Health at your fingertips
It is the end of the day. You are tired. You don’t want to stretch; you don’t want to squat. You just want to vegetate in front of the TV. How do you optimize this experience?
An easy way is to learn some mudras. Mudras are hand gestures, used in most Eastern religions. As Ramaa Bharadvaj, a dancer and teacher with the Chinmaya Naada Bindu gurukul in Pune, says, mudras were described in the Natya Shastra, an ancient dance treatise. They operate on the principle that each finger is affiliated to one tattva or element. Thumb for fire, forefinger for wind, middle finger for akash or ether, the ring finger for earth, and the little finger for water. The theory is that you can influence the movement of energy within the body by holding the fingers in a certain way.
So if you feel gassy or bloated, join the index finger with the thumb; or place the thumb on top of the index finger. And if you feel parched or dry, touch the little finger with your thumb to balance out the water element. Typically, hold each mudra for 15-20 minutes while sitting, back straight.
My favourite is the Surya mudra, thought to reduce weight. Bend the ring finger, place it at the bottom of the thumb and rest the thumb lightly on top of it. Keep watching your show. Half an hour later, you would have burnt some calories without moving a limb. In fact, you shouldn’t move a limb while doing mudras; just sit cross-legged in Padmasana if you can, and stay still.
Tibetan monks use mudras to generate internal heat in freezing winters and balance their body elements through the year. Chinese medicine believes that body health can be measured through the flexibility of the fingers. According to Gertrud Hirschi’s book Mudras: Yoga In Your Hands, the pressure of your fingers should be light and fine and the hands should be relaxed. You may find that you cannot do all the mudras with both hands. I have trouble touching my little finger to my thumb in both hands. I have to hold it in place in one hand with the help of the other hand. This is okay to begin with, and it will gradually get better.
As with anything else, paying attention to how your body reacts helps you to improve on this. Touch your water finger (the little one) with your thumb and see if you start salivating or if your eyes start tearing. Does it actually balance out the water element the way they say it does? My yoga master told me to do the Shankha (conch) mudra for 45 minutes while I watched my current favourite TV show The Good Wife. It would help my hypothyroidism, he suggested. Sit still, hold your hands in the mudra, and breathe evenly, he said. Even doing this is difficult. Most people tend to fidget after a few minutes. You may feel an itch in the back, or a cough coming on. Or a pain in the shoulder may make you want to change positions. Watching TV helps because you are so engrossed in the show, you forget your hands and the fact that they are in a mudra.
Ideally, you should learn mudras from a practitioner, but since it is a gentle healing art, learning it from the Internet wouldn’t hurt. One mudra I have been experimenting with is called Hakini mudra. It involves touching all five fingers of one hand with the corresponding fingers of the other hand. It is supposed to improve memory and concentration. As it happens, tapping both sets of fingers is a common gesture with people when they are thinking deeply. So it is with other mudras. Some of them are intuitive. We do them anyway without realizing it. In their ease lie their beauty and healing qualities.
Shoba Narayan practises the Ksepana mudra frequently. Write to her with your tips, tricks and short cuts. She blogs at Shobanarayan.com, tweets at @shobanarayan and Instagrams at #shobanarayan.