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The Meaning of Hand Mudras

22 April 2013

The Sanskrit word “Mudra” is generally translated as a seal, mark, or gesture. According to custom, Mudras are typically used during meditation and/or pranayama as a way to direct or channel energy flow  throughout the body. According to yoga philosophy, different areas of the hand stimulate specific areas of the brain. By applying light pressure to these areas of the hand, you will “activate” the corresponding region of the brain, similar to reflexology.

Mudras also symbolize various feelings, emotions, and are representative of various states of being. Hand positions play an important role in many societies and religions. The Catholic church uses many hand movements during mass; all of which symbolize various important Christian ideas. Even in modern Western culture we have many hand movements and symbols that are associated with a certain meaning: clapping, palm out meaning stop, holding the hands up signify surrender, even the crude gesture of “flipping the bird”.

Since the entire universe is made up of 5 elements; fire, air, space, earth and water and the human body is also composed of these same 5 elements, the fingers of the hand have been used traditionally to represent these 5 elements individually

The thumb represents fire, the 1st finger represents air, the middle finger represents space, the ring finger represents earth and the little finger represents water. When these 5 elements are balanced and in harmony with one another in our bodies we are healthy. Imbalance and disharmony of these 5 elements leads to disease. The balanced elements prompt all the body’s systems to function optimally.

Historically, Mudras are an ancient part of both the Buddhist and the Hindu traditions, and even though they were developed thousands of years ago their meaning is still understood and relevant today. In traditional Tantric ritual 108 Mudras are used. Mudrās can involve arm, hand and body positions but this article will address only “Hast Mudras” (yoga parlance for hand postures).

The four most common Mudras involve the thumb touching each of the other four fingers and a brief description follows…

The Meaning of Hand Mudras

Gyan Mudra

Gyan Mudra: Probably the most recognized hand Mudra used by Hindus and Buddhists.

Description: The index finger and thumb are lightly touching at the tips. The other three fingers are held out gently (relaxed, not ridged). In many portrayals of the Buddha, you will notice the hands assume this Mudra.

Meaning: This powerful Mudra is also known as the “seal of knowledge.” The thumb represents fire and divine nature and the index finger represents air and individual human consciousness. When the two fingers are placed together in Gyan Mudra, it is meant to symbolize and encourage wisdom and expanded consciousness.

Benefits: When used during meditation or pranayama, Gyan Mudra is extremely calming and can help inspire creativity, and increase concentration. It stimulates the brain, empowering the mind, nervous system and pituitary gland.  It also stimulates the endocrine system.

The Meaning of Hand Mudras

Shuni Mudra

Shuni Mudra: “Shuni” means “Saturn.” In astrology, Saturn is the planet that makes you disciplined.

Description: The middle finger and thumb are lightly touching at the tips. The remaining three fingers are held out gently (relaxed, not ridged).

Meaning: This hand Mudra is also known as the “seal of patience.” The middle finger represents Aakash and courage to hold duty and responsibility. The thumb represents fire and divine nature. When the two fingers are placed together in Shuni Mudra, it is meant to symbolize and encourage patience, discernment, focus and discipline.

Benefits: When used during meditation or pranayama, Shuni Mudra helps to encourage patience and the courage to fulfill one’s responsibilities. It also helps to develop noble thoughts and turn negative emotions into positive ones. This Mudra also gives you the sensation of stability and strength.  To breathe while holding this Mudra cultivate perseverance.

The Meaning of Hand Mudras

Surya Mudra

Surya Ravi Mudra (aka, Prithvi Mudra): “Surya” means “Sun,” and it increases the element of fire in the body.

Description: The ring finger and thumb are lightly touching at the tips. The remaining three fingers are held out gently (relaxed, not ridged).

Meaning: This hand Mudra is also known as the “seal of life” or “seal of the sun.” The ring finger represents earth, energy, strength and endurance. The thumb represents fire and divine nature. When the two fingers are placed together in Surya Ravi Mudra, it is meant to symbolize and encourage energy, balance, health, and vitality.

Benefits: When used during meditation or pranayama, Surya Ravi Mudra can give you energy, positivity, intuition, and help encourage positive change in your life. It helps to build and invigorate the bodily tissues. It is also known for speeding up the metabolism, resonating with the third chakra to stimulate digestion. To breathe while holding this Mudra energizes the whole body.

The Meaning of Hand Mudras

Buddhi Mudra

Buddhi Mudra (aka, Varun Mudra): “Buddhi” means “higher mind” or “intellect” (it follows the same etymology as the word “Buddha”).

Description: The little (pinky) finger and thumb are lightly touching at the tips. The remaining three fingers are held out gently (relaxed, not ridged).

Meaning: This hand Mudra is also known as the “seal of mental clarity.”  The little finger represents water and communication. The thumb represents fire and divine nature. When the two fingers are placed together in Buddhi Mudra, it is meant to symbolize and encourage openness and fluid communication.

Benefits: When used during meditation or pranayama, Buddhi Mudra can encourage clear and effective communication. It helps balance the water element in the body, activating the salivary glands and moistening dry eyes and skin. This Mudra also helps with gaining higher understanding and discerning intuitive messages to gain knowledge.

Sequence of these four Mudras for balancing energy….

Alternately touch the tips of each finger with the tip of your thumb. Keep each connected for a few seconds or longer and do for a few minutes total. Do this with both hands simultaneously.

This is a simplified version of a Kundalini yoga exercise and a way of balancing your energy that you can do practically anywhere and at anytime; while sitting, standing, walking, and/or lying down.

The overall effect is that you get more calm, more relaxed and concentration is enhanced.

In a nutshell, each of these four individual or separate Mudras has the following effects:

  •  1. Thumb touches tip of index finger:  Opens the Root chakra, and moves more energy to the legs and lower body. Calms the mind for better concentration.
  •  2. Thumb touches tip of middle finger:  Fosters patience.
  •  3. Thumb touches tip of ring finger:  Energy, stability and self-confidence.
  •  4. Thumb touches tip of pinky finger:  Intuition and feeling.

Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras says that while in asana one should focus on Ishvara (Lord or God).  Mudra takes that statement one step further and allows you to open your hands to the varying aspects of the divine.

Additionally: Mudras are used therapeutically and you can click on the following link to find Mudras that can be helpful for specific physical ailments and emotional symptoms… Therapeutic Mudra Index

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