Mudras (gesture, seal) are subtle physical movements of the hands, face, and or body. Complex mudras involve the whole body in a combination of asana, pranayama, bandha and visualization, while simple mudras range from hand positions to meditation techniques. The purpose of a mudra is to activate and create a circuit of prana in the body. This circuit channels the prana in a specific way to create a subtle effect on koshas and to regulate and awaken the prana, chakras and kundalini, Mudras are used only after proficiency in asana, pranayama and bandha has been achieved, and when one has obtained some cultivation and awareness of prana. In hatha yoga, the level of progression is asana, pranayama, bandha, mudra, samadhi. Thus, mudra is the advanced practice leading up to the attainment of enlightenment or samadhi.
Mudras are the bestowers of the eight divine powers. They are held in high esteem by all the siddhas and are difficult for even the gods to attain. (Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 3:8)
Hasta (hand) mudras used primarily in meditation, but can also be incorporated in asana and pranayama as well as in daily activities. Hasta mudras redirect the prana traveling through the fingers back into the body. These mudras are the most common and numerous of the categories of mudras. Many of the hasta mudras have been developed to help with mental and emotional issues as well as heal physical diseases. Hasta mudras should be done with both hands, with light pressure of the fingers and held for 5-45 minutes.
Mana (head) mudras utilize the sense organs of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and lips. These mudras are done only as meditation exercises and require intense concentration to engage for even short periods of time. Mana mudras are deeply inwardly focusing and induce higher states of consciousness.
Contraction mudras involve the engagement of subtle skeletal muscles, mostly in the area of the pelvis. These mudras concentrate the prana in the body and prime the energy channels (nadis) for the awakening of kundalini.
Kaya (postural) mudras are similar to asana, but combine the other types of simple mudras with pranayama and concentration. These are the most complicated mudras and require the most amounts of concentration and focus to hold. Kaya mudras invigorate the prana in the body and direct the prana into specific chakras (energy centers).
With the exception of hasta mudras, these techniques have traditionally been kept secret and could only be learned from a guru. A list of hasta mudras is now available in our premium yoga poses section.