Mudra is a term with many meanings. It is used to signify a gesture, a mystic position of the hands, a seal, or even a symbol. However, there are eye positions, body postures, and breathing techniques that are called mudras. These symbolic finger, eye, and body postures can vividly depict certain states or processes of consciousness. Conversely, specific positions can also lead to the states of consciousness that they symbolize. What does this mean in concrete terms? For example, a person who frequently and fervently does the gesture of fearlessness, which can often be seen in the depiction of Indian deities, will also be freed from fearfulness with time. So mudras engage certain areas of the brain and/or soul and exercise a corresponding influence on them. However, mudras are also effective on the physical level. We can effectively engage and influence our body and our mind by bending, crossing, extending, or touching the fingers with other fingers. Isn’t this wonderful? In Hatha Yoga, there are 25 mudras. These also include eye and body positions (asanas) and locks (bandhas). Especially in Kundalini Yoga, the hand mudras are used during the body postures to intensify their effect. In this respect, Kundalini Yoga assumes that every area of the hand forms a reflex zone for an associated part of the body and the brain. In this way, we can consider the hands to be a mirror for our body and our mind.
As I recently meditated on the term mudra, I became particularly aware of the symbol of a lock. A lock always conceals a secret. We frequently use gestures in an unconscious way to seal something; for example, when giving special weight to a decision, or reaching an agreement with another person, or even with cosmic consciousness. In precisely the same way, we may also seal something with our inner forces—we reach an understanding with ourselves. I don’t believe we will ever completely understand the essence of the mudras. The enigmatic touches on the Divine—so each mudra ultimately creates a special connection to cosmic consciousness (or however you prefer to call the Divine). This symbolism, in particular, is the basis of the best-known hand mudra of yoga, the Chin Mudra. The thumb is symbolic of cosmic (divine) and the index finger is symbolic of individual (human) consciousness. The ultimate or primary goal of yoga is the oneness of humanity with cosmic consciousness. With this gesture, the human being expresses this desire, this longing. It is interesting to note that both these fingers belong to the metal element in Chinese Five Element Theory . Metal is the material that is the best conductor—it conducts energy. According to this teaching, the metal element also creates the connection with the cosmic world, and inspiration and intuition dwell in this element. The index finger represents inspiration (energy from the outside) and the thumb stands for intuition (inner energy). In this gesture, intuition and inspiration form a closed unity. The power of the microcosm and the macrocosm are connected and mutually fructify each other. We see that if we dig into the depths of the ancient teachings long enough—or go far enough into the heights—we will find ourselves at the other end again.
Origin of the Mudras
The origin of the mudras is a mystery. Mudras are not only found in Asia, but they are also used throughout the entire world. In their rituals, our European ancestors certainly were familiar with specific gestures, which they used to underline and seal what they thought and wanted to say. During the Christianization of the Nordic peoples, many gestures were initially prohibited, such as invoking the gods with raised arms. Later, these gestures were partially integrated into the Christian teachings. If we observe the various gestures made by a priest, we can perhaps sense how these ancient peoples expressed themselves. But our everyday life is also characterized by gestures, the origins of which hardly anyone knows today: crossing our fingers for someone, clapping our hands as applause, the handshake, holding hands, or “giving someone the finger” to display our low opinion of them.
In India, mudras are an established component of all religious activities. The various mudras and hastas (arm poses) are significant in the depiction of Hindu gods. In addition to body postures and attributes, they also represent the distinguishing characteristics of various deities. The person at prayer sees a special power, capability, and strength of character in these mystical hand poses. The best-known mudras of the major gods Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver), and Shiva (Destroyer) are numbers jnana and chin mudra (Gesture of consciousness and gesture of knowledge) , atmanjali (Gesture of prayer) , dhyani (Gesture of meditation—of contemplation) , abhaya (Gesture for promising protection) , varada (Gesture of granting wishes or mercy), bhumisparsha mudra (Gesture of enlightenment, or gesture of calling witnesses)
The mudras are just as familiar in Indian dance, where the hands, eyes, and body movements act and/or dance the entire drama without words. Mudra specialist Ingrid Ramm-Bonwitt describes this beautifully, “The hands are the bearers of important symbols, which are still universally understood in the East today. With his or her hands, the Indian dancer expresses the life of the universe. Through its variety of interpretive possibilities, the rich symbolism of the dance’s language of gestures gains a greater significance for the mind than words could express. . . . The spiritual meaning of the mudras found its perfect expression in Indian art. The gestures of the deities depicted in Hindu and Buddhist art . . . symbolize their functions or evoke specific mythological occurrences.”. Mudras are also practiced in Tantric rituals. They play a large role in Buddhism, where six mudras are very familiar in the pictorial depictions of Gautama Buddha. These are very closely related to his teachings and his life. Hatha Yoga also expresses the many states of mind, such as mourning, joy, anger, and serenity, through gestures and body positions. They realize that the reverse also applies—certain gestures can positively influence the psyche.
(In another article we ‘ll explore and practice some of the yoga mudras )