The following post is the third in a four-part series on developing a meditation practice by Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg, a graduate of our Yoga Pedagogy program and, most recently, an Independent Study student with TaraMarie Perri. Kellis currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she is a company member of the Marigny Opera Ballet. She is also an adjunct instructor in the University of Southern Mississippi Department of Dance, as well as a freelance choreographer, teacher, and yoga instructor.
Mudra Meditation: Mindful Hands
It goes without saying that I have learned so much about myself through meditation, and not just about “Kellis: the yogi” or “Kellis: the meditator,” but mostly about “Kellis: the human being.” Habits, thoughts, presumptions, and hopes that reveal themselves within my meditation practice are merely amplifications of habits, thoughts, presumptions, and hopes that permeate my life in general. One particular mannerism I have noticed in my meditation and in my daily life is that my hands ALWAYS have to be doing something. Whether working, dancing, writing, typing, cooking, cleaning, painting, or even talking, my hands are in a perpetual state of excited motion. I express myself through my hands, and while this is a characteristic I appreciate in my daily life, it is a quirk that is a bit troublesome when I’m trying to find stillness. Even when my mind is open, my focus is centered, and my body is still, my hands feel the agitated need to move.
At first I was annoyed with my ever-fidgeting hands, but then I decided that they just needed something specific to do. This thought lead me to mudras, or what I like to think of as “yoga of the hands.” I started with a mudra that was familiar to me from my yoga practice: Anjali Mudra, or prayer pose. Not only did Anjali Mudra quiet my hands and give them a mindful purpose, but it also gave my meditation a focus of cultivating compassion for myself. The “nerd” within me took over, and I decided to research some other mudras to incorporate into my meditation practice. I have always been interested in the history and meaning of mudras in general, and through my research, I started finding different ways to quiet my hands while meditating and also to use the mudra meanings to guide my meditations. This mudra research is an ongoing investigation, and while I’ve used various sources for my research, the main text I have been referencing is Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands by Gertrud Hirschi.
Below are some of the mudras I have experimented with thus far and my reflections of those experiences: • Ksepana Mudra (pouring out and letting go): This mudra is achieved by having the index fingers extended and touching and all other fingers and the thumb clasped. Knowing that this mudra focuses on letting go, I used that focus to guide my meditation. I placed my hands in Ksepana Mudra in my lap so that they were active in the mudra but passive in the space and in relationship to the rest of my body. I started by following my breath, inhaling in stresses, tension, and responsibilities and exhaling all of those worries out, pouring them out and letting them go. With each inhale and exhale, I started to feel a lightness come over me, and my mind and heart were open and unburdened. I noticed that my exhales got longer and longer and my inhales became smoother and less forced. The Ksepana Mudra anchored me in my meditation, and the stillness in my hands brought a stillness in the rest of my body and mind. I anchored my mind to the idea of “letting go” so that any time an extraneous thought came up, I would just let it pass and let it go. I realize that this idea can be present without the mudra, but the Ksepana Mudra helped focus my meditation and inspired the intention of it.
• Kalesvara Mudra (dedicated to the deity who rules over time, calms the flood of thoughts and agitated feelings): I found Kalesvara Mudra when I was in the middle of a physically and mentally exhausting week. My mind and emotions were all over the place, and I knew I needed calming. While reading about Kalesvara Mudra, I noticed that it was pretty complicated: the middle finger and thumb buds are extended and touching while the dorsal surface of the middle segments (phalanx) of the index, ring and pinky are bent and touching. I was initially worried that its complexity would just agitate me more, but I was surprised to find that the intricacy of the finger placement actually soothed my mind and the rest of my body. I began by meditating with Kalesvara Mudra at my heart center and with my eyes closed, just focusing on my breath and using it to calm my body and mind. At one point, I released Kalesvara Mudra and brought my palms face up on my thighs because my arms were getting tired and becoming slightly distracting. However, I did not get frustrated with the change of arm and hand position, but I just kept focusing on the meaning of Kalesvara Mudra: calming the flood of thoughts.
• Ganesha Mudra (dedicated to Ganesha, the deity who removes obstacles): On a particularly overwhelming and busy day, I meditated with Ganesha Mudra right before I had to teach an evening yoga class. As a teacher, I strive to be mindful, caring, articulate, knowledgable, diligent and, above all, present. I could sense that on this day, my mind was consumed with my to-do list and future obligations; far from being mindfully present. I remembered from my Hirschi readings that Ganesha Mudra released tension in the shoulder and heart area and gave “...courage, confidence and openness toward other human beings.” I wanted to cultivate that confidence in myself and openness toward my students, so I prepared for class with Ganesha Mudra by interlocking the fingers at my heart with the the left palm facing out and the right palm facing in. I let go of all of my other responsibilities except for the one presently in front of me: centering myself to guide my students through the yoga practice. I even incorporated Ganesha Mudra into the class plan, allowing my students to experience the confidence and openness that the mudra imbued.