Mudras – the psychic gestures
Mudras form an integral part of the hatha yoga tradition …
This Sanskrit word comes from the root Mud, which means ‘to commune or to bring together’. It literally means ‘joining’ (of the Lower Self with the Higher Self).
In simple terms, the word is translated to mean ‘gesture’ or ‘seal’.
Though these ‘gestures’ are mainly thought of as specific hand positions, they can take form using many body parts and positions.
It can be a gesture of the fingers, the hands, the neck/throat, within the oral cavity, the anus, or the entire body.
In spiritual life, mudra yoga places great attention on subtle energies and higher psychic awareness.
And as one’s yoga practice becomes more advanced, these gestures become increasingly important for controlling and guiding the pranic energy which is being absorbed by the body during these physical techniques.
Mudras for Pranayama
Physiologically, mudras can affect nerve impulses and blood flow, as well as stimulate glandular activity, and are used to intensify the effects of different pranayamas.
A good example is seen in the practice of vibhagha pranayama. In this practice, different hand positions are used to control the various lobular segments of the lungs.
Each of the three parts of the lungs is controlled by an aspect of the brainstem called the medulla oblongata (aprakasha bindu, in yoga). Since there are terminal aspects of this nervous center in the hands, then it follows that certain hand positions can be used to affect (stimulate) the parasympathetic responses of this center.
The three hand positions that affect the different lobes of the lungs are; Chin Mudra, which can be used to affect the lower abdominal area, Chinmaya Mudra the intercostals (mid) part, and Adhi Mudra the clavicular region.
A fourth hand gesture, Brahma Mudra, brings together all of the terminal aspects of the three and enhances the complete breathing function of the lungs.
A Subtle Gesture
Bear in mind that often the ability to perceive the effects of these sublte gestures takes time and practice. The hand gestures do not present any inherent dangers as some of the more powerful, advanced mudras may for one who is not prepared for or adequately trained in their use… and so they present an ideal entry point from which to begin to explore this branch of yoga.
In the beginning, however, the yoga student may feel little, if nothing at all, from adopting these hand positions. So, to start with, it will mostly be a matter of merely maintaining the mechanical positions of the hands while continuing to pay close attention… so that over time you will begin to observe their effects with increasing distinction.