We all know chin mudra. When you think about yoga one of the first pictures that comes to mind (I hope it’s not scorpion) is a person sitting in a crosslegged position, hands resting on their knees, thumbs and index fingers together. The hand gesture with the thumb and index finger touching is called ‘chin mudra’, pronounced ‘shin moodra’.
What is a mudra?
Literally, mudra comes from Sanskrit and is translated as ‘seal’, or ‘lock’. Best known are the hand gestures, but there are also head mudras, full body mudras, and eye mudras. Mudras have been used in every era and every culture. Some gestures we all know: crossing the fingers for luck, holding our hands up with palms facing the other person: you mean no harm, or making fists when we are angry. A mudra isn’t a religious thing per se but it has a meaning and power so they have been adopted by many religions. Mudras are often used in meditation (you are sitting anyway, so you might as well ;-)
How does a mudra work?
On our hands and feet we can distinguish reflex zones. Each zone corresponds with a certain body part or organ. Pressing into a certain area of the hands or feet will activate or unblock the corresponding part of your body. If there is tension or a blockage in one body part you will feel it in the corresponding reflex zone on your hands or feet. You might feel is as soreness, light throbbing or puffiness. It is subtle and it takes some practice, but you can learn how to feel it.
The palms of our hands, tips of the fingers, soles of the feet and tips of the toes have a lot of nerve endings. The nerves transport electric signals through the body which can be broken down to energy or (ultimately) prana, the life force. This energy radiates out of the hands and feet and is partly dissipated into the air. When you touch the thumb and index finger together to make chin mudra you create a circuit and the energy flows back into the body.
A mudra ‘short-circuits’ the energy back into the body. Putting pressure or creating a circuit on a certain reflex zone will send a message back to the brain. Each mudra does this in a different way, with a different effect. If you switch on the bathroom light, nothing is going to happen with the light in the kitchen, right…?
Chin mudra explained
The thumb symbolises the supreme or divine consciousness (‘brahman’), and the index finger symbolises the human consciousness (‘atman’). Uniting the two (‘yug’ or ‘yoga’ means unite) is bringing together the individual, human consciousness with the divine consciousness which is the goal of meditation: the much coveted but very elusive enlightenment. :)
Another view is that the thumb symbolises intuition and the index finger symbolises inspiration. Intuition comes from inside us, that gut feeling that we know so well (and all too often ignore because we don’t know where it comes from). Inspiration comes from outside us, almost like information descending down on us or the lightbulb moment. Joining the two – inspiration and intuition – creates awareness of the self and everything around you.
How to practice chin mudra?
Traditionally you sit in a crosslegged position (easy pose), half lotus (ardha padmasana) or lotus pose (padmasana). You are sitting up straight with a long neck and spine, the chest nice and open and shoulders back. This posture is the best for energy to flow through the body.
Hand position for chin mudra
Bring the hands to the knees, palms facing up. Bring the thumb and index finger together. The other three fingers are extended. The hands should be relaxed and the thumb and index finger lightly resting against each other. You can touch either the very tip of the the fingers or rest the tip of your index finger where your nail is just below the tip of the thumb, where it will be easier to hold.
You can close your eyes or keep them slightly open. Observe your breath and maintain awareness on your hands.
You can hold the mudra for a couple of minutes to an hour or however long your meditation is. The longer you hold it, the more the ‘current’ will continue flowing.
You can practice chin mudra anywhere, anytime, in any position. You can practice chin mudra as part of your meditation, just after getting up or before going to bed.
Sometimes I am waiting for the bus or trying to focus on something and I notice that I am holding chin mudra with one hand. The most important is to bring awareness (mindfulness) into what you are doing.
When will you feel the effect of a mudra?
Aha. It all depends. It is very subtle, even more subtle than asana and pranayama, and you might not feel it right away. The funny thing about practicing meditation or mudra is that often people expect that they can do it right away, or can’t do it at all.
There are so few things that we humans master with just one try! The path in the grass is not made by just walking through the grass once. When exactly the path is created is always unclear, but one day you look and it is there. :)
We learn through trial and error and while learning, some days will be great; other days it’s like you’ve taken 3 steps back. It is the same with mudras. The more you practice the more you become aware of changes in your mood or body. A lot depends on the mood you are in when you start practicing and whether you can concentrate or not. If you can find that sweet spot between making an effort and being totally relaxed, that’s where the magic happens.
If you want to read more on different mudras, try this book that I have: ‘Mudras. Yoga in your hands’ by Gertrud Hirsch.
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