We are all familiar with the grace and beauty exhibited by the statues of the ancient saints and sages. They portray their enlightenment in the expression on their faces, their postures and mudras, or gestures of their hands. Actually, their whole being is a mudra, gesture or symbol, of their state of consciousness. For the student, however, mudras are techniques which activate the nervous and glandular systems of the physical body so that dormant psychic power centres can then open, and the latent potential energy of man, the kundalini can ascend, carrying our consciousness to the cosmic mind.

The word mudra means 'to seal, close, or lock up' at one level, and at another it means, 'gesture, symbol, expression of. Mudras are utilized at three different levels:

  1. In classical Indian dance as symbols of animals, states of mind, feelings, etc.
  2. In ritual Hindu worship.
  3. In tantra, to increase the evolution by opening up energy flows in the tissues, nerve channels and organs of the body.

Mudras are gestures which the mind accepts and uses to form itself on. Thus the mind can be made to take up the shape of certain patterns, or yantras, as generated by the deep and archetypal energy behind the mudra, in the depths of the mind. It is this last aspect with which we are most concerned.

In the ancient shastras many references are made regarding mudras. For example, the Siva Samhita (iv, 12-15) describes mudras as follows:

"Now I shall tell you the best means of attaining success in yoga. The practitioners must keep it secret. It is the inaccessible yoga. When the sleeping goddess kundalini is awakened through the grace of guru, then all the lotuses and the bonds are readily pierced through and through. Therefore, in order that the goddess, who is asleep in the mouth of brahmarandhra (the innermost hollow of sushumna) be awakened, the mudras should be practiced with the greatest care. Out of the many mudras, the following ten are best: mahamudra, mahabandha, mahabheda, khechari, jalandhara, moola bandha, vipareeta karani, uddiyana, vajroli and shakti chalini."

Mudras in modern life

The above techniques have been integrated into the system of kriya yoga as taught by our guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, here at Bihar School of Yoga. Kriya yoga is a practical, systematic and effective means to awaken our dormant potential by awakening the neuronal circuits in the brain, charging them with pranic energy, and thereby opening them to consciousness. The physical aspects allow us to control the involuntary organs of the body by stimulating the nerve connections and hormone secreting endocrine glands, thus gaining mastery over the controls of our body processes. The mental aspects help us to approach inner consciousness, to be more aware of our internal energy and thus to control larger avenues of our lives.

Mudras extend further than the morning yoga session. We perform mudras in every action, every moment of the day. Each action is a symbol of our underlying mental and physical condition, and results because of the various energy patterns forming within our being. These patterns determine our personality, character, mannerisms and expressions. Thus, our every moment is an expression of our inner nature. Consciously performing mudras allows us to become more aware of inner energy and to control it so that we make the most of each moment. In this way we gain power to act with awareness. We utilize our awareness in whatever we do. For example, if we become aware of our whole body we can consciously form mudras with our hands, eyes, and whole body when we eat, walk, talk, think, play sports and so on. This conscious awareness is the way to enhance each moment and to charge every action with energy.

There are many different types of mudras such as hand mudras, eye mudras, whole body mudras, mental mudras, etc. Each is a gesture, a signal to the mind which allows us to balance mind and body and release energy. Man is like a tap holding back a sea of energy. If you turn it on, a clear stream pours forth. If the tap is never used, the water becomes stagnant and stale- in man disease appears. You can also have a strong or weak flow depending on need and capability. The question then arises, what is the best way to tap the energy and once it is turned on, how do we control it?

Every tap has a faucet to control the rate of flow for the required purpose. Through the various mudras we can adjust intensity and direction of flow, and thereby regulate the different systems of the body. For example, we can stimulate both ida and pingala and rebalance them so that sushumna is activated. In this way we also gain better health.

It is not advisable to try any of the higher practices without proper guidance and tuition. They should be learned according to individual need and capacity. Mudras are body positions reflecting mental attitudes which profoundly influence the psyche. It is not advisable to influence or try to change your psyche until you are sure that the direction of change is the best for you. Mudras have the following effects when taught by a guru or competent teacher.

  1. Certain mudras control the involuntary physiological processes of the body, normally outside our day-to-day consciousness.
  2. They allow the development of awareness of the currents of prana (vital energy) within the subtle body, and eventually allow conscious control over these forces. This enables us to direct energy to any part of the body at will, for self healing, or to another person for pranic healing.
  3. Mudras prepare the mind for meditation by encouraging withdrawal of senses (pratyahara) and also make the mind one-pointed.
  4. Many mudras combine asanas and pranayama and therefore include benefits of these practices also.
  5. Spiritual benefits accrue.


