Monday, March 28, 2016

Mudras: Yoga in your hands (book review)

 by:  Gertrud Hirschi

I have been interested in mudras for many years. Meditation is a huge part of my path, and I love the idea of being able to add a hand position into my meditation practice to call forth specific energies. But I had never really done an in-depth study of them, only picked up a few of the more common ones here and there along the way.

This book was fascinating from start to finish and definitely not only gave me a great foundation for adding mudras into my practice, but also for further study into the topic as well as associated ideas presented in the book.

I really like that the book starts off with an explanation of mudras, a brief history and some general suggestions for how to use mudras. There is an emphasis, throughout the book, on approaching mudra work as an ongoing practice and not expecting instant results (although it definitely mentions that it is possible to have immediate effects). I think this is an important point, and am glad to see it presented here. Just like meditation, mudras can have both short term and long term effects, and I agree with the author that when practicing these things, patience and openness are great qualities to apply to your practice.

As mudras are but one system that works through the hands, the author also includes several other systems that revolve around the hands such as reflexology and palmistry. These examples are provided as a way to appreciate how complex our hands are, and how many different cultures and approaches have worked with the hands. Each system is given a very brief explanation to go along with a picture of the hands and how the system applies to them. I found this to be really interesting and definitely something that can lead to further research. But even with just the tiny amount of information in the book, I thought it was a great inclusion as it helped demonstrate how much connection could be found in our hands and gave many different examples of how we can use those correspondences towards different means.

I absolutely loved the included meditation exercises for each of the fingers. They are simple exercises, but offer up a great experience. Each finger is simply held, and a visualization is given to help open you up to the energy of that particular finger. I definitely feel that these exercises will give a lot of depth to any other mudras as well as being great exercises on their own.

The meat of the book is the 52 mudras presented in detail. Each mudra has a couple of pages which include a lovely hand drawn picture of the hands holding the mudra. The illustrations are quite good, and I only had trouble figuring out a couple of them based on the picture and accompanying text description. The text then talks about what the mudra is used for, often including additional information that can be used to better understand the mudra and it's effects. There is also a suggested herbal remedy to enhance the mudra. Finally, each mudra is accompanied by a visualization to be used while holding the mudra and an affirmation.

I adored the meditations. I thought they were a really great addition, and one of the things that I appreciated most in this book. I find that I always learn best when I have a bit of a story behind why things work, and I found that in these meditations as well as in the supporting text. Some of the visualizations are quite simple. You might be holding a color or a feeling in your mind. Others are more complex and guide you through several mental actions over several breaths. But I found all of them quite relatable to the mudra they accompanied. And I think that using the visualization and affirmation with each mudra will help me to remember individual mudras better.

The book wraps up with a short section on whole body exercises that are also known as mudras. These are illustrated and explained, and are also accompanied with an affirmation, though they are not given a visualization or herbal remedy.

Finally in the appendix, a few more associated topics are briefly discussed. Much like the earlier hand systems, these areas are not looked at in depth, but more included as an example of related ideas that the reader might find interesting.

The book also has a very nice index, which you can use to search for mudras by the areas they effect. So if you are experiencing sinus trouble, you can look up 'sinus' and easily find mudras that are appropriate. Which is really handy as many mudras cover multiple things.

I really enjoyed this book. The way it approached the topic of mudras, from many angles and with multiple examples and suggestions along the way gives me a lot of things to think about, which I love. I know I will be coming back to this book time and time again, to re-read sections and deepen my understanding of particular mudras. And that deeper understanding is something I have found lacking in other things I have read about mudras previously. While many sources will talk about how to do a mudra or what it might address, I haven't run across many that give you tools to understand the mudra beneath the surface.

I finished reading the book, excited to start working with mudras. Even while I was reading it, I was constantly trying out the mudras as I came to them. My biggest issue now will be deciding which mudra to work with first!

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