“Close your eyes. Draw your palms together in Anjali mudra.”
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you have probably heard this instruction articulated in a number of ways. Instead of Anjali Mudra, this gesture might have been referred to as prayer pose, or simply prayer. As a frequent part of the ritual that begins a yoga practice, forming Anjali Mudra may feel sweet and welcoming; a pleasurable invitation to connect and go within. But through repetition, this mudra can sometimes feel rote, just a routine for the beginning of class.
So why is the ritual of mudra so important? And how can we shift this practice from a comfortable habit to a conscious and meaningful daily ritual?
A mudra is a seal, something that creates an impression, and it is also the impression itself. A mudra is a seal in the form of a hand gesture, containing and evoking meaning. When you make a mudra, then, you are both creating and receiving information. Each mudra has a particular function and symbolism, so when you make a particular mudra, you seal that information and purpose into your body and your consciousness.
Do you want to experience peace? To access your inner energy? To experience reverence? To connect to the world around you? To make a commitment? Begin with a mudra.
You can create mudras at any time and in any place. A beautiful way to begin a regular mudra practice is to start and end your day with one. Try holding a mudra for a few minutes, experiencing what the mudra feels like and contemplating its meaning. If you sit to meditate, try creating the mudra at the beginning and at the end of your practice.
Here are five basic mudras with which to begin:
Anjali Mudra. Anjali Mudra is a gesture of reverence. Drawing the palms together to evoke a closed lotus, Anjali evokes gratitude, reverence, and vast peacefulness. When you want to express gratitude, experience wonderment, or connect to peace, create Anjali Mudra.
- Chin Mudra. Chin Mudra is the gesture of consciousness. Touching the tip of your index finger to your thumb, you connect your individual self(index finger) to the universal self(thumb). This mudra is often used in meditation, and you may choose to rest one or both hands in chin mudra on your knees while meditating. Any time you wish to feel more deeply connected to people, to the world, to the universe, practice Chin Mudra.
Prana Mudra. Prana is the Sanskrit word for breath and for life-force. Extending your index and middle fingers, use your thumb to hold your ring and pinkie fingers curled in toward your palm. You can hold this gesture up in the air or rest it on your body for meditation. When you want to connect with your inner energy and with the energy of the universe, form Prana Mudra.
Dhyana Mudra. Dhyana Mudra evokes contemplation or meditation. Resting your left hand palm-up in your lap, rest your right hand, also palm-up, easily in the left so that the tips of your thumbs touch. This is a perfect mudra to make when you sit to meditate or when you simply wish to calm and center yourself.
Sankalpa Mudra. Sankalpa means intention, determination, or will. Reaching your left hand across your body to rest palm-up on your right knee, place your right palm on top of your left, as if you are holding hands with yourself. This is Sankalpa Mudra, the seal of intention. At the beginning of your meditation or as a brief practice by itself, form this gesture, and set an intention for your day.
Just as you form an asana with your body and are then formed by the experience, you shape a mudra with your hands and are consequently shaped by it. When you arrange your hands in any mudra, you seal a specific impression into your consciousness. Your body and mind can and will shift as a result of a regular mudra practice. You become the artist and the artwork, the creator and the created.
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Photos courtesy of Chris Comfort Photography (lead image) and Roxxe Photography NYC