Mudras 101: Sacred Hand Gestures

These ancient symbolic seals may hold the key to deepening your connection to your yoga practice.
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We often see statues of ancient yogis, gods, and goddesses sitting in meditation and holding their hands in certain positions. Or we may go into a yoga class in which the teacher encourages us to sit in silence with our hands perched on our knees, index fingers touching thumbs, and wonder: What do these hand gestures have to do with meditation? Turns out, quite a bit.

Hasta Mudras—literally meaning seals, stamps, or gestures—are sacred hand movements that have been used for thousands of years in many different traditions as a way of deepening one’s practice and awakening the power of the Divine. Today, Hasta Mudras continue to be important tools to free up energy (prana) and direct it to areas of the body that need healing. Every mudra has a particular purpose and moves the energy in a specific way throughout the body to create subtle physical, mental, and emotional changes. For example, if you come into your meditation practice feeling agitated or anxious, placing your palms face down on your thighs will usually calm and ground your energy. If you feel sluggish or sleepy, a palms-up mudra might enliven you.

See also 4 Mudras to Add More Meaning to Your Practice

Nubia Teixeira, founder of the Bhakti Nova School of Yoga and Dance, says that our hands are an extension of our hearts and connect our innermost thoughts and prayers to the outside world: “They are how we reach out, touch, express, heal, work, cultivate, cook, paint, write, play music, and hold one another,” she writes in her book Yoga and the Art of Mudras. So it makes sense that Hasta Mudras can help you positively direct your thoughts and actions to bring beauty into your life and the world around you. Mudras can help you “evoke the presence of a great goddess within you so she can empower you physically, allowing you to feel her force and echo her voice. With this personal experience imprinted in your heart, you can then be empowered to be your strong, true self,” Teixeira writes.

Yoga, as well as Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, teaches that all reality is made up of five elements collectively known as tattvas—earth, air, fire, water, and space (or ether)—and that the relationship among them informs how all cosmic life unfolds. It’s a divine composition at play—or, in the case of imbalance, at war—within each of us. Mudras are a valuable tool to create harmony among the internal tattvas and help you focus in on whatever aspect of your life feels challenging.

See also Gestures of Awakening: 5 Mudras for Summer Solstice

According to Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, each finger on either hand connects to and balances a different tattva. So when you assume a mudra, your fingertips create an energetic circuit that simultaneously connects and stimulates the elements associated with those tattvas that you wish to activate. The thumb, which corresponds to fire, offers the warmth of the breath. When the index finger (which is linked to the air element) touches the thumb, it enhances the movement of the breath throughout the body; the middle finger (space or ether) and the thumb together increase spaciousness; the ring finger (earth)-thumb connection (also called Mother Earth Mudra) brings a sense of stability; and finally, the pinky finger (water) joining with the thumb can improve circulation.

Then Teixeira offers a practice that invites you to explore how these hand gestures can change your experience of yoga asana, get the prana flowing, and perhaps awaken a deeper sense of self-awareness. Teixeira begins with a simple ritual, the Lotus Flower Offering, which is a salutation to akasha (ether), the most subtle of elements. Invoking ether with this mudra and reciting the accompanying prayer while sitting in Half Lotus allows you to open space for the other elements to creatively expand. 

See also Enhance Your Practice with Mudras From Hand to Heart

Lotus Flower Offering

LOTUS FLOWER OFFERING

LOTUS FLOWER OFFERING

Sit in Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose) either on the floor or with hips elevated on a blanket. Cross your right leg in front of your hips, placing the top of your left foot on your upper right thigh. Place your right foot under your left knee, switching sides on different days—sometimes with the right foot on top and other times the left.

This mudra, Alapadma, represents the offering of a fully bloomed lotus flower, or poola. Open your hands wide, and then gently curve your fingers to create a round shape like the petals of a lotus flower.

LOTUS FLOWER OFFERING

LOTUS FLOWER OFFERING

Silently offer the following prayer: “With gratitude in my heart for the blessing of becoming and for the certainty of returning, I take refuge on your ethereal lap, oh Mother, and I ask you to please whisper your messages to me and allow me to foresee what you want me to manifest.”

