Written by: Sonia Heidenreich, LGSW
I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: Yoga and movement help us to practice in our bodies whatever it is that we need to practice in our lives.
With that in mind, I’ve been talking about yoga mudras in the classes I’ve taught this week, and I decided to share it with you all here, too. Even if you’re not ready to attend a group yoga class (or maybe you are!), yoga mudras are a fun, accessible way to practice shifting your emotional energy using gesture and movement.
To keep it brief: Mudra means gesture (or ‘seal’ or ‘mark,’ depending on your translation). If you want to read up on all of them, check out this article from Yoga Journal. There are all kinds of different mudras to explore:
To feel more grounded and stable: Try Anjali mudra (prayer hands). To practice this one, bring your hands together in a prayer position near your heart. I like to focus on pressing each finger pad into its opposite to bring more awareness to how this gesture feels, but you can explore what works for you. You might notice that pressing palm on palm helps you to reconnect to yourself or bring your awareness back to the present moment. You might also notice nothing, or think this sounds crazy, which is completely okay, too.
To turn your attention inward: Try Dhyana mudra, which you can find by resting your hands, palms face up, in your lap. Then, place your dominant hand (the hand you write with) in your non-dominant hand. The first time a teacher taught this in a class I was taking, I found it surprisingly poetic: The apparently “weaker,” more vulnerable parts of ourselves have the capacity to offer support and strength to the more powerful, dominant parts of ourselves. If you try this mudra, you might notice that it means something entirely different to you.
To feel powerful and courageous: Try Kali mudra, which is made by interlacing your hands and then extending your pointer fingers straight out. This is the gesture I’ve been teaching in my classes lately.
This gesture is named for the goddess Kali, who was the goddess of destruction. That might sound like a weird idea to invoke in yoga—what does destruction have to do with quieting our minds? To read her full story, you can start here, but I like to think about her destructive power as also being the power of transformation, or the power to fearlessly approach whatever demons—internal or external—there may be, in order to clear the way for positive growth and change. If we can cultivate that fearless energy, we can move towards the things in our lives that are in our way—whether these are fears, worries, habits, or relationships—and change the way that we relate to these obstacles.
Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher and author, has this to say about the importance of moving towards fear, rather than running from it:
“…Raw fear initially emerges as a dot in space, as a doorway that can go either way. If we choose to take notice of the actual experience of fear…whether that is a subtle level of discomfort or mind-numbing dramatic anxiety, we can smile at it, believe it or not. It could be a literal smile or a metaphor for coming to know fear, for turning toward fear, touching fear. In that case, rather than fear setting off a chain reaction where you’re trying to protect yourself from it, it becomes a source of tenderness. We experience our vulnerability, but we don’t have to harden ourselves in response. This makes it possible for us to help ourselves and to help others.”
The idea of approaching whatever it is we fear in our lives can feel vague, daunting, or impossible, but we can start to cultivate that fearless energy by playing with our physical gestures. So give it a try: Interlace your hands, extend your arms up overhead, and use your arms like Kali’s sword to slice through whatever it is that’s standing in your way! If you feel weird or silly, that’s okay. Maybe you’ll also feel a little bit brave for trying something new.