Mudras Explained: Your Complete Guide to Mudras

By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP

Mudras Explained: Complete Guide to Mudras

mudras explained complete guide to mudras

mudras explained complete guide to mudras

It is truly a wonderful comfort to know that our bodies have been innately blessed with components capable of bringing about profound healing and grounding. Today, we are taking a few minutes to explore the powers we hold in our hands and how these mystic forces have been used for centuries in the pursuit of curing different ailments.  

mudras explained

What Does Mudra Mean?

Mudra is a Sanskrit word that I can roughly translate as a symbolic gesture bearing the impact of producing joy and happiness. Can you imagine what a sweet thing it is to know that you can simply look to your hands and fingers for resounding comfort whenever life is in turmoil? So, what is a mudra used for? Simply speaking, regular practice of the different kinds of mudras contributes to our overall holistic health and also induces preventive healing. 

The philosophy behind mudras is very nature-oriented; it asks that we recognize the ability of our hands to define our karma. It says that the fingers are the points of power and possess a telling link between individual Pranic force and the universe of cosmic energy. mudras explained

Prana Explained

Prana is the energy that forms the foundation of all creation. Everything existing in this universe, both animate and inanimate, carries a manifestation of some form of prana. At the macrocosmic level, prana is equivalent to Maha Shakti, or great power (the universe of cosmic energies). And, within the microcosm of all things that live and breathe, Maha Shakti manifests in the currency of Pranic force. In terms of our individual identities, it constitutes our life force and vital energy and is the source of all our inner strength and power. It impacts people's growth and transition and influences our abilities when it comes to navigating through life. 

Pranic force influences both the subtle and apparent dimensions of our bodies. It powers intuition and intelligence but is also the channel and force through which we breathe. It is, in its subtlest form, the root of our spiritual health. The Yoga Chudamani Upanishad (v. 90) discerns that so long as we retain a balance of prana in the body, the individual soul is healthy and undiminished. You see, all life pulsates. 

When our pranic force is healthy, our heartbeats are in control, our breathing is optimum, and the force with which we tackle life is even, balanced, and joyful. There is a sense of warmth within, nourishing us from the inside out. On the other hand, when prana is over or understimulated, it cannot give us the benefit of optimum function, therefore leading to tiny disturbances that build up to one chaotic mismanagement of the flow of energies within our bodies. We feel ill, cannot find the energy to face life, and everything becomes difficult. 

So, it is in the best interest of everyone to lean back on practices that can influence healthy pranic force. One such practice is mastering the mudras. The positions of our hands can influence the energies in our emotional, physical, and spiritual bodies. Mudras link the body to gray matter and strengthen our cognition. They soothe pain, stimulate endorphins that make us feel happy, uplift our moods and enhance vitality. mudras explained

This is one of the many reasons why mudras have been such an integral part of many soul-centered religious practices, including rituals that form the core of Hinduism and Buddhism. Mudras are also extensively used across meditation, Yoga, and dance. Over its propagation in different disciplines, close to three hundred and ninety-nine mudras exist for our benefit. 

Mudras Explained

A mudra (seal, gesture, or mark) is a ritual or symbolic gesture performed using the hands. It forms a core tenet of many religious practices central to Hinduism and Buddhism. One can look at it as a spiritual gesture or a seal of authenticity. Mudras are performed with the hands and fingers. They may also use combinations with elbows, wrists, shoulders, and sometimes, the entire body. In yoga and other spiritual practices, mudras are key tools that assist in healing and meditation. 

