Our hands are miraculous in design and function, with a unique balance of strength and finesse, but they are more than tools. We recognize the power of a firm handshake to convey trust, the invitation of a soft touch on the shoulder to say “I understand and am here for you,” and the intimacy of walking hand in hand.
In yoga, hand positions called mudras are used to intensify the effect of body postures. Mudras are thought to invoke qualities such as patience or peacefulness. For example, Chin Mudra, bringing index finger to thumb, represents our longing to be one with our cosmic unconsciousness.
Gertrud Hirschi, in her book Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands, writes that “mudras engage certain areas of the brain and/or soul and exercise a corresponding influence on them.” Western medicine, too, reveals a connection between mind and hands. The human brain devotes a great deal of energy to the hands, which are filled with nerve endings originating in the motor and sensory cortex. As the central nervous system branches from the spinal cord to reach the extremities, it is understandable that hand postures may have healing effects all over the body.
East meets West in the mind-body connection represented by an open hand, either palm up (the mudra for giving and receiving) or palm down (the mudra for abiding and calm).
When the palms turn up, the shoulders rotate outward and the chest opens. The cervical spine, in response, raises upward and the eyes are directed forward. When upward palms are used in meditation, they position both the mind and the body in an open posture that enhances listening. Our bodies and our sensory organs are positioned to receive information from the outside world. It is little wonder that Eastern practices call this “the giving and receiving mudra.”
When the palms turn down, the shoulders rotate inward and the chest seems to collapse. The head slopes down and the eyes follow. For meditation, this closes out the world and the noise. It allows inward focus for a time of discernment. This is “the calm-abiding mudra,” believed to quiet the mind.
By simply sitting at a desk or a table and turning our palms up or down, we can feel the subtle differences in our body posture and breathing. The mind responds in kind. So when we seek to listen and be more open in our decision making, perhaps it helps to turn the palms to the heavens. And when we feel the stress and noise of a busy week, perhaps we can turn our palms to the earth and once again find ourselves grounded.
Aware of this mind-body connection in our world of technology and social networking sites, we can ask ourselves the effects on our posture and our psyche of keeping our palms turned downward on our keyboards all day, or curled around a cell phone. To reconnect with the people and environment around us, maybe we can begin with repositioning our hands.
Excerpted from Radish (March 2011), a magazine serving western Illinois, eastern Iowa, and southern Minnesota dedicated to improving health and well-being through stories of self-renewal and the renewal of resources.www.radishmagazine.com
Have something to say? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the July-August 2011 issue of Utne Reader.