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Five years ago on this day, I fall out of bakasana, and I don’t even realize it until my foot is on the floor. I didn’t freak out or criticize. It was natural, human, almost expected. This is a personal accomplishment with my balancing poses.

I rise into a belly-down backbend during Jurian’s 6:30 a.m. sadhana and realized that such poses are very dramatic for me. I lift so effortlessly, I feel like I am flying. Maybe it’s the root bandhas pressing into the floor. Afterward, the exhilaration, the buoyancy I feel is incredibly strong. I cry. I tear up. I feel a movement inside of me that feels like my blood is dancing.

We do a belly-down navasana, followed by a spinal twist. Jurian allows us to go into Stage 3, and I was craving a heart-opener–I could feel my heart wanting to scream to the world. I did ustrasana, Camel, but afterward my heart ached so much that I could not lower my arms in savasana. I had to keep them over my heart and chest protectively for a few minutes before putting them to my sides. Perhaps I ache to share my heart. I ache to rise to others and be open, loving. But eventually, my heart aches in a sad way. Recoil. shell, hide out until the next opportunity for Locust or Boat.

***

After breakfast, we discuss modifications and assists. Somewhere in between, I question why all the Kripalu staff drop the letter A off of most Sanskrit words and call pranayama pranayam and utkatasana utkatasan, so on and so forth. “I think all the older people dropped off the A to cool,” Rudy joked. Added Roger: “I’m so cool, I just say yog.”

***

Observation: My Oms are getting stronger, starting from the belly, the diaphragm, the heart. I no longer hold back; I am vocal, I am filled with life. I have a voice, I am not afraid to use it. I carry my “mmmm” until my very last breath.

Group Om

***

Rudy leads an afternoon sadhana during which we do standing yoga mudra, and my mind escapes into another realm. The visualizations I have are wild, something one might expect from using illegal substances. For instance, as I am hanging over my knees, I see an image of something like a paper towel roll, spinning down in a waterfall-like cascade of vanilla yogurt and what looks like chives. It is spinning, pouring down, down, this white liquid with green speckles. I see a garden of eyeballs, and where there should be heads of lettuce planted in the earth, there are eyeballs instead.

I see Kripalu’s walls, but it is empty. I go up and down the staircases, but there is nothing on the walls, there is no color, no people. It is very lonely and very frightening.

I see my body in the form of a body bag. My body has a zipper, and I am being zipped from the neck up. The zipper is on my face, my face is over my face, closing over my face. (Author’s Note. Yes, that is what I wrote.)

After yoga mudra, I inhale, rise, and feel amazingly buoyed. There is a force under my arms, and it keeps my arms afloat. I want to dance with this movement, this watery motion. After doing sun breath, my arms lower and I feel more energy in my left hand. I feel like someone has ever-so-briefly slipped their hand into my left hand. So gentle. The loving grandmother appears again.

During our Stage 3, I find myself going into setu bandhasana, very quickly, very forcefully. I feel like someone is hovering above me, as though Jurian is standing over my head and Megha at my feet. I then thrust up into full Bridge, then Wheel, very quickly, no preparation, no thinking involved.

Rudy, the "Gentle Yogi"

***

After a long and deep deliberation on the yama of aparigraha (way too involved to include here), I reflect on my ahtitam (small group), A, G, and E. We felt pretty separate until today’s sharing of the yamas and niyamas. Everyone divulged. Here we are, four strangers, confiding in each other about what we feel holds us back in life. Once strangers, now connected in 30 minutes. How? Why? It is because we are safe. Kripalu, Megha, Rudy, Jurian, Roger, Leila, and Helga have made us feel so loved and appreciated that we do not hesitate to be honest. Satya = truth. We are no longer afraid.

***

The camaraderie continues into the night, as Dorm 129 has a “late-night” after-hours party from 9:15 to 10:30. Whee! Everyone brings a snack, so there is juice, tea, apples, chocolate, gummy bears, cookies, pretzels, chips, popcorn. We talk about Kripalu’s dense food and our constipation. A puts on Irish music and a song about witches to celebrate Halloween, which apparently is just days away. The sugar in the gummy bears tastes sensational. We sit in a circle and share our stories. Everyone has incredible stories, and lil’ ol’ me feels rather boring next to the gypsy living off the grid in California, the former Peace Corps member who lived in West Africa, the chick who used to serve in the Air Force, the lady whose house is being sold during her stay at Kripalu, the woman who studied with a Reiki master in India, the former Seva volunteer who spent time living in New Orleans studying animal acupressure, and the Cornell grad who’s taking a break from her career as an aerialist in Cirque du Soleil. Blah. Wow. Shit. In 45 minutes, we become acquainted. The tribe is strengthening.

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.

This is what the right hand does, but I had to demonstrate with my left because I am incapable of using a camera in my left hand.

Left hand in a kind of jnana mudra, with thumb covering index fingernail.

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.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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