What is Mudra and How to Do It Respectfully?

Before diving into mudras, we should ask ourselves how we acknowledge yoga a universal practice while honoring its roots.  It is essential to jump in with this as mudras are at the core of many practices such as yoga. Yoga stems from South Asian and Indian cultures.  That is the very tip of what any aspiring yogi from Western culture should know. It has been transported to our Western culture and has been popularized here.

So what is a Mudra?

Mudras are a posture that includes a ritual gesture, and are symbolic in nature. They have been used within meditation in yoga for thousands of years to heighten the experience that is meditation. Mudras may come in many forms. Some are gross, meaning done with the physical body. Some are subtle, meaning done with the mind, and some are transcendent, alluding to when the practitioner merges with the mudra itself and there is no separation between the symbol, the doer, and the meaning.

A quite common mudra is a hand posture where the thumb and index fingers touch at the tip, creating a circle, and the rest of the fingers lie straight. This is Gyan Mudra, or wisdom mudra, a gesture to help instill a sense of peaceful, calming, wisdom as well as spiritual enlightenment. 

Another famous mudra is Anjali Mudra, often called Namaste mudra, or  the prayer’s pose which is held with both palms touching one another at one’s heart center. In Sanskrit, Anjali is translated to “offering.” It signifies something along the lines of, “I bow to the divinity within you from the divinity within me.” It can also be used as a sacred “hello” or “thank you” — spoken to recognize the divinity of everyone. For a further informative video on what Anjali Mudra means and looks like, click here.

Mudras are so important to Indian culture that when you enter the New Delhi Airport (International Terminal), you see GIANT mudras on the wall to welcome foreigners to India and its culture! However, in addition to the most common forms seen in media, yoga classes, or at temples, there are also rather unknown mudras that involve the head, body, heart as well as perineal area.

Another mudra we love to use in our daily lives is the Jupiter Mudra, where you point your two index fingers together, harnessing the power of Jupiter. The purpose is to activate good luck in your aims and projects. Interlocking the fingers together can help you focus your energy before taking an exam, before an important interview, or to break through difficult barriers in your communication. Here you will find a resource that can give insight into the different mudra positions possible, and how to best achieve them.

What would be disrespectful when using Mudras?

If you were to walk into a yoga studio in New York City or Los Angeles, the most common demographic you would find is white, upper class women waltzing in with their $100 lululemon leggings on and Gaia tank tops. While what they wear itself is not disrespectful, it is important to avoid disrespecting mudras and their use in yoga practice. Why we mention the demographic of these big city studios, is because often you will find that yoga is moreso appropriated than appreciated.

Many of the individuals in these studios find yoga as a fun and calming workout, instead of for what it was originally culturally intended. If you were to walk in and ask one of the students from these studios about the history and origins of yoga, and specifically about mudras, we guarantee most surveyed will not be able to tell you much, if anything at all.

In order to not just throw up the funky, cool hand signs your teachers are doing and not knowing anything about these positions or their use, do your research! I mean you wouldn’t toss gang signs with your hands without knowing who or what they represented first, would you?

How can I avoid being disrespectful?

If you are someone who walks into big city studios with your expensive lululemon leggings, don’t think this is all a jab at you. It is simply to avoid the appropriation of yoga. In order to respectfully practice yoga, and more importantly mudras, it is essential to be a forever student. Always do your research, learn more about the culture from which the practice comes, and learn the proper ways to use and do mudra postures.

A final thought

Western yogis aren’t necessarily ruining practice in yoga per se, but we are at fault for not informing ourselves and being respectful towards the origins of yoga. However, now, with some basic knowledge on mudras, for example, one can jumpstart their own research into a lot of different avenues within yoga; therefore cultivating more knowledge and, thus, respecting the sacred healing practice. We hope you found this helpful as a basic guide into mudras if you have been curious about them, and how they could be beneficial in your own meditation!

By Susanna Barkataki

Deepen and Honor your Yoga Practice Here

For more information and tips like this to incorporate into your own yoga practice, practice meditation and asana with Susanna on Yogagirl.com, visit our guest author’s blog: www.susannabarkataki.com or follow her on Instagram for daily tips @susannabarkataki 

An Indian yoga practitioner in the Shankaracharya tradition, Susanna Barkataki is the founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute and runs Ignite Be Well 200/500 Yoga Training programs. She is an E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). She is the author of the forthcoming book Honor Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. With an Honors degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Education from Cambridge College, Barkataki is a diversity, accessibility, inclusivity, and equity (DAIE) yoga unity educator who created the ground-breaking Honor {Don’t Appropriate} Yoga Summit with more than 10,000 participants.

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