In the yoga tradition, a mudra is a hand gesture or bodily symbol that is meant to cultivate a certain “bhavana,” or feeling-tone. The word “mudra” literally means “seal,” as in, “to seal something in.” The implication is that we all already have everything we need—we contain everything we seek—but because of tension, stress, toxins, etc., we leak that good energy out, causing us to feel depleted of something in particular. You can keep pouring water into a bucket but if it has holes, it will never become full.
We are leaky buckets. A mudra practice is designed to help us channel or “seal in” the specific energy we feel has drained. For example, Varada Mudra is the “Gesture of Generosity” and allows us to feel full enough to give readily. Jnana Mudra or “Gesture of Wisdom” is meant to remind us of the wisdom that we inherently already have. But how exactly does this work?
The original meaning of yoga is about channeling our lifeforce energy. The practices of posture, meditation, pranayama, mudra, and bandha all channel and focus the energy in different ways. With mudra, we are creating an energy circuit in the body, rerouting the flow of prana to produce certain effects. We quite literally hold the key to creating the specific effect we want in our hands.
Our fingers are points of power, each representing one of the five elements in the body:
Akash/ Ether/ Space: Middle
Their intricate combinations align the outer energies to our inner energies, the elements of the planet to the elements in our own bodies. When we, for example, touch our thumb to our index finger in Jnana Mudra, we are uniting fire and air—stimulating wisdom and receptivity. When we plug up the holes that were allowing this energy to leak, we can fill our bucket with the inner knowledge we encounter through our practice.
We all use mudras all the time without knowing it. There are hand gestures or signals that imply universal meaning, such as the “thumbs up” sign, the “stop” gesture, and the “pointing at something” gesture. We even use a version of Jnana Mudra when we want to signal that we have been receptive to new information from someone else. In these circumstances, however, we simply call it the “okay” sign.
When practicing mudras, we are accessing a certain frequency that is already ours. We already contain all the energy we need to feel whole. Our bodies, susceptible to wear and tear like any vessel, may leak some of the energies they’re meant to contain. But a full bucket is our birthright and we can use these practices to fill ourselves to the brim.