Hand gestures are used in many meditation traditions and are instruments of healing in a number of therapeutic systems.
These include reflexology (massage using reflex points on the hands and feet), kinesiology (muscle-testing and natural healing techniques) as well as India’s traditional system of healing, Ayurveda.
Unlike yoga postures and breathing exercises, which are best learned from a teacher, mudras are easy to pick up and totally safe to practise by yourself. Absolutely anyone can benefit, from children with learning disabilities to older people with limited movement. If you have little spare time, mudras make the perfect form of exercise: you can practise while waiting for a bus, taking a break from the computer or watching TV.
Mudras are so valuable because they enhance overall wellbeing and allow you to tap into hidden energy reserves. Practice brings physical benefits, such as increased mobility and balance, and mental benefits, such as improved concentration. Emotionally, mudras encourage forgiveness and compassion. As yoga and meditation tools, they develop deep calm and inner peace. All you need is your hands.
Here is just one you can practice. Some mudras show immediate effects, but most work best over a period of time.
Kshepana Mudra: Letting Go Gesture
This mudra, also known as Uttara-bodhi, the Buddhist seal of spiritual enlightenment, assists you in letting go of any feelings of stress and negativity, helping you toward a state of pure joy. Its name is sometimes translated as the gesture of the ‘sprinkling of nectar’.
If you hold the mudra for 3–5 minutes daily, you will begin to sense a subtle energy shift similar to the joyful freedom you experience when you spend time in nature. It also inspires you to share experiences with others.
On a physical level, Kshepana Mudra improves your breathing by enhancing exhalation, increasing your ability to shed anything you and your body no longer need. It can be a useful means of releasing stress before a daunting or difficult task.
How to practise:
Come into a sitting or kneeling position or stand. Using both hands, interlock your fingers, then release your index fingers so they are joined and pointing upward. Hold this position in front of your heart, or with your arms raised straight over your head, as in the asana opposite.
How it works:
By joining the energies of both index fingers (representing air), you stimulate the air element, creating a gentle internal ‘breeze’ that blows away the pollution of life and stale ideas.
Kshepana Mudra in a yoga pose:
Ardha-chandrasana: Standing Half-Moon Pose
This classic yoga pose stretches your spine, hips and back muscles laterally, as well as improving circulation. Holding the hands in Kshepana Mudra stimulates the air element, so you feel lifted upward while your feet remain firmly on the ground. It helps to bring a strong, rooted freedom to your practice – and to life.
Stand with your feet 5–10cm (2–4in) apart; distribute your weight evenly between both feet. Relax your arms beside your body. Take a few deep breaths.
Inhale as you raise your arms straight out to the sides, then overhead. When your hands meet above your head, interlock your fingers, then release your index fingers so they point upward in Kshepana Mudra. Stretch your entire body upward, while keeping both feet firmly on the ground.
Retain this upward extension and exhale as you bend to the right in a lateral stretch resembling a ‘half-moon’ shape. Make sure your elbows are straight and your weight is still evenly balanced between both feet. Hold for as long as you feel comfortable, breathing normally. Inhale as you return back to centre.
Exhale as you ‘half-moon’ to the left, keeping your hands in Kshepana Mudra. Inhale as you come back to centre.
Exhale as you release your hands and sweep them out to the sides and back down by your sides. Repeat the 3–6 times.
When you have finished, release the mudra and gently shake out your hands from the wrists.
~ An excerpt from Mudras for Modern Life, by Swami Saradananda.
BONUS: Meditation, the hardest yoga pose:
Author: Swami Saradananda
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Images: Courtesy of the author