Hand mudras are traditionally used in various spiritual practices as a means to direct our flow of Prana (vital energy) and connect the body, breath and mind to the divine energy source. In Ashtanga Yoga, they are used in connection with meditation practices and during puja, an act of reverence towards the divine often through song, prayer or ritual. The word “mudra” itself means “seal” or “lock” and they are distinct postures and practices used to aid in withdrawing the mind and senses. Metaphorically, we can think of “sealing” ourselves into our own inner world and allowing the flow of Pranic energy to move through us.
The essence of hand mudras is a devotional practice in which each finger symbolizes both an element and a universal concept associated with that elemental force. The thumb represents Ether or Space and Purusha or Universal Consciousness. The pointer finger represents Air and the embodied soul. The middle finger represents Fire and the ego. The ring finger represents Water and attachment. The pinky represents the element of Earth and Karma.
The joining of specific fingers in various positions is therefore very consciously used to symbolize a greater concept. Mudras are a way to tell a silent, introspective and meaningful story with your hands. The intention and awareness behind the hand positions require a great deal of meditative attention. Mudras are said to “depict the evolution of the universe and the eventual involution of individual consciousness back to its divine source,” Baba Hari Dass. They are used as a devotional offering in which one performs a “graceful worship” with synchronized movement between the hands and the breath.
The mudra Jnanam or Knowledge, for example, is made by connecting the pointer finger to the thumb of the right hand over the heart, palm facing outwards with the other three fingers extended upwards. The left hand makes the same mudra but is placed palm upwards on the left knee. Jnanam represents that the path to knowledge is made by creating a union at the heart between the embodied soul and the Divine. Through this practice, Vairagyam (dispassion) is attained. This mudra is made by lowering the right hand to the right knee, palm up to match the left.
Typically there are 24 mudras practiced prior to meditation and 8 that follow afterwards. Stay tuned for my video demonstrating these 32 sacred hand mudras! They are also explained in depth in the “Ashtanga Yoga Primer” by Baba Hari Dass, whom I owe a great deal of respect and gratitude towards for foundationally teaching and sharing these practices with us all.