A symbolic ritual gesture used in Yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism. While some mudras involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands and fingers to express an attitude and aid concentration.
A mudra is a spiritual gesture and an energetic seal of authenticity employed in the iconography and spiritual practice of Indian religions and traditions of Dharma and Taoism. One hundred and eight mudras are used in regular Tantric rituals. In yoga, mudras are used in conjunction with pranayama, generally while seated in Padmasana, Sukhasana or Vajrasana pose, to stimulate different parts of the body involved with breathing and to affect the flow of prana in the body.
In your yoga practise, mudra’s become more relevant as asana and pranayama are perfected and will help to appreciate the kundalini, the inda and pingala nadis. Mudra also works in conjunction with the bandas or seals which are often confused with mudra.
The main sources of information about Mudra’s are the Gherandya Samhita by Sage Gherandya and the Hathyoga Pradipika. There are of course many other books and discussion documents and the overview below is based on the wiki description.
Thumb and forefinger on each of both hands join as a zero. The rest of the fingers are extended, with the middle finger touching the non-folded part of the forefinger. The hands are placed palms-up on the thighs while sitting in Vajrasana. This mudra is said to activate the diaphragm, making for deep “stomach-breathing”, as the diaphragm pushes out the internal organs when it descends towards the pelvis on inhalation.
Thumb and forefinger are the same as Chin Mudra. The rest of the fingers are folded into a fist. The non-folded part of the forefinger and the middle finger should still be touching. Like in Chin Mudra, the hands are placed palms-up on the thighs while sitting in Vajrasana. This mudra is said to activates the ribs, making them expand sideways on inhalation.
Thumb is folded into the palm, touching the base of the small finger. The rest of the fingers are folded over the thumb, to create a fist. Like in Chin Mudra, the hands are placed palms-up on the thighs while sitting in Vajrasana. This mudra is said to activate the pectoral muscles, making the chest expand forward on inhalation and make prana flow in the throat and in the head.
Palms are in Adi Mudra, but the inside of the palms face upwards and are located at the level of the navel, with the left and right knuckles and first finger joints touching. This is done while sitting in Vajrasana. Breathing becomes full: in inhalation, the diaphragm descends, the ribs then expand, and then the pectoral muscles move forward. Exhalation works in the same order, which creates a “wave” or ripple effect making prana flow in the entire body.
A complicated Mudra combining hand gestures, synchronized movement from gesture to gesture within the breath cycle, and meditation. The mudra is practiced sitting in Siddhasana. Even a single breath cycle of this Mudra can significantly stimulate the body. It is described in the book, Theories of the Chakras, by Hiroshi Motoyama.
Common Buddhist mudras
The Abhaya mudra (“mudra of no-fear”) represents protection, peace, benevolence, and dispelling of fear. In the Theravada, it is usually made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, the arm bent and the palm facing outward with the fingers upright and joined and the left hand hanging down while standing. In Thailand and Laos, this mudra is associated with the walking Buddha, often shown having both hands making a double Abhaya mudra that is uniform. The mudra was probably used before the onset of Buddhism as a symbol of good intentions proposing friendship when approaching strangers. In Gandhara art, it is seen when showing the action of preaching. It was also used in China during the Wei and Sui eras of the 4th and 7th centuries. The gesture was used by the Buddha when attacked by an elephant, subduing it as shown in several frescoes and scripts. In Mahayana, the northern schools’ deities often paired it with another mudra using the other hand. In Japan, when the Abhaya mudra is used with the middle finger slightly projected forward, it is a symbol of the Shingon sect. (Japanese: Semui-in; Chinese: Shiwuwei Yin)
This gesture calls upon the earth to witness Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. A seated figure’s right hand reaches toward the ground, palm inward.
