By Shameem Akhtar
The mudras use the fingers and thumb to reach into that part of the brain where a doctor cannot reach, triggering a healing right from the spot from where the illness could have manifested
Indian classical dancers lavishly use the language of mudras or hand gestures Yet, like so many other things that are Indian, mudras too make the easy transition from serious culture to day-to-day life. Even the least spiritual amongst us can be caught sitting in Chin Mudra where index finger touches thumb—the most common and popular among the lot in our moments of religiosity or concentration.
Very few of us, however, seriously appreciate the deep scientific significance of mudras. But more on that later. We will first consider the subtle metaphor behind this simple Chin Mudra. Most of you reading this magazine are already aware that yoga can loosely be translated to mean yoking oneself with the divine. Every practice of yoga is designed to make this an intuitive reality. Whether the message of this seeps through or not depends on where each of us is at that particular moment in our own spiritual evolution. But yoga constantly uses symbols and metaphors to nudge us towards remembering our original goal. Chin mudra too indicates this.
In this hand gesture, the index finger stands for the individual atman (meaning you) and the thumb represents the universal spirit or Brahman. The gentle touch of these two fingers indicates the coming together or yoking of the micro with the macro cosmos. This mudra, like all other mudras, underlines the core of the mantra So-Hum, which can be awkwardly and inadequately translated to mean That-I, meaning the Universe and I are the same.
Buddhists have an evocative way of holding the Chin Mudra in the left hand or placing the hand on the chest, reaching to touch the earth with the right, connecting the body with the larger world or spirit. This simple gesture also reminds us just how, as Osho points out, though we foolishly hope to become self-contained we are all inter-dependent. True independence is a myth. And we are all connected with each other in a circle that never ends, as that beautiful song in the animated film Pocahontas declares.
Every breath of us connects us immediately with the entire cosmos. Though we know this we are unable to realise or appreciate it. Mudras create the moment of silence within us, so that we can fleetingly glimpse this truth.
In Pranic Healing, which is a more concentrated form of yogic healing techniques, it is believed that each of us tends to scatter energies the most from our hands, while gesturing as we speak, or use them for our work, or caress with them to indicate our love. We are constantly transferring our energies. In yogic mudras such as the Chin this leak is contained, so as we sit meditating our spiritual selves remain rooted within, growing from strength to strength instead of reducing.
All this may seem like a lot of psychic babble to non-believers to whom we are, thanks to the extensive research done by the Bihar School of Yoga, able to present the scientific angle to this whole business of mudras.
Every part of our body has a representation in the brain, the control tower, particularly in the pre-frontal cortex. This part is the largest in the human animal in terms of its body mass and brain ratio, which indicates why we can pride ourselves as evolved beings, smart enough to ask questions.
Every part of our body gets to be mapped in this cortical region of the brain. Now for the most significant part: the representation here does not depend on the size of the body part (for instance, the back, despite its size gets negligible representation), nor on the part’s mechanical functioning (since the leg, despite its size and function gets minuscule representation because it moves only in a linear fashion). The representation depends on how challenging the body part’s function is, just how finely it is required to behave.
So, guess who gets this whopping recognition? The thumb! That is why even though primates like the ape get to use their fingers, the functionality of their thumb and fingers is not as fine-tuned as a human being’s who stands, metaphorically, topmost in the evolutionary ladder precisely for this reason. Only a human can use the thumb-finger complex to commit murder as well as save life. To paint lines finer than hair or sculpt figures from stubborn rock. Caress to indicate love, or strangle to display hate. Hold a gun or a life-saving surgical scalpel with equal felicity.
There is practically nothing the thumb-finger complex cannot do and the story of Eklavaya in Mahabharata is a poignant reminder of this.
Thus, the mudras use the fingers and thumb to reach into that part of the brain where a medical practitioner cannot reach, triggering a healing right from the spot from where the illness could have manifested in the first place. Holding a mudra may give us peace, destress us, etc. But its most significant contribution lies in helping us hold this silent communion with ourselves and our mind, using an external part of ourselves to reach into our inner, otherwise unreachable selves.
There are so many mudras, for controlling asthma and bronchitis, relieving backache, lowering blood pressure, controlling diabetes, losing weight, speeding up or slowing down metabolism, destress mudras, mudras to improve your concentration, others to firm up your will-power. It is a field of therapy, large and effective. For instance, yoga believes that most respiratory ailments are triggered due to the victims, sensitive personality. Obviously, to do a make-over of such a characteristic is daunting. But the mudra helps in communicating this make-over to the brain in a manner that we still have to unravel.
Similarly, when you sit in Surya Mudra you will feel the body warming up on its own! It is an amazing sensation and revelation that a gesture can completely turn around the body’s metabolism. As you practise mudras with concentration, you will finally begin to appreciate just how the holistic healing that yoga promises gets its best representation through them.
Apan Vayu Mudra, or the heart mudra, is a life-saver. It is said that practitioners can even stop an oncoming heart attack faster than any life-saving tablet. While I would not advise any heart patient to substitute one for the other, definitely it is a good weapon to have alongside your pills. My experience in talking or writing about this mudra has been that listeners/readers feel very confused. Actually there is no call for confusion if you focus on the instructions carefully instead of getting bogged by the names of the fingers (which have to be used as a necessary expedient). For those unfamiliar with these here is how each finger is called: next to the thumb, which everyone knows, is the index finger. Then middle finger which is always the third finger. Beside it is the ring finger and finally, little finger.
For Apan Vayu Mudra, bend your index finger so it touches the base of your thumb, in the palm. Now gently bend the middle and ring finger so that their tips and the tip of the thumb touch. The little finger remains outstretched. You have to do this with both hands. Practise this mudra as you meditate for about five minutes daily. You can do these a few times during the day, so that the practice becomes automatic.
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