Mudras - Their Meanings & Beneficial Uses
© by Marsha Silvestri
The word “mudra” in Sanskrit, means “a gesture”, seal or closure. There are hundreds, if not thousands of mudras from various cultural traditions, religious rituals and esoteric disciplines. Like sign language, mudras serve as a form of symbolic communication as observed through the ages in many arts, statues and paintings depicting Jesus, Buddha and other spiritual masters and deities. Many early Orthodox Christian Icons depict Jesus, Mary and other saints using the same hand gestures as eastern Hindu and Buddhist mudras. This suggests evidence that eastern religions had a stronger influence on Christianity than the modern church have lead us to believe, and that similar meditation techniques were once part of early Christian practices.
Other similarities support this theory, such as the ritual of reciting prayers using a rosary. This is very similar to the practice of reciting sacred mantras or prayers using the beads of a mala. As one rotates through the number of beads (typically 108, 54 or 27), touching each bead with the fingers and thumb, activates reflex points of the fingers that connect subtle energy channels to the brain and nervous system. This helps to promote peace, balance and reduces stress. In Mediterranean cultures, similar strands of beads are called “worry beads”, where passing of the beads through the fingers helps one relax and overcome stress. The japa mala ritual relates to today's topic of mudras, where I describe 27 mudras and their meanings and benefits, hence the theme and title “Mudra Mala”.
The hands are quite expressive. In Indian classical dance, mudras are used as a non-verbal form of storytelling. Mudras can involve facial or body postures, however, this blog post will focus on hand mudras commonly used in yoga and spiritual practices from various Indian Vedic and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
Mudras serve to activate positive energy circuits that help support mental, physical, emotional or spiritual health and healing. They can help clear subconscious issues, negative thought patterns, promote positive change, and enhance the practices of yoga or meditation for faster results.
Ancient yogis and healers discovered a relationship between the hands and the health of the body and mind. The hands contain thousands of sensitive nerve endings that connect to the brain and circulate throughout the entire body. Similar to the practice of acupressure, in yoga and meditation mudras stimulate the flow of energetic currents through the nadis (subtle psychic energy channels and meridians). By touching certain points, one can activate subtle reflexes to direct prana (vital life force energy) to corresponding areas of the brain or body that relate to mental, physical or emotional functions. The pressure applied need not be forceful. Gentle touch can be just as effective as deep tissue bodywork. With mudras it's more about creating an energetic contact or “seal”, than a stronger stimulation as required in massage, acupressure or reflexology.
Hand Reflexology charts indicate where different points or zones of the hand relate to the body's organs and physical anatomy.
Our fingers also correspond to alchemical and etheric elements (fire, air, ether, earth and water) associated with the vayus and dosha body types as used in Ayurvedic medicine. In Ayurveda it is believed that imbalances of these 5 elements can lead to illness or disease, and that specific yoga mudras can help to regulate their healthy balance.
Astrology & Palmistry:
In the science of palmistry, the hand represents a map of the universe, where each finger, mound or zone are believed to have a vibrational connection to the different planetary energies. Astrology and palmistry also reveal the influence of the planets on the physical body, the mind and the emotions.
The index finger is associated with the planet Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, symbolic of expansion, abundance, spiritual blessings, personal growth, higher knowledge, consciousness and wisdom. The index finger represents the individual soul. Mudras involving the Jupiter finger are generally used for mental and spiritual development, receptivity, confidence and attracting prosperity.
The middle finger is associated with the planet Saturn, the “task master” symbolic of discipline, responsibility, maturity, patience, seriousness, lessons and the laws of karma. Saturn mudras help promote patience, discernment, commitment, responsibility and perseverance.
The ring finger is associated with the Sun, symbolic of life, vitality, health, the heart, the nervous system, relationships and sexuality. Sun finger mudras help to promote vibrant health, energy, revitalization, creativity and positivity. This finger is also associated with the planet Uranus, which relates to intuition and unpredictable or unexpected changes. Mudras for stimulating or balancing the Uranus energy promote intuition and help one accept change.
The little finger or pinkie is associated with the planet Mercury, symbolic of the intellect, mental power and communication. Mercury finger mudras promote clear thinking, communication, expression, eloquence in writing or speech, mental quickness, sharpness or agility, intuition and psychic development. Someone with a well developed Mercury finger or mound might be blessed with the gift of gab, wit, or be influential orators.
