A mudra is a static yoga posture (asana) that is one that is held for a period of time.
Sri Krishnamacharya tells us that the purpose of mudras is to:
- Keep the ten types of prana (life force) moving in their appropriate respective nadi (channels).
- To prevent diseases from forming in the body.
- For the sushumna nadi (central channel of the spine) to be taken to (by prana) and maintained in the brahmarandhram (crown chakra).
- For the always wavering attention to stop moving and be focused in one place, to help us to concentrate.
There are twenty mudras. We will look at two essential ones and how they work. First we need to understand something about the subtle body.
There are five fields of consciousness in manifestation and two beyond. These make up the seven lokas, or worlds, of the Vedic system. The seven chakras relate to these worlds. The first three levels are body, life energy and mind. Hatha Yoga takes up the body and life energy as its field of practice while Raja Yoga addresses the mind.
Both begin with yama and niyama (moral behaviour) as a foundation. Then Hatha Yoga has asana (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), mudra and bandha (bodily locks) as its main focus. The physical body is transformed initially through asana, kriyas (purification techniques) and diet as a preparation for pranayama, mudra and bandha.
The subtle body, consisting of nadi, marma and chakra, is the main field of action of these practices. There are thousands of nadis in the body, 107 marma points and 7 main chakras (although there are others).
The three chakras that correspond to the spine are ida, pingala and sushumna. In our unawakened state the prana flows only in ida and pingala and a fraction of our potential energy operates our psychophysical system. So we can practice Yoga to attain good health by balancing the pranic flows in the nadis and chakras. But to awaken the chakras we must cause the flow of prana to enter the central nadi called sushumna.
Maha Mudra means Great Seal. To practice it you sit on the floor with the left leg straight out in front of you and the heel of the right foot pressed into the perineum. Hold the big toe with your right hand and lock the left hand on top. With the arms and spine straight, you breathe with ujjayi and practice breath retention with the three bandhas held on hold after exhale. The three bandhas are jalandhara (throat), mula (pelvic floor) and uddiyana (abdomen). You practice this for equal time on each side of the body. The ida nadi is blocked when practising on one side so the prana flows well in pingala. Then the reverse situation occurs while holding the mudra on the opposite side.
Then practice Mahabandha Mudra where you sit up straight on the floor with the left heel in the perineum and the right heel above the genitals. You then practice breath retention with bandhas. Krishnamacharya says that the benefit of this is that “all the nadis in the body turn upward and the ida, pingala, and the sushumna nadis join in the midbrow. This will overcome death and protect the body.”
It is important to remember that this requires the right preparation and effort and the guidance of a suitably qualified teacher.
Sadhana is a sustained effort leading to accomplishment. Krama is going step by step in the right order. Vinyasa Krama Sadhana is this correct method.
(c) Steve Brandon