See also Lotus Seal

KAPITTHA AND SUCHI MUDRAS

KAPITTHA AND SUCHI MUDRAS

SARASVATI BIJASANA (STANDING) WITH KAPITTHA AND SUCHI MUDRAS

The mood for this pose is sweetness. It represents Sarasvati Devi, the riverine goddess of knowledge, music, and art, bringing her waters of inspiration to cool the pain of separation.

Mudras

Begin with both hands in loose fists. With your left hand, form Kapittha Mudra by resting your thumb gently against the tip of your index finger. This pose represents Sarasvati Devi holding the top of her celestial instrument, the veena. Use your right hand to form Suchi Mudra with index finger pointing straight out and thumb relaxing on top of the middle finger, suggesting Sarasvati Devi plucking the veena strings.

Asana

Stand tall with your feet slightly turned out. While bending your knees, transfer your weight to your left foot and cross your right knee behind your left. Look over to your left side, pointing your right foot to the sky while sitting a little deeper into your hips. Hide your right knee behind your left as you move your hips a few inches to the left. Now add the position of your arms and hands: Your left hand should be aligned with your forehead, with the tip of your index finger pointing toward you. Your right hand will hover in the air, in line with your right hip. Point your index finger toward the center of your body.

SARASVATI BIJASANA (STANDING) WITH KAPITTHA AND SUCHI MUDRAS

SARASVATI BIJASANA (STANDING) WITH KAPITTHA AND SUCHI MUDRAS

Prayer

“May I flow on your riverine streams of inspiration, held by your hands of wisdom, and become capable of appreciating your art.”

See also Fearless Heart Seal

SIMHAMUKHA AND SUKACHANCHU MUDRAS

SIMHAMUKHA AND SUKACHANCHU MUDRAS

SARASVATI BIJASANA (SEATED) WITH SIMHAMUKHA AND SUKACHANCHU MUDRAS

Mudras

In this pose, the goddess is holding her veena with slightly different hand positions. The left hand forms Simhamukha Mudra, the lion’s-face gesture, with the thumb and little finger pointing up. Meanwhile, the index, middle, and ring fingers point toward the face. The right hand is in Sukachanchu Mudra with all fingers circled like a wheel—the thumb and middle fingers touching.

Asana

Standing while holding your mudras, cross your right foot in front of your left, leaving 12 inches between the feet. Bend your knees, and sit on your left heel or foot as you bring your left knee to the floor. Cross your right leg on top of the left. Repeat on the other side.

SARASVATI BIJASANA (SEATED) WITH SIMHAMUKHA AND SUKACHANCHU MUDRAS

SARASVATI BIJASANA (SEATED) WITH SIMHAMUKHA AND SUKACHANCHU MUDRAS

Prayer

“I meditate upon you, Sarasvati Devi; your light awakens my intellect, your beauty awakens my heart; your voice transports me into the divine reality.”

This pose represents Sarasvati Devi soothing our souls with her music. It lullabies us into remembrance and reunion.

See also Life Force Seal

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UTTHITA HASTA PADASANA WITH BHRAMARA MUDRA

Bhramari Devi is the goddess of the bees. This pose calls upon her strength and power.

Mudra

Take the nail of your index finger to the base of your thumb. Connect the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb, stretching out the ring and little fingers for Bhramara, the bee mudra. The high vibration of a bee, its sounds, and its effects on our environment mean that this hand gesture is associated with the crown chakra and higher realms.

Asana

Stand with weight evenly distributed between both feet, and engage Bhramara Mudra in your left hand, keeping your arm relaxed. Lift your right foot (option to use a belt for support), then stretch your right leg out to the side. Keep your hips even and down as you lift your leg and find your balance. Then lift your bee hand gesture above your head, and shift your gaze to your hand.

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Prayer

“Bhramari Devi, may I hear your sweet subtle sounds reverberating upon my crown chakra and clear my mind. May I open my crown chakra and connect with the highest, where I can remember creation and channel creativity.”

See also Hand Mudras: The Importance + Power of Your Fingers

ARDHA PATAKA MUDRA

ARDHA PATAKA MUDRA

ARDHA PARIGHASANA WITH ARDHA PATAKA MUDRA

This pose symbolizes your ability to bridge differences and distances and links the spiritual to the material.