The thumb is associated with the planet Mars and action. It represents the supreme soul, the ego, will power, logic, reason, common sense, worry, the stomach, drive, passion, forcefulness and strength of character. The thumb used in mudras generally creates the seal or connection, and applies ones will or intent to the mudra or kriya.
The Five Elements
The five fingers are said to relate to the 5 elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Akasha (space or ether). According to Ayurveda, the finger elements are assigned as follows:
- Air relates to the index finger which connects to the large intestine meridian
- Akasha (space/ether) relates to the middle finger, the pericardium meridian
- Earth to the ring finger, the throat, chest, pelvis and triple burner meridians
- Water to the little finger the heart and small intestine meridians
- Fire to the thumb, the lungs and breath meridians
I've seen conflicting references from other systems and sources regarding the elements. Some assign fire to the ring finger, akasha to the thumb, plus other variations.
The Mounts of the PalmThe mounts of the palm are sometimes activated in specific mudras or kriyas.
- Mount of Venus represents the capacity for love, affection, passion, music, grace and sympathy.
- Mount of Luna (the Moon) relates to imagination, mysticism, selfishness, desires and travel.
- Mount of Jupiter relates to religion, spirituality, love of nature, leadership, honor, ambition, self respect and teaching.
- Mount of Saturn relates to patience, wisdom, prudence and integrity.
- Mount of Apollo relates to art, beauty, creativity, aesthetic taste, joy and success.
- Mount of Mercury relates to the intellect, ability to think, wit, study and education.
- Mars regions (mounts and plain) relate to negativity, anger, self control, endurance and courage.
Mudras Commonly Used In Yoga
In my studies of yoga and meditation, I've found minor differences in how mudras are used between different styles. Kundalini yoga uses a wider variety of mudras in hundreds of kriyas that are taught, than many hatha-based systems. In kundalini yoga mudras are heavily dispersed throughout the practice as part of the exercises, postures, kriyas, as well as the meditations.
Most mainstream hatha yoga systems rarely include mudras during the posture practice. Mudras tend to be reserved more for meditations (sometimes taught at the end of a class), more advanced classes or workshops, leaving beginner students less familiar with mudras or many other esoteric aspects of yoga.
Kundalini yoga classes generally include all levels of students, diving right in with mudras, mantras and kriyas.
Mudras used most frequently in Kundalini Yoga:
- Prayer Pose (for centering, tuning in, balancing the positive & negative mind)
- Gyan Mudra (for knowledge & wisdom)
- Shuni Mudra (for discipline)
- Surya or Ravi Mudra (for vitality)
- Buddhi Mudra (for intuition & communication)
- Bear Grip (for heart stimulation and concentration)
- Buddha Mudra (for balance & communication)
- Venus Lock (for balancing positive & negative polarities)
Below I describe 27 mudras commonly used in yoga and meditation, along with their potential benefits. Names, spellings and other minor variations are due to the mudras being practiced across different systems, regions or lineage traditions.
(aka Pranam Mudra, Namaskara Mudra or Anjali Mudra)
The “Namaste” gesture is the most universal gesture of praying hands. Palms are pressed together at the heart center of the chest, thumbs rest lightly against the sternum and fingers are pointing up.
Prayer Pose is generally used before a yoga session or meditation for taking a moment to center, tune in, to dedicate a personal prayer to God or a higher power, or to set an intent. It can be used at any time for for centering in preparation for kriyas, meditations, for closing a class, or in ones personal practice. It is also used as a greeting (Namaste), a salutation, a gesture of offering, honor or devotion.
Benefits: It helps to balance and neutralize the positive (male/yang) and negative (female/yin) polarities of the body and brain hemispheres (Sun/Solar & Moon/Lunar energies). It improves focus, calms the mind, relieves stress and anxiety, induces meditative awareness, promotes reverence, gratitude and respect for others, and helps make us aware of our Divine essence.
Gyan Mudra - Jupiter energy (The Seal of Knowledge)
(Vitarka / Jnana Mudra / Chin Mudra - Gesture of Consciousness)
Thumb + index finger tips touch, other fingers are extended (passive form); For Active Gyan the thumb is placed over the fingernail or first phalange of the index finger; In Gyan mudra the hand can be held in any position. In Jnana mudra the palms are generally turned down. In Chin mudra they are facing up. In Vitarka mudra the hand is raised facing forward as a blessing.
