Q: I have heard of something called yoga mudra and I think it has something to do with your hands. Is it a hand exercise or what?
A: The word mudra in Sanskrit means a word or a mark or a gesture that is symbolic. Although there are some mudras that involve the entire body, most are focused on specific movements of the fingers and hands. In yoga the hand mudras are used in conjunction with pranayama (breathing technique exercises) and are done from a seated position. The hands are employed this way in order to enhance the movement of prana (body energy).
You have likely seen yoga mudras being depicted in Indian artwork especially those images or statues showing sages or spiritual leaders. One basic mudra (chin mudra) has the tip of the thumb and index finger touching while the other fingers are extended. The hands are rested palms up on the thighs while the person sits in lotus pose. This mudra is thought to active the diaphragm muscle and enhance deep breathing.
There are hundreds of different mudras which have different meanings and purported different effects in the body. While many mudras are for enhancing breathing or meditative effects, some are touted as having healing properties. Here is a video describing one such mudra for the heart:
That was Acharya Keshav Dev and if you found his information helpful, he has a book that describes Mudras for Healing. What I liked about him versus the many other videos I looked at as I was trying to find something to illustrate my point was that in addition to showing us the mudra for a heart attack he emphasized we should call an ambulance. He was all – ‘Do this first because it will take you a second but of course call the doctor/ambulance too.’ That is what I like, someone that does not let their strong belief in powerful mudras get in the way of common sense.
If you want to learn more about mudras and how to use them then I suggest getting this book: Mudras of India: A Comprehensive Guide to the Hand Gestures of Yoga and Indian Dance. It details the use of mudras in a very comprehensive way and contains over 200 photographed hand mudras with details on technique and application as well as their health, spiritual and historical backgrounds. Or, if you need very little explanation then you can even find a wall chart that shows 60 different yoga mudra hand positions.
Perhaps a better way to learn how to perform mudras properly would be via a video. Sabrina Mesko has a DVD of 18 different mudras. It gets great reviews and if you want to hear and see her in action I found this youtube video of her demonstrating a mudra technique.
Although mudras are not exactly hand exercises they do get you to move your hands into various positions which will at least create a little cross training. As to their potential to enhance energy, meditation or health I would say it is up to the person who practices them to make that determination for themselves.