There is a link between our physical body and our more subtle dimensions. Signals flow through our physical bodies via our nervous system and are translated by our brains into sensations, emotions, and thoughts. By controlling the input signal, we can then have an effect on the output, our experience. Yoga teaches this through a sequential development of tuning-in to our bodies, our breath, our emotions and thoughts, and, later, deeper states of awareness. Often, the result of yoga is relaxation and insightful introspection.
What Are Mudras?
Another way to control the signals flowing through our nervous system is by engaging the nerve endings in our fingers using mudras. Mudras, translating to “seal,” are hand gestures that bring consciousness into the nerve endings in our hands with varying effects of energizing our bodies as well as calming our minds. Neurons carry the input signal that each mudra creates from our hands through our nervous system that our brains translate into a stimulating or calming response.
Our hands have over 25,000 nerve endings which explains why our hands provide us with the richest and most intimate source of tactile feedback. Our sense of touch and feeling, of intimacy, resides in our hands. We help others with our hands, we write and communicate with our hands. We eat and nourish ourselves with our hands. For most, hands are our connection to the world around us.
In eastern medicine, reflexology of the hand connects the various parts of our extremities with specific regions of the body. Thus mudras affect changes not only in our minds but also in parts of the body that correlate with the specific locations of the hand that each mudra engages. That being said, some mudras support the digestive system while others relieve back pain or respiratory issues.
Mudras For the Heart
The focus of this article, however, is on utilizing mudras to open the spiritual heart center, where the greatest sensation of harmony and oneness with yourself, God, and the rest of the world resides. The heart chakra, Anahata, is associated with a love for life and unconditional, selfless love towards all creation. In unlocking this energetic center, one attains the wisdom of creation and a sense of their life’s purpose.
Concentration, visualization, and meditation are tools to tap into the heart center to harness the dormant powers within. To assist our growth and development, it is important to set an intention for our practice. Meditating on purity, the foundation of spiritual growth, is a transformative way of energizing our heart center and connecting with God; this is because purity embodies ideas and energies that can be associated with the divine, such as kindness, love, compassion, oneness, and gratitude.
To begin practicing with mudras, first enter a meditative state using concentration and visualization techniques. Stay rooted in your breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly, deeply, and steadily. Release any tension in the body, then imagine a flower blossoming or a candle flame in the center of your chest. Form your mudra of choice, keeping the pressure between your fingers light and your hands relaxed.
The first mudra for connecting with your spiritual heart is Anjali Mudra. Anjali means “to offer” or “salutation.” In the western world, this gesture is commonly viewed as a symbol of prayer. Anjali Mudra is a sign of offering yourself to God, acknowledging the divinity within you and in all, and sealing that through prayerful practice. By uniting our hands in front of our heart, we join the left and right hemispheres of our brain and bring calmness to our minds. To further deepen our inner awareness in meditation, we can concentrate on the beating of our heart against our hands.
At the end of a yoga class, Anjali Mudra is accompanied by the word, “Namaste,” which translates to, “I bow to the divinity within you from the divinity within me.” Embracing this meaning, Anjali Mudra is a powerful posture to begin the journey of opening our heart center, acknowledging the creator in all beings.
Padma translates to “lotus,” and in yoga, it is no coincidence that the heart center is often viewed as a lotus flower. Moving from Anjali Mudra to Padma Mudra, we can visualize our heart center blossoming as we unite our earthly existence with our soul. Like a flower, we open our hearts when the sun, or God, gives us light. With our open hearts, we give our love to the world, fulfilling our life’s purpose the same way an open flower nourishes the insects that feed upon it. Padma Mudra fills us with loving sensations and calms our minds as we gravitate from the darkness of our desires, fears, and attachments towards the purifying light of divinity.
Harnessing the power of the eagle, or Garuda, this mudra invigorates the body and activates blood flow and circulation. Unlike Anjali and Padma Mudras, this is an energizing gesture that should be exercised with some caution, especially by those who suffer from high blood pressure. It can be helpful, however, for relieving menstrual related pain, upset stomachs, and respiratory issues as well as stabilizing moods and negating exhaustion. Garuda Mudra symbolizes the eagle Vishnu, god of preservation, rode upon and helps cultivate discipline in our practice.
Elevating our awareness to encapture that which is the divine is no lofty undertaking. We invoke the spirit of Garuda to carry us day in and day out to remind us of our purpose and intention – to purify ourselves and open our hearts so that we may connect with the divine that is within us and in all beings.
A solid foundation of meditation is helpful when starting a mudra practice, but one should exercise patience regardless of their prior experience. With consistency and pure intention, you will bring peace to your body and mind, awaken your spiritual heart, and develop a greater understanding and awareness of the subtle aspects of existence.
Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.