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Yoga - Mudras for spiritual progress

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Yoga - Mudras for spiritual progress

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Mudras or yogic hand gestures have more than curative or therapeutic value. They are largely used as a mind-control tool which aids, supports and promotes meditation.

While there are several of these, here we have selected a few primarily for their calming effect so that meditation is less of a struggle. Mudras, as discussed in earlier columns, work by tweaking the neurological map in our brain which is called homunculus map. It is the representation of the human body in the brain. Yoga exploits the fact that the hand, particularly the thumb, has one of the largest representation in the brain.

In eastern sciences, it depends on the principle of the five elements, also represented in our fingers. Mudras exploit this also to suppress or enhance a particular element, with the controlling thumb (fire element) playing a major role in it.

There are also several mudras not covered here which enhance one's state of mental stillness, calm and harmony. These mudras include the Kamal mudra (lotus), Varada mudra (Merciful), Dharmachakra mudra (the wheel of dharma) and Bhumisparsha mudra (Earth-touching hand gesture). The last one was regarded a favourite of Lord Buddha who is also depicted often with that gesture.

When choosing a mudra for a sense of harmony and mental balance, choose one carefully. Instead of experimenting wildly stick to one, following your instinct on whether it is working for you.

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Purna Gyan mudra (Complete wisdom hand gesture)

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This is another version of the chin or gyan mudra (wisdom gesture). The gyan mudra is the most common gesture used by meditators. Purna gyan is obviously more difficult to perform, since it calls for immense stamina.

Sit in a meditative pose. Place your hands in the gyan mudra: tip of index finger touching tip of thumb, for each hand. Hold your right hand in the gyan mudra level with your right shoulder. Lower your left hand towards your left knee, holding it there. Ensure your back is straight and eyes are shut. Hold for as long as is comfortable, gradually increasing time to be able to hold it for the entire duration of your meditation.

Avoid: If you are in a high-strung or high-vata (air element) state. In fact, meditating in such a state is not recommended. Ideally you must practice calming pranayama (breathing) practices like ujjayi or grounding asana like shashankasana in such states.

Benefits: Introduces the sense of spiritual stamina and dispassion.

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Shankha mudra (Conch gesture)

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Hold your hands in front at the chest. Grasp your left thumb with your right hand, wrapping your fingers around it firmly. Now place the rest of your left hand fingers so they meet the right thumb. Together both hands look like a conch. Hold this hand formation at chest level, eyes shut for as long as comfortable.

Precaution: Same as previous mudra.

Benefits: Reduces inflammation of body; relieves a high-anxiety state. Is intensely calming. Works on the throat chakra and hence is good for those in the communication field.

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Abhay Gyan mudra (Gesture of courage)

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Sit meditatively, eyes shut, hands in the universal gyan mudra, with the tips of your index and thumb of each hand touching. Now raise both hands to shoulder level, holding it for as long as comfortable. Make this part of your meditation as your stamina and ability to hold the gesture improves with practice.

Avoid: If in a state of high stimulation, or over-excited state. The previous precautions apply here as well.

Benefits: Promotes courage and spiritual stamina

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Dhyana mudra (Gesture of meditation, also called Bhairavi mudra)

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This hand gesture is among the simplest to practice since most of us automatically assume it while trying to keep our hands still.

Sit in a meditative pose, eyes shut. Cup your hands, placing your left hand on top of your right. Rest your hands on the base of feet where they cross each other (if sitting cross-legged). This practice may be held during the entire meditation without any discomfort.

Benefits: Is extremely calming.

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