You might have seen a picture on-line or in a magazine of someone meditating in a seated cross-legged posture, chin tucked, palms turned upward with the pointer finger and thumb touching. This hand position is called Jnana or Chin Mudra in Sanskrit, roughly translating to knowledge gesture. Mudras are often considered “yoga for your hands,” but also include full body postures and breathing practices. The hands are particularly useful tools for body-mind integration because of the thousands of nerve endings in the fingertips—2,500 per square centimeter! In Yoga Skills for Therapists, Amy Weintraub writes: “The yogis understood that hand gestures called mudras guide energy flow and send messages to the brain…each finger, the pressure applied, and the direction it faces, correspond to different areas of the body, the brain, and the emotions. Certain mudras lift the mood, while others calm the mind; some help us fall asleep, while others wake us up…”
There are hundreds, if not thousands of mudras for physical ailments, mood management, and general meditation; however, at the heart of any mudra lies balance. Mudras help to regulate the body-mind by “calming the waves” of the central nervous system. Although we are just scratching the surface of mudra research, they can be powerful tools for physical and mental balance, and even used as life-saving interventions. In fact, Apan Vayu Mudra has been found to reduce the risk of death when performed during a heart attack!
In their book, Mudras for Healing and Transformation, Joseph and Lilian LePage suggest that every mudra contains a “core quality,” or “inherent positive quality” like calm, energy, grounding, focus, healing, etc:
The power of mudras to support health and healing rests in their ability to cultivate balance and harmony within all dimensions of our being. At the physical level, mudras direct breath and awareness to particular areas of the body, enhancing our awareness and deepening our ability to to recognize and respond to the body’s messages more easily. Mudras also support optimal breathing…the gesture itself guides the breath and has the ability to change the speed, focus, quality and location of our breathing almost instantly.
The ease of mudra practice, combined with the physical and psychological benefits they offer for singing, make mudras ideal tools for the voice studio or choral classroom. My students often sing while holding a mudra in lessons, and some gestures are subtle enough to use during performance. I have found mudras to be particularly useful for increasing mental focus, sustaining breath support and control, resonance balancing, and mitigating performance anxiety.
Of the thousands of mudras to explore, some of my favorites for singing include*:
Adi mudra for calm grounding, safety, mitigating performance anxiety:
Dhyana mudra for balance and on-set:
Ganesha mudra for removing obstacles and empowerment, feeling permission to take up physical and acoustic space:
Hakini mudra for focus and memory:
Before practicing with mudras, I like to begin by breathing in and out through the nose with my arms and hands in a neutral position—how does your body feel at rest? Now, add a mudra. Hold it quietly and sense into your body and breath. Do you notice anything shifting? What are you aware of on a physical, psychological, or spiritual level? If a particular gesture feels uncomfortable, simply notice the sensation and try a different gesture.
This short mudra practice helps us to cue into energetic and/or calm sensations in the body-mind, and to notice which gesture best meets our current physical and psychological state:
Palms Up and Down
- Begin in a comfortable seated position with your eyes slightly downcast. Inhale and exhale through the nose for 3-5 cycles, noticing the rhythm of your breath. Where do you observe breath moving throughout your body—the sinuses, shoulder blades, ribs, abdomen, lower back?
- Turn your palms facing up, either placed on top of your lap or suspended in the air. Breathe for 3-5 cycles with your palms up. Observe the sensations in your breath, body, and mind.
- After several breaths, turn your palms to face down. Breathe for 3-5 cycles with your palms down. Does anything change in your body-mind from palms up to palms down? What are you aware of, physically or mentally?
- Finally, turn your palms to face up again, noticing if anything shifts in your physical or mental consciousness.
- Which gesture do you prefer? Does one gesture feel more comfortable than the other?
You might have noticed that one gesture feels more grounded, heavy, possibly calm. The other is more lifted, stimulating, and awake. In general, palms down relaxes the body in a gesture of centering, while palms up energizes the body in a more active expression of giving and receiving. Calm is not necessarily favorable, however. If you are already lethargic, palms down may feel uncomfortably heavy—you may benefit from the “palms up” energy. If you are excited, palms up might meet your energy beautifully or feel over-stimulating. There is no right or wrong, and your preference may change every time you engage the practice. The point is to meet your body-mind where it is in the moment. Use the gestures to seek balance.
Following a similar pattern as Palms Up and Down, try incorporating a mudra into your next practice session or performance!
*For a comprehensive guide to mudra practice including contraindications, check out: Mudras for Healing and Transformation