Specific to yoga, mudras are employed in conjunction with Pranayama (yogic breathing) and are performed while seated in PadmasanaSukhasana, or Vajrasana pose. Padmasana, often known as the lotus position, is an ancient Indian seated meditation posture in which the feet are crossed and resting on the thighs. This asana dates back to hatha yoga and is now frequently employed in the context of yoga meditation. Sukhasana (or “easy posture”) promotes relaxation as a seated yoga asana. The simplicity of Easy Pose makes it accessible to yogis of all experience levels, and it may help to expand the pelvis and balance the spine. In hatha yoga and contemporary yoga as exercise, Vajrasana, also known as Thunderbolt Pose or Diamond Pose, is a kneeling asana. It improves blood flow to the abdominal region, resulting in more regular bowel motions and a reduction in constipation. Vajrasana is useful for neutralizing stomach acid. mudras explained

When performed correctly, they stimulate various parts of the body that are relevant to breathing. This, in turn, impacts the flow of energy in the body and our overall mood. The hand gestures and positions are thought to lock and channel energy flows and targeted reflexes to the brain. When we curl, cross, touch, and stretch our hands and fingers, we can influence how our minds and bodies connect. This is because each part of the hand is attuned to a specific component of the mind and body. 

Performing specific mudras has more profound spiritual significance, as they physically manifest one's innermost thoughts and emotions. It is believed that focusing your meditation on a specific mudra would materialize a particular set of aspirations, energies, or devotions. Mudras allow us to see our ideal selves and our most pressing need. Mudras are a way to make a concrete gesture toward an abstract goal and actually help in its realization. 

What are Mudras used for?

Ayurveda explains that the body comprises five elements; air, fire, space, water, and earth. Healthy bodies have a balance of all these elements, but when one element dominates or is too weak, there will be an imbalance in the body, which manifests as disease or illness. 

Mudras are used for balancing these elements and bringing them to level with one another. There are five elements, each of which is represented by each finger. In yogic philosophy, it is believed that prana for each element runs through each of the fingers, and by manipulating them, we can increase or decrease the flow of the specific prana to the relevant part of the body— a reason why the mudra is also termed “seal.” Essentially, we are sealing or locking the pranas so they can serve their purpose. When they are oriented toward their purposes, there will be a restoration of the balance of the five elements of the body via prana. 

Let’s briefly look at each of the elements that the fingers represent: 

  • The thumb stands for the fire element. 

  • The index finger represents air. 

  • The middle finger stands for space. 

  • The ring finger is synonymous with the earth element. 

  • Finally, the pinky finger is linked to the water element. 

Before we discuss each of the mudras, it’s helpful to look at the five pranas in conjunction with the fingers and the elements. 

  • The first, Apana, represents the force we need for functions like urinating, excretion, and sweating, or in other words, cleansing the system. 

  • The second, Samana, is the force we need for metabolism and digestion. 

  • The third, prana, is needed to get the heart pumping. 

  • The fourth, vyana, is required for movement and circulation. 

  • Finally, we have udana, which is needed for upper body functions like thinking, talking, and eye movement. 

Now that we have all the details down, let’s discuss each of the mudras, and what they can do for you! 

Jnana/Gyan Mudra (Psychic gesture of Knowledge)  

jnana mudraJnana Mudra

The sacred hand gesture or “seal,” Jnan, or Gyan Mudra, is practiced as a gesture of consciousness. The name has Sanskrit roots and is derived from jnana, which means “wisdom” or “knowledge,” and “mudra,” meaning gesture. The index finger represents jivatma, or the individual ego, while the thumb represents Brahman or universal awareness. Jnana mudra, in which the thumb and index finger are joined, symbolizes the coming together of the ultimate and the personal. The remaining three fingers stand for the three gunas, or attributes, that may be found in nature. To practice this mudra, begin by finding a peaceful, quiet place that is uninterrupted. 

  • Go into a padmasana (lotus pose) or sukhasana (easy pose). 

  • Tuck the index finger under the tip of the thumb. Do it, so you form a circle. 

  • Keep the three remaining fingers extended. 

  • The back of your hands can rest on the knees or thighs. 

  • Your palms should face upward. 

  • Practice for at least fifteen minutes two or three times a day. 

While performing this mudra, your body should be relaxed, alert, and with little to no strain in the arms and fingers. 

