It’s all in your hands, literally (Mudras and more)

In yogic practices, the hands are a very important part of the body. They are the part of the body where the inner energy field can usually be most easily felt. Let’s take a closer look at what makes the hands so special.

Hands and energy

hand

 

The five fingers essentially represent the five elements:

Thumb: Agni/ Fire

Index finger: Vaayu/ Air

Middle finger: Aakash / Ether or Space

Ring finger: Prithvi/ Earth

Little finger: Jal/ Water

In yoga, there are different mudras or hand postures to achieve different effects on the body and energy. By pressing together different fingertips or holding fingers in certain ways, we can send the desired impulses to the brain which impacts the chemistry and energy of the entire body.

 

mudra-dance
mudras in classical dance

Mudras are used in pranayama (breathing practice), dhyana (meditation) and Indian classical dances like Bharatnatyam. As a simple exercise to see the effects of hands on the breath, you can try breathing for a couple of minutes with your palms facing upwards and then breathing for a couple of minutes with palms facing downwards. You will notice a distinct change in the way you breathe in these two postures.

Ancient carvings in Indian temples depict deities and other figures holding different mudras. Statues of the Buddha also generally depict him holding the abhayamudra (right palm held up and facing outward), representing ‘fearlessness’ or divine protection.

If you’re keen to learn more about mudras and practice a few simple ones, check out these websites that give good and clear guidance:

http://www.sandhyamanne.com/blogs/hasta-mudra

https://www.artofliving.org/in-en/yoga/health-and-wellness/mudras-yoga-at-fingertips

 

badami_caves_2
Carving of Lord Shiva as Nataraja (lord of dance) at Badami caves in Karnataka, India from the 6th – 8th c. AD. The figure shows the 108 mudras used in Bharatnatyam dance (different combinations of the 18 hands)
buddha-mudra
Statue of Gautama, the Buddha, holding abhayamudra

 

Hands and food

In recognition of the energetic importance of fingers, Indians traditionally eat using their hands. Also, traditionally, Indians would not consume food without first bathing and so the question of cleanliness in eating with the hands (which was the reason for other cultures to develop the use of cutlery) did not arise. Eating using the hands is supposed to bring about a balance of the five elements in the body as food is consumed. Touching the food with the hands also has other benefits like:

– aiding in the enjoyment of food through including one more sense perception – touch – which makes the eating experience more satisfying

– providing information to the brain about the temperature and texture of food before the food hits the mouth (and potentially shocks you with its heat or cold!)

Additionally, eating with one’s hands enables easier digestion of food due to the presence of certain bacteria on the hands  (yes, we’re talking about ‘clean’ hands!). In fact in the preparation of some types of dough in Indian cuisine, it is essential to knead using one’s hands because the bacteria in the hands helps the dough to rise. And as most Indian housewives know, if you stir the milk with your finger, your home-made yogurt will turn out that much better!

Using hands in daily life

In Indian culture, there are certain customs involving the hands that have been passed down through the generations. For instance, one custom is to do most things, especially eating and making offerings, with the right hand. The reason is that the right side of the body is considered to embody masculine energy in general while the left side is considered to be the feminine side which should be protected and not exerted too much.

In religious rituals, the ring finger of the right hand is used to apply ‘tikka’ or ‘vibhuti’, sacred colour or ash, as the ring finger represents earth.

Even in Western cultures, the wedding rings are worn on the ring finger because the ring finger represents earth and therefore stability.

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Shruti Bakshi

Shruti Bakshi is the Founder of the LivingWise Project. She has worked for several years in banking and financial services in London, Paris and Mumbai and holds an MBA (INSEAD) and MPhil in Finance (Cambridge). She is also a certified Hatha yoga instructor. Shruti writes about life at the intersection of spirituality and modern society. Her debut novel ‘From Dior to Dharma’ was released in May 2017. Her latest novel is ‘Yoga, Work and Life: Indian Wisdom for Modern Times’.


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16 Replies to “It’s all in your hands, literally (Mudras and more)”

  1. mindfulbreathsite

    Love your simple and self-explanatory diagram of the fingers with the elements. One cannot overestimate the benefit of madras in yoga practice and in regular life: dance, health and healing, prayer. I love your blog. I am glad I have found you. It looks like you are the person who would be able to answer the questions, if I have any in regards to mudras. I will keep in touch, from my practice to yours. Namaste.

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