I had grand plans to make yesterday “Mudra Tuesday” and write about my fascination with the hands and the powers they possess, but blogging fell by the wayside. But wow, perhaps it was totally meant to work out that way, because today is May 4, and Internetland has seemed to declare it a pun-on-Star-Wars day. I mean, look at Obi Wan up there! An upside-down jnana mudra to convince Stormtroopers that those aren’t the droids they’re looking for?! The force is in your hands, baby!
I first became interested in hand mudras during some of my beginning yoga classes almost 10 years ago. The teacher, JoAnna, would start class with the same spiel every time: “Sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position with your hands on your knees: Palms up, palms down, or fingers in jnana mudra.” She explained that palms up allowed you to be more receptive to others around you, say, on days you were lethargic and needed more energy; palms down was for those days you felt like being a little more introspective and withdrawn, perhaps on days you had too much energy to begin with; and jnana mudra (the gesture of knowledge) was a way to keep the prana circulating through your system, to become more in touch with the energies around and within us. I really dug this mudra stuff, because I had always been extremely aware of the sensitivities in the hands and feet, which are packed with acupressure points, nerves, reflexology points, etc. Days on which I am especially in touch with my yoga practice, I’ll place my hands on the mat for downdog and feel like the ground is speaking to me, like every square inch of rubber is whispering to my palms. The sense of touch will feel as powerful as taste, and holding my hands in anjali mudra or holding onto the bottoms of my feet during Hero pose will pack as much punch as biting into a just-picked Jersey strawberry in late May.
My knowledge of mudras was very basic until I started taking a kundalini yoga class in 2006. Kundalini is heavy on meditation and chanting, usually accompanied by very specific mudras. During some classes, I felt like we used our hands and arms more than any other body part! I liked using different hand positions to channel different intentions, but most of all, I loved the way holding my fingers in a certain position grounded me for meditation. I’ve tried various methods to help me get into the zone–silently repeating “inhale”/”exhale,” focusing on my third eye–but one of my favorites is simply holding a mudra and drawing the focus to the fingers, giving slight pressure on the inhale, relaxing the muscles on the exhale.
My curiosity about mudras led me to buy this book a few years ago. It’s one of my favorite and most-referred yoga books:
It’s kind of an encyclopedia of mudras, including 52 hand mudras and their function as well as lesser-known mudras that involve certain gazes and arm or leg positions. I’d get on kicks where I’d tell myself I’d do a specific mudra for 3 days, document how I felt, and then move on to a new one. It has never lasted long, though.
However, I’m trying this again. Since starting the Chopra Center’s 21-Day Spring Meditation Challenge 3 weeks ago, I have meditated every morning. For 3 weeks! This is HUGE. (More on that to come.) To help me with my meditation, I decided to crack open the mudra manual again and really commit to a specific mudra for a full week. My back has been especially achy this week, so I started with the aptly named Back Mudra.
The mudra is supposed to help relieve back pain. A half hour after doing this on Monday, my hip got really wonky and I felt awful. I repeated the mudra yesterday and today and my hip and lower back are still sore and achy. So far, this little experiment is NOT going well. 😦 I’m wondering if maybe tomorrow morning I should give up on Mr. Back Mudra and try Joint Mudra instead (yes, there is one!).
Every so often I’ll bust out in a spontaneous mudra, usually when dancing or practicing yoga. I frequently find myself holding jnana mudra in side angle (the arm that’s propped up on the thigh) or during dancer pose (the arm that’s extended out in front). Sometimes I do it simply to focus my mind on a single point when holding a challenging pose, but sometimes my hands go into the position on their own, usually when I’m really feeling a pose, and perhaps my hands want to seal in the energy churning through me. During those moments, I really do feel like Obi Wan, like there’s so much power channeling through me that I could burn a hole in the wall in front of me if I angled my fingers the right way.
I use mudras a lot when I’m dancing too, especially during the Stillness of 5Rhythms. I have had several Stillness experiences in which nothing but my hands move, and to an outsider it probably looks like I am doing tai chi, classical Indian dance, or some form of sign language. These moves aren’t planned or choreographed; they just come, and they are strong. On days I am especially in tune with my body, I feel like brilliant light is radiating out of my palms and I have no choice but to spread my hands wide and spread the energy. It’s a bit like Spiderman, but instead of a silver web, I’m shooting out beams of light.
This morning, after my failed attempt at the Back Mudra, I did some yoga stretches. While seated upward in Dandasana, my hands unconsciously found their way into this mudra:
At the time, I had no idea what this gesture was called or what it meant. My hands just wanted to go there, and I let them stay there for a while. The top hand was very sensitive, and I felt as though it was pressing against something very light but very powerful, like a wall of electrons or something. It’s hard to explain, but it felt nice. I consulted my mudra book afterward: Turns out the top hand was in Abhaya Mudra, the gesture for promising protection, and the bottom was in Varada Mudra, gesture for granting wishes or mercy.
While sitting there with my hands lookin’ like Buddha’s, I was suddenly transported back to 2006, my trip to Tibet. We had visited monastery after monastery, all filled with giant, towering golden Buddha and Dalai Lama statues, each whose hands were poised in a specific mudra. So as I was thinking of this, my playlist switched over to a new-agey track that included the sounds of Tibetan drums and the chant Om Mani Padme Hum, which is the mantra Buddhists repeat to themselves as they make their pilgrimage to the holy sites of Lhasa. The mudras, the music, the memories…I was overcome by emotion and brought to tears. Indeed, the force was with me this morning.