Chinmaya Mudra (Awareness) 

Chinmaya Mudra ImageChinmaya Mudra

The true form of internal awareness, the chinmaya mudra is at the core of everything that is intrinsic to our mental and physical health. Chinmaya is the mudra for wisdom, wherein the practitioner connects the index finger and the thumb, keeping the palms on the knees, facing upward. You can imagine holding a sheet of paper between your fingers to get a notion of the pressure to apply in this mudra. 

To perform this mudra, begin somewhere relatively peaceful and quiet. 

  • Go into a padmasana (lotus pose) or sukhasana (easy pose). 

  • Bring the tips of the forefinger and thumb together to form a circle. 

  • Curl the remaining fingers into your palms. 

  • Place the palms on the upper thighs, upward or downward. 

  • Keeping the eyes closed, breathe through the nose. 

  • Start practicing this ten minutes daily, gradually building to forty-five minutes. 

Vayu Mudra (Air) 

Vayu mudra imageVayu Mudra

The literal translation of the word Vayu is air or wind. Vayu Mudra represents a hand gesture regulating the air element in the body. It will remove harmful air produced due to the presence of waste material in the body, particularly the intestines. It has been used over centuries to regulate the air element and, by extension, promote healthy gastrointestinal function. Ayurveda says the thumb stands for the element of fire, and the index finger stands for air. When we suppress the thumb and the index finger, the fire will overpower the air element, helping maintain overall balance. This becomes key to treating stress, confusion, bloating, dryness, dizziness, gas, constipation, joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and early signs of aging. While performing the Vayu mudra, the focus should remain on the thumb and index finger. 

  • Find a comfortable, peaceful space and sit down in Padmasana, Sukhasana, or Vajrasana. 

  • Calm your mind and relax the breathing process. 

  • Closing your eyes, take deep breaths, and focus on a singular chant, Om. 

  • Increase your focus and concentration. Deep breathing stimulates the flow of prana. 

  • Extend your hands over your knees. Keep the palms facing upwards. 

  • Gradually fold the index finger and touch the base of your thumb. 

  • Apply slight pressure with the thumb, and press the index finger. It may feel a little uncomfortable at the onset, but it will ease with time. 

  • Keep the rest of the fingers as straight as you can. 

  • Keep your hands steady, breathe, and chant Om. 

  • Practice for ten to fifteen minutes, gradually building to forty-five minutes each day. 

Agni Mudra (Fire) 

agni mudraAgni Mudra

The Agni Mudra represents the fire element. Performing this mudra is known to activate the fire energy within the body, helping us restore balance. Sanskrit for fire energy seal, Agni Mudra is a hand gesture practiced during meditation to stimulate, contain, or maintain fire energy in the body. It is your key to assessing self-worth and confidence. Practice this mudra in a calm, quiet space, seated in meditation. 

  • Touch four fingers of both hands to the palms (close the palms in semi-fists without involving the thumbs). 

  • Join the tips of the thumbs together. 

  • Turn the knuckles so that they face away from your body. 

  • Begin by practicing this for ten-fifteen minutes each day, gradually building to forty-five minutes. 

Varun Mudra ( Water) 

varun mudra imageVarun Mudra

Varun mudra promotes water content in the body, because of which it is also known as Jal Vardhak Mudra in Sanskrit. It literally represents the mudra that enhances water. If there is a scarcity of water in your system, doing this mudra is very beneficial. It helps in clear thought ideation and streamlines communication channels. It is great for balancing your Kapha dosha. It also prevents you from getting dehydrated, purifies the blood in your body, and helps reduce bad cholesterol. Perform this mudra in a calm, quiet space. 

  • Sit in your preferable position, such as Padmasana or Sukhasana. Take time to settle in, keeping the back and head straight at all times. 

  • Close your eyes and bring both hands to your knees with the palms turned upwards. 

  • Join the tip of each thumb to the tip of each little finger on each hand. The rest of the fingers should be straight and relaxed. 

