Tag Archives: home practice

Musing about Mudras

Perhaps you have been to a yoga class where your teacher has explained something about mudras to you or perhaps this is the first time you have even heard of them…either way an understanding of mudra and how it affects yoga practice can greatly enhance your spiritual experience of yoga.

The word “mudra” is a Sanskrit word that literally means gesture or attitude.  A mudra can be psychic, emotional, devotional or aesthetic in nature. The mudra will have an effect on the mind creating a sense of peace, well-being or even a connection to something “bigger” than yourself.  From a Tantric perspective a mudra will provide a way of capturing dissipated prana (vital energy) and therefore will calm and introvert the mind helping to create a state that is more conducive to deeper meditative experience.

There are different types of mudras but the most common are those of the hands particularly ….Chin and  Gyana (sometimes spelt “jnana”) mudra where the index finger is connected to the base of the thumb or thumb tip  and the hands are placed in a relaxed fashion on the knees facing up or down respectively.

In these mudras the index finger represents individual consciousness and the thumb represents higher consciousness.  The curling or bowing of the finger to the thumb is symbolic of the desire for unity of the individual with the higher consciousness….the very essence of yoga and life…that of union.

Some of the specific benefits of mudras include:

  •  bringing awareness to large areas of  the cortex – physiologically the hand and the head areas take up 50% of the cortex
  •  establishing pranic balance (keeping the energy within the body),
  •  helping  to express some of the more elevated states of mind like peace, joy, compassion, devotion, surrender and inner beauty
  • linking the yoga practitioner with higher cosmic forces
  • deepening awareness and concentration

Swami Niranjananda (Prana, Pranayama, Prana Vidya 1994) describes the activity of mudra in this way ….There can be no expansion of awareness without firstly starting to become  aware. During mudra practice, we start to become aware of the thoughts which emerge before, during and after the practice. We are creating fixed, repetitive postures and gestures which can snap the practitioner out of  instinctive habit patterns and establish a more refined awareness.

To read more about Mudras try the following links:

http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2002/bmar02/mudras.shtmlo

http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1979/cmar79/mudras.shtml

http://yogatherapy.org.au/doc/mudras_abstract_poster.pdf   —-  an interesting study on how hand mudras help to deal with particular health problems

What is happening at home?

Home practice is one of the key elements to integrating yoga into your life.  It is often something which people find difficult to apply and the reasons vary from “not enough time’, “nowhere quiet and comfortable to practice” to “I can’t remember all the poses” and “I just don’t know how to sequence practices”.

Some of these may sound familiar to you if you have been putting off starting your own yoga practice at home.  You may well be attending weekly classes but have just not got around to finding time to explore yoga yourself in your own home.  One of the most rewarding things I have done is to establish a routine of home practice for myself. Sure there are times when I am too tired or not well enough but that is ok because Yoga is about listening to your body (but be careful that you are not listening to your mind..which has the habit of finding reasons why this or that is no good or not working!)

So how do you go about it?  Well the important thing is to begin….set aside a short period of time each day either early morning, or late afternoon. Do not restrict yourself with unrealistic expectations like “I will do a one and half hour class every day before I have breakfast.  (this may be quite easy to do at the ashram where you do not have your other obligations of family and work)  Start with a shorter session but try to allow enough time for a few asanas as well as some breathing practices and or relaxation.  This may even be making sure that you allow yourself 5-10 mins lying in Shavasana at the end of your other asanas.

Find a space that feels right.  It does not have to be huge.  You can enhance the energy and atmosphere with a candle and some incense if you have some. I have set up a small yoga room in one of the spare bedrooms but I often just go outside especially if the weather is good. ( I find that nature is the best atmosphere for me)

Let your body tell you what poses are right for you on each occasion.  Some will be repeated perhaps each day but sometimes you will just feel like doing one pose more than others.  Begin with gentle movements and warm the body up then try to balance the practices out a little with a few forward and backward bends, a couple of standing asanas, a twist and if inversions suit your body an inverted pose to increase the flow of blood to your brain (it is also a great way to gain a new perspective on something!)

Swami Niranjan suggested the practices of Tadasana, Tiryaka Tadasana and Kati Chakrasana  as excellent general practices for the spine.

I like to do at least some observation of the natural breath at the beginning and end of my practice and usually incorporate at least one other pranayama or breathing practice.  (A good one for beginners is abdominal breathing )

Do not despair if you find that your practice is a little erratic at times…show compassion to yourself …just roll out the mat once again and begin with stillness.  There is a great article in the current  issue of  Australian Yoga Life Magazine….sequencing a home practice if you would like to read more.