Febuary 7, 2020
Mudras: Sacred Hand Gestures
The Sanskrit word mudras means seal, mark or gesture. Mudras are sacred hand gestures or positions that are used to evoke different states of mind and body. In Tibetan the word is chakgya. Each of these sacred hand gestures has a specific meaning. Many of them symbolize major moments or events in the Buddha’s life. The most well known entails the palms of both hands pressed together in what Western traditions consider the praying hand position. This mudra, while rarely found in representations of the Buddha or other deities, is commonly used by nuns, monks, and laypeople to symbolize devotion, prayer, admiration and unity. The word yoga also means unity and this mudra is best known through the practice of yoga. Called the Namaskar Mudra in yoga or the Anjali Mudra, it is used as a common form of greeting in most Asian countries. Anjali is a Sanskrit word which means “salutation” or “to offer” and Namaskar is Hindi for “good day”.
To make this mudra, you bring your palms together in front of your heart space, fingers together pointing upwards, and thumbs held close to the chest, to symbolize honor, respect, and devotion. It also can be used to unify the parasympathetic and sympathetic aspects of a person. Our palms and fingertips are full of autonomic nervous system fibers that act as receptors giving information to the body about its environment. The opening of our ears, the skin on the lips and the umbilicus act as the same. Through these areas of the body, energy frequency and vibration from all that surrounds us is perceived by the autonomic nervous system. This, for most people, is an unconscious experience. However, with some consistent practice of holding mudras, one can become aware of this. Mudras can incite a state of being if one adopts the practice of using mudras consistently. Like everything in life, it takes time to nurture this awareness and allow oneself to slowly open to this sensitivity.
The fingertips of the index finger, middle finger and ring finger gently touching the tip of the thumb are also well known mudras to most who have seen representations of the Buddha. By lightly connecting the thumb with each of these first three fingers individually and maintaining each for a period of time, one can open the body and mind to different states of awareness. When using the index finger and thumb it can bring a deeper sense of the physical structure of the body to us. The middle finger and thumb stimulate the system on a cellular level including what is ingested into the body and its effect. The ring finger and thumb held lightly together takes one into the realm of thought and emotion. These three mudras, when used purposely, will balance and enhance these three levels of being. All that comprises this vast cosmos that we are a part of only consists of energy, frequency and vibration and it is when we connect in this way through the use of mudras we become more aware that we are also an expression of and connected to all that is, in a very intimate and profound way.
Over the past 20+ years, I have used these three mudras to gain access to the physical structure, cellular process and mental activity for clients in shifting sensitivity of foods and substances that incite unwanted reactions within the body. When we hold the praying hand Namaskar Mudra, and focus on something that brings a sense of peace, love or joy, such as a picture of a loved one, a flower or even the setting sun or mountaintop in the distance, the experience can be deeply profound and these feelings of love, peace and joy will well up from inside oneself. There needs to be no mental effort or special breathing when holding the hands together in this way – only a focus on what is being viewed. But it does take time and devotion to the practice and process to have this experience. Trying something for a few minutes for a few days will yield few results. But if one openly delves into it without expectation or desire for results, a transformation within the self will manifest and a greater sensitivity will open to us.
These ancient hand positions were not done without reason and have been gifted to all humanity. It is up to us now in this contemporary time to reinvest in their use, teach them to our children and reap the benefits of them not only for our separate selves but the planet as a whole. When we connect in this way to all there is, there can be no space for anything but inclusion, connection and joy.
Ian Kennedy is the Founder and Head Clinician of True Wellness of Pennsylvania.