  • Practice the mudra for ten-fifteen minutes, building to a greater time gradually. 

  • Separate the fingers gently after the session ends, but don’t get up immediately. 

  • Stay seated for a few minutes, keeping your eyes closed, and develop an awareness of all your surroundings. 

Prana Mudra (Life) 

prana mudra picturePrana Mudra

Prana mudra symbolizes vitality and life force expressed by a hand motion. The mooladhara, or the base chakra, is activated. Prana mudra may help your body and mind in many ways. It has the potential to strengthen the immune system, boost vision, eliminate cramps, lessen discomfort in the arms and legs, and even increase blood flow. As a bonus, it has the potential to invigorate the body and boost the efficiency of crucial systems like the heart and lungs. Prana mudra is key to your overall mental health. To perform this mudra, choose a peaceful and quiet space. 

  • Stretch the hands outward, and allow them to rest on the thighs with the palms facing upwards. 

  • Touch the tips of both thumbs with the ring and little fingers on both hands. The thumb is the fire element, the ring is the earth element, and the little finger stands for water. 

  • Keep your middle and index finger extended. 

  • Take deep breaths, focusing on the pure, revitalizing energy that is pouring into your body as you breathe in. Every cell becomes revitalized. 

  • You can use an affirmation to guide the way. Say something along the lines of “I choose to tap into the source of universal energy and recharge my pranic cells.”

  • Practice for ten to fifteen minutes, building to forty-five minutes at a time. 

Shunya Mudra (Sky) 

Shunya MudraShunya Mudra

When pursuing meditation, shunya mudra is quite helpful. Sitting, lying down, standing, and even strolling are all appropriate positions, provided the body is at ease and balanced stance. 

According to traditional writings, the shunya mudra may transport its practitioner to the spiritual realm of heaven by combining the energies of ether (represented by the middle finger) and fire (represented by the thumb).   It is believed that those suffering from a variety of balance and hearing problems, including nausea and vomiting due to motion, vertigo, hearing discomfort, and isolated numbness, can benefit from this mudra. 

Ayurvedic medicine discerns this mudra is helpful for persons who are mostly vata, the dosha (governing energy) connected with the nervous system, and the disposal of waste. To perform this mudra, choose a calm space with little to no disturbance. 

  • Sit in a comfortable position and keep the palms on your thighs facing upward. Postures like Padmasana and Vajrasana are ideal for this mudra. 

  • Close your eyes and take deep breaths. 

  • Fold the middle finger and press it with the thumb on each hand. 

  • Keep the other fingers extended. 

  • Perform this for ten to fifteen minutes, gradually increasing to thirty-five minutes daily. 

Surya Mudra (Sun)

surya mudraSurya Mudra

Surya means sun, and mudra is a hand motion. The Surya mudra is a hand gesture meant to reflect the idea that the sun is the source of all life-giving energy. The Surya mudra is categorized as a curative mudra since its purpose is to expel unwanted substances from the body. The aim of this kind of mudra is to reestablish harmony between the various systems of the body. As always, practice this mudra when you are in a calm, quiet space. 

  • Sit in a relaxed position, with your palms over your knees and turned upward.

  • Put your ring finger to the base of the thumb on each hand. 

  • The remaining fingers should be straight. 

  • There may be a slight pressure when you press the thumb against the ring finger. 

  • Begin by practicing this for ten to twelve minutes and gradually build it to forty minutes daily. 

At this stage, how long will it take for the mudras to work? Remember, practice is key. Begin with a humble ten to fifteen minutes on a day-to-day basis. Either try one of the mudras or do multiple ones spaced out within this time frame. Then, once you progress, gradually build to thirty-five to forty-five minutes for maximum benefit. This will ensure the mudras work to balance your system accurately. Among the mudras we’ve just covered, shunya and surya are my go-to favorites for generating the healing process. There are many others out there, so whenever you find a state of calm, ease, and tranquility, know that you’ve found your perfect healing mudra!