Last Updated: September 10, 2020

Definition - What does Mudra mean?

A mudra is a sacred and symbolic gesture found in yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. The most well-known mudras are used during yoga and meditation practice as a means of channeling the flow of vital life force energy known as prana. The term translates from Sanskrit as "gesture,"’ "mark" or "seal".

Across various religious and spiritual traditions, there are believed to be around 400 known mudras. In addition to their use as sacred and ritual gestures, they are employed in the iconography of Indian religions and are often used in Indian dance.

Each individual mudra has unique symbolism and is thought to have a specific effect on the body and mind by clearing energetic pathways. Although hand (hasta) mudras are the most common in yoga, there are also body (kaya) and consciousness (citta) mudras.

Yogapedia explains Mudra

Mudras are believed to have a powerful effect on prana and are therefore typically performed alongside pranayama or meditation in order to amplify the effects of these practices. Hasta mudras tend to accompany postures such as padmasana (Lotus Pose), vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) or sukhasana (Easy Pose).

In Hatha yoga, there are many mudras that involve the internal actions of the throat, eyes, tongue, abdomen, diaphragm, pelvic floor, genitals, anus and other parts of the body. Such mudras include mula bandha, maha mudra, viparita karani, vajroli mudra and khechari mudra, and are said to affect the flow of bindu (male psycho-sexual energy) and amrita (nectar of immortality) in addition to prana.

According to the classic 15th century yoga text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, there are ten mudras which specifically eradicate old age and death: maha mudra, maha bandha, maha vedha, khechari, uddiyana bandha, mula bandha, jalandhara bandha, viparita karani, vajroli, shakti chalana.

Traditionally, these mudras were practiced only by accomplished masters known as siddhas, and were kept secret from regular practitioners.

The most commonly used hasta mudras are:

  • Gyan mudra: Also known as chin mudra, this is arguably the most well-known of all mudras, practiced in Buddhism, Hinduism and yoga. In gyan mudra, the tip of the thumb and index finger touch, the other three fingers extend and the palms face upward. It is believed to help still the mind and is therefore commonly used for meditation.

    gyan mudra

  • Dhyana mudra: Otherwise known as meditation mudra, this gesture is famous for having been practiced by the Buddha at the time of his enlightenment. This mudra is performed with the right hand resting on top of the left, palms facing up and tips of the thumbs touching.

    dhyana mudra

  • Anjali mudra: This mudra is often used as a salutation at the beginning and end of a yoga class. Also known as prayer position, the palms are brought together in front of the sternum with the fingertips pointing upwards.

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