About bandhas and mudras
According to my teacher S.Ramaswami, in his January 2013 Newsletter, Sri Krishnamacharya translated the word mudra as ‘ procedure that brings joy.’ The word mudra comes from two different roots, ‘ mud,’ which means to rejoice and ‘ raa,’ which means to give.
The word mudra has been used by various disciplines in different contexts, from dancers, yogis, to philosophers, and is also common in the common language in India.
Normally, we associate this word with certain gestures that are made with the hands and that we are accustomed to seeing yoga teachers and practitioners.
But, the teacher Ramaswami explains that the word mudra has two different meanings: on the one hand, it means, in effect, ‘ gesture,’ but it also has the meaning of ‘ seal.’ We will analyze both meanings carefully.
Read more: Yoga teacher training in Rishikesh.
Mudras as gestures
Classical dancers use various gestures, especially hand gestures, called mudras, to give expression to their inner feelings. It is a very beautiful aspect of traditional Indian dances. There are many hand mudras used in the dance format of South India, Bharatanatyam.
Many of us also use hand gestures when we speak to emphasize what we say.
Philosophers and yogis also use hand gestures or mudras. Some of the best known are:
Chin mudra is a well-known mudra among the Vedantinos. It is a gesture in which the tips of the thumb and the index of the right hand are joined, bending these fingers, while the other three straight fingers are kept.
This hand gesture means that the jivatma, the individual, and Paramatma soul, the supreme soul, are one and the same.
These hand gestures help the abhyasi to keep the final goal always in thought and never deviate from it. It is said that they are more powerful than spoken words.
The other popular hand gesture used by many people in India including those who practice yoga are called mrigi mudra in which the index and middle fingers of the right hand are bent inward and the other three, thumb, ring and little finger, they stay straight
This hand gesture is useful for nadisodhana Pranayam a. The thumb is used to control the right nostril, and the other two fingers are used to control the left nostril.
This is a very used mudra. Ramaswami says that the hand in mrigi mudra looks like a running deer or looks like the face of a deer with prominent beautiful horns.
Perhaps he is the best known. The Anjali mudra, the gesture used to greet the elderly or to pray.
It comes from the root ‘anj’, which means anoint.
Ramaswami told us that his guru, Krishnamacharya, told him that in this mudra, the palms should be slightly cupped, keeping their hands together. There must be a gap between enough palms to hold an imaginary lotus or your heart in a gesture of loving offering to the object of your meditation. The arms should be close to the body but without touching the body, and the hands, inclined about thirty degrees, should be held in front of the heart or sternum. With a straight back and a slightly inclined head.
Another mudra, using the hands that many of Krishnamacharya’s students are familiar with, is Shanmukhi mudra.
In this mudra, the yogi sits in a comfortable asana, after completing the asana and pranayama session and before beginning the meditation or singing.
In this mudra, the entrance doors of the sensory perceptions are closed symbolically: the ears, the eyes, the nose, and the mouth. That is why it is also known as the closing of the seven doors.
Ramaswami says that he remembers the action of the three wise monkeys: not saying evil, not looking at evil, and not hearing evil, all in one.
This mudra is not only a gesture, like the previous ones, but it is also something like a seal, with which it is situated in an intermediate point between the two meanings of mudra that we were talking about at the beginning: gesture and seal.
The mudras as seals
The word mudra is also used with the meaning of ‘seal or seal tightly,’ or a seal or any instrument used to seal or stamp, a seal ring, a wedge, etc. The word mudra is also used in the sense of the signature of a poet or painter, an author in their respective works. Mudra is also used in common language as a stamp in a legal document. The stamp in a passport is called mudra.
Yogis, especially hatayogis, make a set of unique procedures called mudras, whose prerequisites are asanas and pranayama.
With them, the yogi is able to access several of the internal organs.
But beyond that, there is also an esoteric purpose. Through pranayama, the yogi can clean the nadis or energetic channels and bring scattered prana to them, joining prana and Apana.
Then the yogi wants to raise the prana through Sushumna or central energy channel and achieve the goal of Hata yoga, which is known by several names like unmani avasta and others.
For this, one must avoid that the prana collected from the various nadis escapes outward. This is achieved by blocking the various pathways or nadis through the use of seals or closures. Ramaswami says that mudras work like check valves used by plumbers.
Thus, the mudras help seal some of the Nadis, awaken the Kundalini, open the chakras and thus prepare the way for the upward movement of prana through the sushumna.
The mudras also create the conditions for the Yogi to achieve avastha unmani or immense joy. It is a state within oneself, without the distractions of visual, tactile, and other sensations.
The ten mudras and their benefits
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is the mudras in the third chapter, dedicated to the awakening of Kundalini through the practice of mudras. Svatmarama, an author of the text, is very repetitive in his exaltation of the awakening of Kundalini but does not explain what this extraordinary experience consists of.
The HYP describes ten mudras. It is said that these ten mudras seal the Nadis and help move the prana along the royal road of sushumna .
In the text we read:
This group of ten wonderful mudrâs, revealed by Adinâtha, prevent old age, decay, and death and grant the eight supernatural powers.
HP, 3, 7.
Mahamudra leads this mudra package. According to the HYP:
All diseases such as tisis, skin diseases, glandular enlargement, indigestion, and many more, will be destroyed by the practice of Mahamudra.
HP, 3, 16.
The others are maha bandha, mahaveda, khechari, uddiyanabandha, mulabandha,
jalandharabandha, viparitakarani mudra, vajroli and saktichalana .
As we can see, in this list, there are also practices called bandhas: uddiyanabandha, mulabandha, and Jalandhar bandha, which are essentially mudras and are used in the practice of pranayama.
Bandha is a Sanskrit word that means closure, bolt, seal, and also bandage, something that contracts. Also, in this case, we find a double meaning of the word, which should be studied.
THE BANDHAS AS CLOSURES
The three best-known bandhas by yoga practitioners and teachers in the West are mulabandha, uddiyanabandha, and Jalandhar bandha, which refer respectively to the contraction of the muscles of the perineum, abdomen, and throat. Brahmananda (principal commentator of the HYP) also mentions jihvabandha.
These three bandhas are listed as mudras in the HYP, as we have seen, in the sense of seals or closures. According to the HYP, the bandhas are the mudras that are used in the practice of pranayama.
This text also says that through the contraction of muscles and organs, energy is concentrated in a certain place. That is, these practices act as closures that prevent the energy from dispersing and concentrate it where desired.
BANDHAS AS BANDAGES OR BANDAGES
There is still another possible meaning for the word bandha: it is about what he contracts, such as a bandage or bandage.
In this sense, the muscular contraction operated by the bandhas acts as the bandages that the boxers are placed around the wrists, to protect the internal organs and joints of the area in question. Specific:
- Mulabhanda protects the hip and organs of the pelvic region.
- Uddiyanabandha protects the lumbar and thoracic spine and trunk organs.
- Jalandharabandha protects the cervical spine and stimulates the glands of this area.
Following Professor Simon Borg Olivier, we can conclude that not only can we perform the bandhas described in the classical texts, but that a bandha can be performed around each main articulatory group, namely: ankles, knees, hips, lumbar spine, dorsal spine, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and neck.
That is all for today. I leave for another day the difference between mudra and asana, which is also very interesting.
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