyle, and herbs, I also add in a “prescription” for a mudra. Mudras aren’t just for meditation, but have subtle effects on the body and mind that can be used for healing purposes.
Mudras are specific gestures used to lock in energy. They can involve the hands, eyes, or the whole body—even Shoulderstand is considered a mudra. These various physical expressions are used in yoga to aid in concentration and deepen awareness.
The mechanics of mudras
Mudras of the hands work by influencing the five elements. Each finger represents a different element:
- The thumbs relate to fire.
- The index fingers relate to air.
- The middle fingers relate to space.
- The ring fingers relate to earth.
- The pinky fingers relate to water.
Touching the fingers together in particular gestures affects the five elements within. Prana that would normally dissipate through the fingers is redirected inward, and this effect can be felt instantly. When I practice apana mudra, for example, I feel an immediate downward energetic surge—which is precisely what this mudra is known for.
Mudras integrate the annamaya kosha (physical body) with the manomaya kosha (mental body) and the pranamaya kosha (pranic body). This is why we can feel their effects, as they develop our mental awareness of the flow of prana throughout the physical body.
Here are four hand mudras that can be used like medicine.
1. Apana mudra
Translation: “downward force gesture”
How-to: Touch the tips of your thumb, middle, and ring fingers on each respective hand together. Straighten the index and pinky fingers. Rest the backs of your hands in your lap.
Effects: Apana is one of the five types of vayu (pranic energies). It directs the downward flow of energy needed for functions like elimination, urination, and menstruation. This makes apana mudra effective for anyone with imbalanced apana vata: those who are constipated, have slow digestion, or have irregular or absent periods. Because of its downward effect, apana mudra is not appropriate for pregnant women.
2. Yoni mudra
Translation: “womb gesture” or “source gesture”
How to: Bring the pads of your index fingers to touch. Then bring the pads of your thumbs to touch, so that these four fingers form a diamond shape. Point your thumbs toward you. Interlace the remaining fingers. You can do this in one of two ways: either interlacing the fingers inward, or resting them on the outsides of the hands. Rest your hands in your lap.
Effects: With both hands interlaced, yoni mudra creates a cross connection between the left and right side of the body. This balances both the feminine and masculine energies of the body, as well as the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Because yoni mudra calms the nervous system, it’s helpful both for meditation and for relieving anxiety.
3. Jal mudra
Translation: “water gesture”
How-to: Touch the tips of your thumb and pinky fingers on each respective hand together. Straighten your other fingers. Rest the backs of your hands in your lap.
Effects: In jal mudra, the water and fire elements are combined by touching their respective fingers together. This helps to regulate fluid balance, and is particularly helpful in lubricating the body. It’s beneficial for those with dry skin, constipation, dehydration, loss of taste, and painful, dry joints.
4. Hridaya mudra
Translation: “heart gesture”
How to: Bring your index finger to the base of the thumb on each hand. Join the tips of your middle and ring fingers to the tips of the thumbs. Keep the pinky fingers straight. Rest the backs of your hands in your lap.
Effects: The middle and ring fingers are directly related to the nadis, or subtle channels, that are connected to the heart. By touching them together with the thumbs in hridaya mudra, the flow of prana is directed toward the heart. This nourishes the heart, making this gesture beneficial for anyone with heart problems. But it also has emotional effects. Hridaya mudra helps to release blocked emotions and relieve heartache, perfect for anyone going through emotional difficulties.
To benefit from any of these four healing mudras, practice for five to 30 minutes a day. You can also break this down as three minutes, twice daily if you are crunched for time.
Reference: Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust, 2008.