Benefits: These Jupiter mudras stimulate wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, concentration, focus, sense of peace, receptivity, calmness, creativity, memory, enthusiasm, brain power, mental awareness, receptivity and expansion. Gyan mudra helps relieve drowsiness or insomnia, lethargy, nervousness, anger, stress, brain deficiencies and nerve disorders, good for grounding, connecting to the Earth and the root chakra. One of the best mudras for meditation. Active Gyan Mudra is beneficial for teachers for imparting active knowledge to others.
The “active form” of a mudra has a more intense or external effect as a giving gesture. The “passive form” internalizes the effects and opens one up to receiving. Usually the passive form involves a lighter touch of the fingertips, where the active form has the thumb pressed over the first or second phalange of the fingers, using slightly more pressure.
Vayu Mudra - (Mudra of Air)
Similar form to active gyan mudra connecting the thumb and Jupiter finger, except the thumb is pressed over first 2 Jupiter finger phalanges, with the other 3 fingers extended.
Benefits: Helps control air/vata imbalances, healing intestinal gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort and joint pain.
Shuni Mudra - Saturn energy - (The Seal of Patience - aka Akasha Mudra)
Thumb + middle finger touch, other fingers are extended.
Benefits: It promotes discipline, discernment, awareness, commitment, responsibility and living in the present moment. It helps to purify emotions, thoughts, and generates awareness of our inner Divine self. It also promotes patience, compassion and understanding for others. Physically it can help strengthen the bones, reduce ear pain, heart disease and throat problems.
Surya Mudra - Sun energy (Ravi Mudra - Seal of the Sun or Life)
Thumb is placed over the first phalange of the ring finger, other fingers are extended (active form)
Prithvi Mudra - (Seal of Earth) - Thumb and ring finger tips touch, other fingers are extended (passive)
Agni Mudra - (Seal of Fire) - Thumb is placed over the second phalange of the closed or bent ring finger (active form)
Benefits: The Sun mudras are all related, activating the energy of the ring finger. They each offer similar benefits that increase the fire element, vitality, revitalizing energy, improving the heart and general health. They strengthen the nervous system, stimulate digestion, nutritional assimilation and metabolism, balance appetite, weight and thyroid issues, fight fatigue, relieve cold conditions, shivering, cold hands or feet. Prithvi Mudra is a healing mudra that helps to strengthen the body and balance the earth energy, which activates the root chakra to promote a sense of stability and self assurance.
Buddhi Mudra - Mercury energy - (The Seal of Mental Clarity)
Thumb and little finger touch, the other fingers are extended.
Benefits: Increases intuition, psychic development, mental power and clarity, intelligence, communication ability, capacity to exchange dialog, to listen to or hear the truth and understand subconscious messages or dreams. The active form (with thumb pad pressed over the pinkie nail) promotes better communication with others and the ability to read their thoughts. The passive form stimulates intuition, psychological or internal issues and helps one break through creative blocks.
Varun Mudra - (Mudra of Water) is a slight variation of Buddhi Mudra
The thumb and little finger are pressed together at the top fleshy pads of the fingers rather than the tips, and the other 3 fingers are extended straight. There is slightly more pressure applied than with Buddhi mudra.
Benefits: It helps to improve beauty, skin luster, softness and heals skin dryness, disorders and improves overall health. It balances the water element of the body and opens up communication channels.
COMBINING MULTIPLE MUDRAS
Kundalini yoga kriyas and meditations may include or combine multiple mudras, such as one position for the right hand and a variant or different one for the left. Some may change mudras during a kriya or alternate between a series of mudras, rotating from one to another. Kirtan Kriya is a perfect example of this.
Kirtan Kriya is a meditation practiced using the SA TA NA MA mantra while rotating between Gyan, Shuni, Surya and Buddhi mudras, pressing each of the four fingers to the thumb. On the syllables:
- Sa - index finger + thumb touch (Sa = infinity, or the totality of the universe)
- Ta - middle finger + thumb touch (Ta = life or creation)
- Na - ring finger + thumb touch (Na = death or dissolution)
- Ma - little finger touches the thumb (Ma = rebirth, regeneration)
These 4 sounds and alternating mudras repeat at a steady rhythm and moderate pace for a designated number of minutes. The mantra can be chanted or recited aloud, whispered softly, or recited silently, mentally. One version segments 3 minutes chanting loudly, 3 minutes whispering, 3 minutes reciting silently, and then reverse to 3 minutes of each, silent, whisper and aloud, for a total of 18 minutes.
Benefits: Kirtan Kriya helps to balance the brain hemispheres, the male/female Sun/Moon polarities, and the Jupiter, Saturn, Sun and Mercury energies. It increases intuition, develops mental focus and clears out subconscious junk. The mantra relates to the continuous life cycle of creation (infinity, life, death and rebirth), which can help one forge a spiritual destiny.
