For Beginners: Anjali Mudra
If you have attended even one yoga class, it is a familiar gesture: the drawing together of one's palms at the heart. Your teacher may bring his or her hands together while saying "Namaste" at the beginning or end of a class. You may find this gesture within certain asanas—in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), before you begin Sun Salutations, or in balance poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose). This sacred hand position, called anjali mudra (AHN-jah-lee MOO-dra), is found throughout Asia and has become synonymous with our images of the East, from the smiling face of the Dalai Lama peering over his fingertips to images of devotees before a Hindu or Buddhist altar.
In the West, we translate this gesture as a posture of prayer. Because we have grown up with this gesture as part of our culture, each of us probably has our own personal connection to this mudra—positive or negative. Some of us may find a subconscious resistance to bringing our hands together as if it were a sign of submission. However, the beauty of this gesture, which positions us right at the core of our being, is timeless and universal. I know a 3-year-old who is delighted to greet people this way and an actor who prepares himself with this gesture before entering the stage. As we explore the significance and potential of this mudra, be open to your own experience and ways that this simple yet powerful hand position can be a practical tool in your practice and daily life. In Sanskrit, mudra means "seal" or "sign" and refers not only to sacred hand gestures but also whole body positions that elicit a certain inner state or symbolize a particular meaning. Anjali mudra is but one of thousands of types of mudras that are used in Hindu rituals, classical dance, and yoga. Anjali itself means "offering," and in India this mudra is often accompanied by the word "namaste" (or "namaskar," depending on one's dialect). As the consummate Indian greeting, like a sacred hello, namaste is often translated as "I bow to the divinity within you from the divinity within me." This salutation is at the essence of the yogic practice of seeing the Divine within all of creation. Hence, this gesture is offered equally to temple deities, teachers, family, friends, strangers, and before sacred rivers and trees. Anjali mudra is used as a posture of composure, of returning to one's heart, whether you are greeting someone or saying goodbye, initiating or completing an action. As you bring your hands together at your center, you are literally connecting the right and left hemispheres of your brain. This is the yogic process of unification, the yoking of our active and receptive natures. In the yogic view of the body, the energetic or spiritual heart is visualized as a lotus at the center of the chest. Anjali mudra nourishes this lotus heart with awareness, gently encouraging it to open as water and light do a flower.
Begin by coming into a comfortable sitting position like Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Lengthen your spine out of your pelvis and extend the back of your neck by dropping your chin slightly in. Now, with open palms, slowly draw your hands together at the center of your chest as if to gather all of your resources into your heart. Repeat that movement several times, contemplating your own metaphors for bringing the right and left side of yourself—masculine and feminine, logic and intuition, strength and tenderness—into wholeness. Now, to reveal how potent the placement of your hands at your heart can be, try shifting your hands to one side or the other of your midline and pause there for a moment. Don't you feel slightly off kilter? Now shift back to center and notice how satisfying the center line is, like a magnet pulling you into your core. Gently touch your thumbs into your sternum (the bony plate at the center of the rib cage) as if you were ringing the bell to open the door to your heart. Broaden your shoulder blades to spread your chest open from the inside. Feel space under your armpits as you bring your elbows into alignment with your wrists. Stay here for some time and take in your experience. What initial shifts of consciousness do you experience? Is there a change in your mood?
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