The Dharmacakra mudra represents a central moment in the life of Buddha when he preached his first sermon after his Enlightenment, in Deer Park in Sarnath. In general, only Gautama Buddha is shown making this mudra, save Maitreya as the dispenser of the Law. This mudra position represents the turning of the wheel of the Dharma. Dharmacakra mudra is formed when two hands close together in front of the chest in Vitarka, having the right palm forward and the left palm upward, sometimes facing the chest. There are several variants such as in the frescoes of Ajanta, India where the two hands are separated, and the fingers do not touch. In the Indo-Greek style of Gandhara the clenched fist of the right hand seemingly overlies the fingers joined to the thumb on the left hand. In pictorials of Horyu-ji in Japan the right hand is superimposed on the left. Certain figures of Amitabha, Japan are seen using this mudra before the 9th century.
The Dhyana mudra (“meditation mudra”) is the gesture of meditation, of the concentration of the Good Law and the sangha. The two hands are placed on the lap, right hand on left with fingers fully stretched (four fingers resting on each other and the thumbs facing upwards towards one another diagonally), palms facing upwards; in this manner, the hands and fingers form the shape of a triangle, which is symbolic of the spiritual fire or the Triratna (the three jewels). This mudra is used in representations of the Sakyamuni Buddha and Amitabha Buddha. Sometimes the Dhyana mudra is used in certain representations of Bhaiajyaguru as the Medicine Buddha, with a medicine bowl placed on the hands. It originated in India most likely in the Gandhara and in China during the Wei period. This mudra was used long before the Buddha as yogis have used it during their concentration, healing, and meditation exercises. It is heavily used in Southeast Asia in Theravada Buddhism; however, the thumbs are placed against the palms.
The Varada mudra (“favourable mudra”) signifies offering, welcome, charity, giving, compassion and sincerity. It is nearly always shown made with the left hand by a revered figure devoted to human salvation from greed, anger and delusion. It can be made with the arm crooked and the palm offered slightly turned up or in the case of the arm facing down the palm presented with the fingers upright or slightly bent. The Varada mudra is rarely seen without another mudra used by the right hand, typically the Abhaya mudra. It is often confused with the Vitarka mudra, which it closely resembles. In China and Japan during the Wei and Asuka periods respectively the fingers are stiff and then gradually begin to loosen as it developed through time, eventually leading to the Tang Dynasty were the fingers are naturally curved. In India the mudra is used in images of Avalokitesvara from the Gupta Period of the 4th and 5th centuries. The Varada mudra is extensively used in the statues of Southeast Asia.
The Vajra mudra (“thunder mudra”) is the gesture of knowledge. It is made by forming a fist with the right hand, index extending upward, and the left hand also making a fist and enclosing the index.[clarification needed] A good example of the application of the Vajra mudra is the seventh technique (out of nine) of the Nine Syllable Seals, using the mudra with mantras in a ritual application. Here is a video of a Sanskrit prayer to set the mind in a sacred state, followed by a quick version of the kuji-in ritual, using the Japanese kanji pronunciation (Sanskrit mantras are usually offered to the serious seeker).
The Vitarka mudra (“mudra of discussion”) is the gesture of discussion and transmission of Buddhist teaching. It is done by joining the tips of the thumb and the index together, and keeping the other fingers straight very much like Abhaya and Varada mudras but with the thumbs touching the index fingers. This mudra has a great number of variants in Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia. In Tibet it is the mystic gesture of Taras and Bodhisattvas with some differences by the deities in Yab-yum. (Vitarka mudra is also known as Prajñali?ganabhinaya, Vyakhyana mudra (“mudra of explanation”); Japanese: Seppo-in, An-i-in; Chinese: Anwei Yin). A 2010 nameless Kannada-language film directed by Upendra was originally depicted by this mudra, which later came to be known as Super.
The Gñana mudra (“mudra of knowledge”) is done by touching the tips of the thumb and the index together, forming a circle, and the hand is held with the palm inward toward the heart.
The Karana mudra is the mudra which expels demons and removes obstacles such as sickness or negative thoughts. It is made by raising the index and the little finger, and folding the other fingers. It is nearly the same as the gesture known as corna in many ‘western’ countries, the difference is that in the Karana mudra the thumb does not hold down the middle and ring finger. (This mudra is also known as Tarjani mudra; Japanese: Funnu-in, Fudo-in).