Mudras act directly on the brain and mind. It is known that the brain has two halves, or cerebral hemispheres, each with its own specific function. The right side is concerned with intuition, holistic mentation, spatial orientation, artistic expression, crafts, body images, and so on. The left side is related to analytical and logical thinking, time, speech, and mathematical functions. They are linked by a bundle of nerve fibres called the 'corpus callosum'. In most people, the function of these hemispheres is not harmonious, coherent and synchronous, as indicated by electroencephalographic studies. This is because of mental, emotional processes. Inharmonious function of these hemispheres results in decreased intelligence, understanding, perception, intuitive ability and so on. Mudras help us to synthesize the two sides of our brain by acting directly on the nervous system. Mudras are the means to gain access to switches that confer conscious control over all our body functions. They work in the following way:

  1. Physical: Each mudra stimulates certain nerves that send their message to the brain. These messages reach those brain centres appropriate to the stimulus. For example, each finger is linked to a different part of the brain. In the brain the hand takes up a very large proportion of the brain's cortex. Therefore circuits made between the thumb and each finger have a definite and powerful effect on the brain. This effect must be experienced by each individual for knowledge to awaken.
    When the hands are placed in a particular configuration, the neuronal circuits are stimulated for a prolonged period of time which reinforces the specific effect of the mudra on the brain. This action is a conscious one. If the right and left hands are both stimulating the brain, the effect is to bring the two hemispheres under our conscious control. The circuits stimulated are brought into the sphere of conscious awareness. Repetition over a period of time, say weeks or months, makes this subtle action more conscious, that is, we become more and more aware of the effect. Thus, the mudra gains power and brings knowledge. It helps to coordinate the hemispheres so that the two sides function in a more unified and harmonious way.
  2. Vital: It has been shown on kirlian photography that the fingers give out flares of energy. The state of this energy depends on mood, health, weather, and so on. If the fingers touch, a circuit is produced which allows energy that would have been otherwise dissipated to travel back into the body along the nadis, channels of energy. The effects on the pranic body will depend on which circuits are stimulated. The overall effect is an increase of energy travelling inwards and retention of awareness in meditation, deep inner states. On the other hand, some mudras directly stimulate chakras, for example, mahamudra. This sends energy straight to the brain and mind.
    Through mudras we learn to manipulate our bodies and to send energy along different channels, some more important than others. For example, prana mudra stimulates five different prana subdivisions in the body. When the thumb touches the index and middle fingers 'apana', the energy below the navel is stimulated. When the thumb and ring and middle fingers touch, 'udana', the energy from the crown of the head to the throat, is stimulated. Touching the thumb to the little and ring fingers stimulates 'prana', the energy above the diaphragm and below the throat. In this way we can control the energy in these areas. This has repercussions in pranic healing of the self and others.
  3. Mental: The eyes are linked to the occipital part of the cortex, the part of the brain at the back of the head. When shambhavi or nasikagra mudras are performed, this increases alpha wave production from the brain, which indicates and is correlated with the subjective experience of a state of relaxed awareness and spontaneous creativity. If this mudra is held for a long period of time, it becomes a concentration/ meditation technique. This, however, should be practiced under guidance. Meditation has been shown to relax the intellectual process in the frontal area of the brain and thus is useful in the control of psychological disturbances such as obsession, hysteria, depression, anxiety, worry and so on. It helps us gain control over our thoughts and higher mental processes.
    Concentration and integration of the mind allow many latent and unused circuits of the brain to come into our conscious awareness. Psychological problems such as unconscious neurosis and complex repetitive acts lose their power to affect our lives. Thus we release negative energy stored as emotional problems in the brain and mind and replace it with positive, creative and life-sustaining habits and abilities.

When we practice mudras the above processes occur simultaneously because the physical, pranic and mental aspects are all linked. The effect is total, at once subtle but powerful. It has a most beautiful effect on consciousness that you must experience to understand. Once again we must emphasize that to really understand mudras you must practice slowly and under guidance. In this way you will learn to integrate your dissipated thoughts and actions so that life becomes a graceful flow of energy and understanding. Your whole being can become a mudra, a gesture of the life within, reflecting into your external life. Thus mudras are a practical and at the same time ideal way to change your life.