I have been really enjoying my Yoga of late. This has been in great part due to the wonderful Yoga class I have been attending. Trish very kindly and patiently has been prodding me for months to go and as a part of my ‘sick of being a grumpy old hermit’ campaign, I finally gave the moany old bugger a night off and ventured out with eager anticipation and Yoga mat in hand. Julie, our teacher, is lovely and the classes are just the right balance between postures, breathing and meditation. After seven years of practicing on my lonesome, it was so nice to be with others. Julie is a great teacher and her approach is really helping to enrich my own personal practice. The others in the group are friendly and welcoming. Our mats are positioned in a circle like petals in a flower, which all seems rather appropriate with regard to my efforts to become more open and sociable once more. Each week has found me eager to go and sad when the lesson is over.
Tracey – who herself is currently working through her Yoga teacher training – gave me a wonderful little book for my birthday about Mudras entitled Mudras: Yoga in the Hands by Gertrud Hirschi. Mudras are hand gestures. As westerners, we are all familiar with the prayer position (Atmanjali Mudra). Some might also recognise the Jnana and Chin Mudras where the tip of the thumb and index finger meet in a circle; in Jnana, the fingers and palm face upwards; in Chin, downwards. These classic Mudras are often what comes to mind when people think of Yogis sat in the lotus posture, meditating. These beautiful gestures have deep meaning. When writing of the Jnana and Chin Mudras Hirschi writes:
These gestures symbolise the connected nature of human consciousness (thumbs). The three extended fingers symbolise the three gunas – traits that keep evolution in both the microcosm and the macrocosm in motion: tamas (lethargy), rajas (activity), and sattwa (balance and harmony). The closed circle of the index finger and thumb depict the actual goal of Yoga – the unification of Atman, the individual soul, with Brahman, the world soul.
It is wonderful that such beauty and depth can be articulated within the elegance and simplicity of a small hand gesture.
There are many Mudras, each with their own focus and benefits. I have been experimenting with different ones during relaxation and meditation, although Hirschi recommends doing them anywhere, even whilst walking. The book has sections on the positions and meaning of each Mudra and also includes visualisations and affirmations that enhance the impact of each. When we adopt the position of a Mudra, we invite its qualities into our lives and being on many levels.
As part of our Midsummer ritual, we performed Hirshi’s suggested meditation and affirmation for Pushpaputa Mudra. This Mudra is rather beautifully called A Handful of Flowers. It is simply where the hands are placed, palms up ‘like empty bowls’ upon each thigh, fingers resting gently together (I have also seen it as cupped hands placed together in offering). This seemed a very appropriate Mudra for midsummer, opening us to the gifts that surround us, allowing ourselves to receive. It is also a great one for me and my poor old beleaguered inner hermit, who really is feeling a little over worked and due for some time off. My retreat from the world was initially necessary – a good deal of wound licking and healing could only be done this way. Now, I have become increasingly aware that perhaps this approach is no longer appropriate and is becoming more of a hindrance than a help. It’s about fear of course and the beauty of Pushpaputa Mudra is that it encourages us to receive with openness and trust. Hirschi puts it nicely:
One reason why we close ourselves – in addition to apathy – is fear. But whatever is bad cannot get to us and affect us if we strive for a pure heart…Pushpaputa Mudra expresses this openness. Only with open hands can we enrich the world, and only with an open mind and open soul can we receive what cosmic consciousness gives us.
I include here Gertrud Hirschi’s lovely meditation and affirmation – please do check out her book (published by Weiser Books).
Your two hands are like open flowers. Imagine another flower on top of your head. While inhaling, golden rays came from a cosmos that embodies love, joy and peace. Through the open flowers, they flow into your innermost self. Then let yourself be filled (take a pause in your breathing for a moment) and radiate this wealth through your heart into the world while exhaling.
I open myself to divine joy (or healing, light, love etc.), let myself be filled by it. I radiate it into the world through my heart.
My loyal inner hermit has been packing a small going away bag. He has been procrastinating a little bit because he worries about me and how I will cope without him while he’s away. He’s looking forward to not being in charge, to letting his hood down and exchanging his cave sandals for some rather fetching (if slightly camp), sparkly disco boots. Beneath the distracted mutterings, he really is quite excited about going but reassures me he will be there the moment I seriously need him. I hope he has packed enough underwear…