Buddha Mudra - (Dhyana Mudra, or Samadhi Mudra)
Hands are relaxed resting in the lap, one hand is placed on top of the other, both palms facing up with thumb tips touching to form a triangle. For men, the right hand is on top. For women the left hand is on top. Dhyana Mudra is usually practiced while seated in a cross-legged position (padmasana, sukhasana or lotus pose.)
Benefits: This gesture of absolute balance of meditation quiets the mind, promotes inner peace, deep contemplation, concentration, reflection, calmness and creativity. It is associated with achieving enlightenment as depicted on many icons and statues of Buddha.
Bear Grip - (Ganesha Mudra)
Place the left palm at the heart level facing out from chest with the thumb facing down. Place the right hand over the left, palm facing in and right thumb facing up. The arms and hands form a straight line parallel to the floor. Curl the fingers and thumbs of both hands, locking them together into a fist-like clasp, applying light pressure with the arms, as if pulling the hands apart.
Benefits: stimulates the heart, helps open the heart chakra, intensifies concentration, helps to gain courage, positivity, and remove obstacles or obstructions in life.
All fingers are interlaced (variations have palms separated or clasped together). For women the left index finger is on top of the right finger, and the left thumb overlaps the right thumb. For men it is reversed.
Benefits: Invigorates the body, boosts the immune system, improves metabolism, respiratory and sinus conditions, regulates the menstrual cycle in women and sexual debility in men, improves sleep, focus and concentration, helps to balance sexual energy, sexuality and sensuality and promotes glandular balance.
Brama Mudra - (Surya Chandra Mudra)
Place both hands in fists at the level of the navel with the fingers wrapped over the thumbs, palms facing up, and press the knuckles of each hand against each other.
Benefits: Can help energize the body, calm the mind, release negativity and achieve higher meditative states.
Apana Mudra - (aka Mrigi Mudra, Karana Mudra - Karana means warding off evil)
Thumb, middle and ring finger tips touch together. Index and little fingers extend straight out or up.
In Karana Mudra the ring finger is bent down with the middle finger but does not touch the thumb.
Corna is a similar gesture that is said to ward off bad luck, and offers protection from evil.
Benefits: Apana Mudra stimulates and balances the flow of the apana vayu (descending vital energy). It regulates the excretory system, promotes emotional spiritual and physical energy, improves self-confidence, helps to relieve constipation and urinary issues, calms the mind, dispels negativity, improves immunity, helps relieve stress, anger, anxiety, headaches, colds, nerve conditions or weakness, stimulates elimination for detoxification of internal toxins and also external toxic or evil / negative energies, elements or forces.
Pran Mudra - (Prana Mudra - Mudra of Life)
Thumb, ring finger and little finger tips touch, index and middle fingers are extended straight up together
Benefits: activates dormant energy and vital life forces, it aligns one with internal and external prana (vital life force energy), increasing the flow of prana through the body, which strengthens the immune system and promotes resilience for self healing. It promotes energy, emotional and spiritual balance, calmness, stability, self-confidence and also improves vision and eye health.
Kidney Mudra - (Jal-Shaamak / Mutrashay Mudra)
Similar to pran mudra. First two fingers are extended, thumb is placed over closed ring and little finger.
This mudra with 2 fingers open (like the peace sign) in sign language represents the number 2 or the letter V.
Benefits: balances body fluids, helps reduce water retention, swelling, edema, excessive urination, salivation, runny eyes or nose, throat congestion and menstrual imbalances
Thumb placed over closed index and middle fingers, ring and little fingers are extended
Benefits: Relief from various health conditions, chronic fatigue, intestinal issues, menstrual imbalances, pain in head, ears, teeth, throat or joints, vocal hoarseness, reduces impatience, indecisiveness, fear, timidity, forgetfulness, insomnia and vertigo
Index fingers and thumbs of both hands are spread wide open joining corresponding tips together. Interlace the other three fingers together pointing inward towards the thumbs. Palms and wrists are spread open.
Benefits: promotes bliss, intuition, inner peace and harmony, reduces stress, strengthens and calms the nervous system, promotes reproductive health, menstrual balance, helps relieve PMS.
All fingertips touch the corresponding fingertips of both hands with palms and fingers spread open.
Benefits: improves concentration, emotional and spiritual balance.
