Mudras are symbolic positions and gestures of the hands and body, and are used in yoga, meditation and dance within Hindu and Buddhist traditions. While some mudras involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands. In India, mudras are a prominent component of religious activity; they are seen in depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses, utilized to express meaning and stories in traditional dance, and practiced during Buddhist rituals. In yoga, mudras are used in conjunction with breathing exercises to affect the flow of energy in the body.
The Chin Mudra, also known as the Om Mudra, is the most commonly used hand mudra in yoga and meditation practices across all traditions. In this mudra, the thumb and index finger meet to form a circle while the other three fingers extend open away from the circle. Because the thumb is symbolic of cosmic divinity and the index finger represents the individual consciousness, this mudra represents the primary goal of yoga and meditation: the union of the divine and individual. When a practitioner uses this mudra, they express the desire for this cosmic union.
In the Dharmachakra Mudra, both hands are held level with the heart, the left hand facing inwards and the right hand facing out, as the thumbs and forefingers form circles that touch each other. This mudra is often referred to as ‘the teaching gesture,' as it represents the Buddha’s first teachings on the four noble truths - an event that Buddhists call 'the first turning of the wheel of dharma'. The dharma wheel, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, represents the cosmic law that upholds the order of the universe.
One of the earliest mudras found depicted on images of Hindu gods, the Abhaya Mudra, is in place when the right hand is raised and opened straight up and facing outward. The mudra represents protection, reassurance and fearlessness. Practitioners use this mudra to strengthen resolve and quiet the mind. The Hindu god Shiva, destroyer and transformer of the universe, is often depicted with this mudra.
Practitioners use the Dhyana mudra while seated in meditation. In this mudra, the right hand rests on top of the left, fingers extended and palms facing up, while the thumb tips touch one another. The left hand is representative of wisdom and stability while the right hand represents the spiritual method; the path to attaining enlightenment. The Dhyana mudra is taught in Zen Buddhist meditation as the appropriate positioning of the hands for achieving a pure meditative state.
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