Mudra

Hold your palms flat, then bend your ring and little fingers inward while extending your index and pointer fingers. This mudra­—Ardha Pataka (half flag)­—represents the banks of a flowing river upon which we will build our bridge.

Asana

Come into kneeling position, pressing the tops of your feet down. Bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle, then open it to your right side, placing your foot on the earth with your toes pointing to the right. Bring both hands into Ardha Pataka, then rest your right elbow on your right thigh and lift your right hand to heart level. Raise your left arm up above your head, palm down, as you bend deeper to the right. You can look forward or add a slight twist by shifting your gaze to the sky. For a more challenging variation, straighten your right knee, centering your right heel on the earth, and point your toes skyward.

ARDHA PARIGHASANA WITH ARDHA PATAKA MUDRA

ARDHA PARIGHASANA WITH ARDHA PATAKA MUDRA

Prayer

“May I be a bridge for those who feel separate from you, Divine Mother. May I provide peace to others with my words and comfort to others with my actions.”

See also Consciousness Seal

PUSHPAPUTA MUDRA

PUSHPAPUTA MUDRA

ANJANEYASANA WITH PUSHPAPUTA MUDRA

This pose collects the waters of purification from the spiritual realm to cleanse your eyes and mind.

Mudra

Bring your palms flat with fingers together, then bend your fingers slightly to make the shape of a bowl. Bring the outer edges of both of your hands to touch.

This is a mudra of giving and receiving; it means a “handful
of flowers.” As you hold it, imagine that you are inhaling and taking the light into your heart via your hands. As you exhale, offer the light of your heart to the world.

Asana

This pose is named after Hanuman as Anjaneya, the son of Anjani, a beautiful Apsara (celestial dancer). This expression brings a more feminine embellishment to Hanuman’s asana and honors Anjani’s beauty. Kneel, then step your left foot forward, aligning your left knee over your heel. Lower your hips to a Low Lunge while bringing your hands to Pushpaputa Mudra. Slightly bend your back to open your heart to the sky. 

Kneel, then step your left foot forward, aligning your left knee over your heel. Lower your hips to a Low Lunge while bringing your hands to Pushpaputa Mudra. Slightly bend your back to open your heart to the sky. 

ANJANEYASANA WITH PUSHPAPUTA MUDRA

ANJANEYASANA WITH PUSHPAPUTA MUDRA

Prayer

“As I inhale, I receive abundance. As I exhale, I give generosity.”

Watch A 5-Minute Mudra Practice for Easing Wrist Pain

FLOWER MUDRAS

Hastas (hand gestures) that embody flowers can help you close your practice and reflect on the beauty of nature.

A flower is the epitome of creation. It offers itself fully and presents itself openly, which teaches us to share our gifts without restrictions. In the impermanence of life, we can all offer the unique and full authentic expression of our souls to benefit the world.

Tambula Mudra

Tambula Mudra

Tambula Mudra symbolizes seeds sprouting during the spring. Stretch your index finger forward and place your thumb at its side, curling your other three fingers toward the center of your palm.

Pushpa Mudra

Pushpa Mudra

Pushpa Mudra represents the blossoming of a flower. Bring your thumb, index, and middle fingers together, curling your ring and pinky fingers toward your palm. Then bloom by opening up your thumb, index, and middle fingers.

Hamsasya Mudra

Hamsasya Mudra

Hamsasya Mudra mimics picking a flower, either to smell, offer, or place in one’s hair. Connect your index finger with your thumb, then open your other three fingers.

Padma Mudra

Padma Mudra

Padma Mudra symbolizes a full-blooming lotus flower. Start with your hands in Prayer Mudra. Connect the heels of your palms and sides of your thumbs and pinkies, opening your ring, middle, and index fingers out in the shape of a lotus flower.

Watch 5 Self-Awakening and Empowering Mudras and Mantras

About the author

Nubia Teixeira is an author, yogini, teacher trainer, and Odissi dancer. She has devoted herself to teaching different aspects of yoga for more than 30 years. This article has been adapted from her book, Yoga and the Art of Mudras, ©2019, with permission from Mandala Publishing. All rights reserved. Learn more at nubiateixeira.com.