Padma Mudra - (Lotus Mudra)
Heels of both hands are pressed together at the wrist, thumbs and little fingers touch, fingers and palms are spread open wide like blossoming lotus petals
Benefits: inspires purity, beauty and love, cleanses the aura, purifies the body and mind, relaxes and calms the mind, helps one overcome anxiety, fear, stress, depression, desire or attachment, banishes negativity, good for inspiration, charm, connects one with the Divine source or Holy Light.
Uttarabodhi Mudra - (Mudra of supreme enlightenment)
The fingers of both hands are interlaced leaving the index fingers extended pressed together pointing upward. The thumbs cross over each other. Men cross the right thumb over the left. Women cross the left over the right. Variations of this mudra place the palms together or slightly open. Another variation has the thumbs uncrossed against the index fingers with palms pressed together. Different variations are used in specific kriyas and postures. In Kundalini yoga the crossed thumb variation is used for the Sat Kriya exercise with arms raised overhead and fingers pulling the hands tightly together.
Benefits: It promotes steadiness, aligns one with the supreme source, dispelling fears and evoking a sense of unshaken unity. Having the 2 Jupiter fingers pressed together promotes good luck and activates the expansion potential of Jupiter and the ability to break through barriers.
Rudra Mudra - (associated with Lord Shiva)
Thumb, index + ring finger tips touch, middle + little finger are extended straight.
Benefits: Stimulates the Solar plexus, chakra. It improves transformational abilities for enhancing personal power, clarity, concentration, helps empower one to achieve their goals or higher potential.
The tips of the thumb and index fingers touch forming a relaxed circle. The other 3 fingers are curled into the palm.
Benefits: This seal helps stimulate digestion, promotes pranic flows and awareness.
Place the hands in a fist with the thumb tips pressing on the Mercury mound, and all 4 fingers curled over the thumbs. Hands are placed on the thighs with palms facing up
Benefits: This mudra reduces stress, relaxes the nervous system, increases lung capacity and oxygen flow to the brain.
Kubera Mudra - (Lord of Wealth & Manifestation)
Ring + little fingers are curled into the palm. Touch the thumb, index + middle finger tips together to form a relaxed circle,
Benefits: connects one with the astral plane, to help create or manifest material wealth or desires into physical form, gives confidence, used in mind control.
Ling Mudra - (Linga Mudra of Heat)
Both hands are clasped tightly together with the left index finger and thumb on top. The left thumb wraps around the base of the right thumb which extends straight up.
Benefits: It builds heat in the body and can promote sweating, and help reduce cold conditions, colds, cough and sinus congestion.
Index finger is raised pointing up with the other fingers curled into the palm and the thumb wrapped over them. In this form it is associated with a warning, though variations using two hands with index fingers touching have different meanings, purposes and benefits.
Kalesvara Mudra - (Dedicated to Kalesvara, the Lord of Time)
Place the tips of both middle fingers together. Join the second phalanges of the index fingers together while also joining the thumb tips together. The ring and little fingers are also curled inward. The palms angel outward with thumbs pointing in the direction of the chest. The arms and elbows point out to the sides. Hold the position with long deep breathing pausing after each exhalation. Practice this for 10–20 minutes daily for best results.
Benefits: This mudra cools the mind, calms the nerves, clears conflicting thoughts, enhances memory and concentration. It helps to control the mind to promote positive change, to quit addictions or change unwanted traits, habits or behaviors.
Abhaya-Mudra - (Gesture of Fearlessness)
Usually done with the right hand. The hand is raised to shoulder height with fingers open pointing up and palm facing forward at as if taking an oath. Right elbow is relaxed by the side and the opposite hand stays relaxed in the lap with an open palm facing up. Abhaya Mudra is often combined with the Varada Mudra - the same open hand gesture, except the arm and fingers are pointed down towards the Earth as a symbol of bestowing blessings.
Benefits: this classic gesture of peace is found on images or depictions of spiritual figures from many cultures and religions. It promotes peace, security, kindness and helps conquer worries, stress, dispels fears and limitation and brings Divine protection. This empty hand gesture is also a sign of friendship and peace.
One note about cultural differences, in the west this gesture may also be interpreted as meaning “stop”.
And that seems like an appropriate place draw this post to a close.
More to come soon. In future posts I will go deeper into meditation techniques for specific mudras, length of time or recommended number of minutes to practice, as well as specific potential benefits of each technique. Please stay tuned.
Namaste, Sat Nam and Infinite Blessings to You,
Art and text © 2019 by Marsha Silvestri - PureLifePlanet.com