Through the practice of yoga and meditation, we often gain valuable tools that stay with us for the rest of our lives. The ability to breathe fully, relax the jaw, to be mindful and present, and release expectation are subtle gifts picked up throughout months and years of practice. They may not be as impressive as the ability to handstand or headstand, to balance on one leg or fold in half, but the subtle things we learn are what stay with us long after we’ve stepped off the yoga mat and returned to the ‘real world’.
In the ‘real world’, we can’t necessarily leap into a series of sun salutations or lie down in savasana when on public transport or at the office, and it’s not easy to practice alternate nostril breathing whilst in a meeting….. One thing we can do pretty much anywhere however, is work with mudras to enhance health and wellbeing of both mind and body. When it comes to taking matters into your own hands, this is literally where things begin….
Giving Meaning To Mudras
Mudras are gestures or symbols performed by the hands and sometimes with the mouth or whole body. These symbols have an affect upon the body on both a physical and subtle level, and an even greater impact upon the mind. Whether its increasing energy, breathing better, relieving worries or feeling more grounded, there’s a mudra to use, and once you’re familiar with a handful of them (excuse the pun….) they can become part of your daily practice on and off the yoga mat.
Mudras have existed for as long as recorded history has, and if we look back to the origins of the yogic texts and bodily shapes inscribed upon stones and relics thousands of years ago, we can see mudras being used. A mudra doesn’t have to be something linked only to yoga – the prayer position, a peace sign or thumbs up are all a type of ‘mudra’, intended to convey a deeper meaning. Whilst the amount of impact they have upon the self is up for debate, the incredibly powerful thing mudras can do, is focus the mind, cement an intention, and steer our thoughts, decisions and actions in the direction of health and wellbeing.
In her book Mudras For Modern Life, Swami Saradananda has done the fantastic job of bringing ancient mudras into today’s world, in a completely accessible way. Giving more meaning to a yoga posture or used as a point of focus in meditation, any of the mudras described throughout the book can act as a key to unlocking greater insight and inspiration. Linking to the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, Mudras For Modern Life journeys through an array of practices and intentions to use with each mudra.
Along with beautiful illustrations, the book is detailed and provides in-depth description on the meaning of each symbol, as well as easy how-to instructions. Head to the ‘Air Mudras’ section for example, and you’ll find symbols for ‘freedom, joy and stress-relief’, or delve into the pages on ‘Fire Mudras’ for inner strength and self esteem.
Swami Saradananda herself is an internationally renowned yoga and meditation practice, and the accessibility of her book is a reflection of how down-to-earth her teaching is, despite having worked for almost thirty years with the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres as a senior teacher in New York, London and Delhi, and authored a number of other books. If there’s one thing Swami Saradananda manages to do most effectively through her book, it’s to introduce the idea of mudras in a completely approachable way – meaning anyone could read and understand the book, and find real-life relevance to the many symbols.