Sleep is an essential, restorative part of daily activities. Still, many people have trouble getting enough.
Before the advent of modern medicine, ancient practices, such as yoga, meditation, and tai chi, offered stress-reducing techniques that also indirectly aided sleep.
These practices included mudras, or hand gestures meant to stimulate certain energies in the body, mind, and spirit.
Can mudras be a useful complementary practice to help you sleep more deeply? Read on to learn more about this esoteric practice and how it may help improve sleep.
“Mudra” is a Sanskrit term that means “gesture.”
In yogic practices, this word refers to particular hand positions, often involving gentle pressure between the fingertips. This gesture or pose is held in place for a length of time, from a few seconds to the duration of a long form meditation.
The term mudra is also commonly used in Indian classical dance. This is seen as a form of yoga, known as Bhakti or devotional yoga.
In Hindi, the word mudra can also mean token, currency, or seal. Each hand pose, or mudra, represents a closed loop that’s believed to energetically seal the spiritual energy within the body.
The term “Hastha yoga” is also used to refer to hand-based yoga techniques, like mudras.
Our hands have a network of nerves and nerve endings. Practitioners believe that mudras stimulate these nerves, which in turn communicate with the brain.
“The practice of yoga mudra facilitates the flow of energy in the body,” says Elizabeth Huber, a yoga therapist, yoga nidra teacher training facilitator, and yoga health coach. “The specific mudras affect certain states of mind and create and maintain equilibrium in the five elemental energies in the body that helps in a healthy life.”
Huber also believes that mudras act as physical representations of mental phenomena.
“Mudras act as pathways to rewire the brain. By curling and touching the fingers we can access a mind-body connection, as each area of the hand corresponds to a certain part of the mind or body,” she says.
Superna Yamuna Chopra, a yoga acharya and holistic life coach, believes that mudras can be a pathway to self-realization.
Prana refers to life force in Sanskrit. Kundalini shakti refers to the energy of creation, said to be coiled at the base of the spine until enlightenment is achieved, and it ascends to the crown of the head.
These elements are represented by the five fingers. When you press your fingertips together, the corresponding elements are stimulated, Painuly says.
The five elements and corresponding fingers are:
|thumb||fire or “agni”||solar plexus||above the navel|
|index finger||air or “vayu”||heart||center of the chest|
|middle finger||air or “akash”||throat||hollow of the throat|
|ring finger||earth or “prithvi”||root||base of the spine|
|little finger||water or “jal”||sacral||between the sacrum and perineum|
There isn’t a lot of peer-reviewed scientific research around mudras for sleep.
Mudras are believed to have been used in ancient times to help relieve stress. Many Indian studies mention mudras as a culturally relevant practice that is believed to help with a number of ailments, like:
Some research compares mudra therapy to reflexology, acupressure, and acupuncture, which have shown some promise in aiding sleep. However, there aren’t enough high quality studies to confirm the parallels between these practices.
While mudras may be a helpful complementary practice when it comes to sleeping more soundly, more research is needed to confirm this.
Before getting started with mudras, Chopra recommends seeking out an experienced and culturally competent teacher.
“Yoga mudra unites the individual consciousness with the supreme consciousness, or the outer nature with the inner nature,” she says. “Mudras are a very advanced yogic practice and should be ideally taught by a seasoned and experienced teacher or guru.”
According to Huber, it’s best to start by rubbing the fronts and backs of the hands together to heat them up and activate the nerve endings.
Then, relax the hands and pay attention to the sensations before beginning the practice.
The mudras below are popularly used for sleep. It’s important to remember that experts suggest seeking training from a qualified practitioner.
- Shakti Mudra
- Prana Mudra
- Chin Mudra
- Gyana/Jnana Mudra
- Adi Mudra
- Apan Mudra
- Dhyani Mudra
- Ushas Mudra
- Ksepana Mudra
- Musti Mudra
- Shambhavi Mudra
- Shanmukhi Mudra
- Anjali Mudra
- Yoni Mudra
According to Painuly, mudras can be practiced lying down.
“There’s no harm if you fall asleep while holding the mudra,” he says. “You can put your hands on your chest, navel, or simply down besides your hips [while you practice].”
Yoga instructors suggest that measurable results can be observed when yoga mudras are performed daily, over an extended period.
Many of these include a level of meditation, a practice known to reduce stress and anxiety.
Many clinical studies also suggest that yoga mudras have beneficial results in their test subjects but always suggest that more research is needed.
Mudras are common in Indian classical dance and an important part of Hindu ritual practice. A Sanskrit text on performing arts from about 300 BCE, known as the Natyashastra, mentions 37 mudras and their energetic functions.
Mudras also have a special importance in Buddhism. Several mudras represent many events within Buddha’s life that lead him to self-realization. To many, the Buddha’s hand gestures represent a blessing or transmission of a meditative state.
Yoga and yogic meditation have deep roots in the Hindu and Buddhist religions. Many yoga mudras and related meditation practices are paired with chanting of phrases, mantras, or spiritual prayers that hold religious and cultural meaning for those who practice these religions.
Yoga, yoga mudras, and meditation are all inherently ritualistic and require trained guidance to be performed correctly. The practice of yoga and meditation benefits both the culture and the practitioner if it promotes an environment of mutual respect.
Yoga and meditation practitioners suggest that each element of the practice, and even the environment of practice, is significant. This is said to impact its effectiveness.
Yoga and yoga mudras represent a form of ancient wisdom that can serve as a complementary therapy. While they may offer support for sleep, they shouldn’t replace medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Clinically, yoga mudras need more research to confirm whether they can help with sleep issues.
Yoga-related activities are a popular part of wellness practices everywhere for many reasons.
However, many believe mudras are an advanced yogic practice and should be taught by a seasoned, culturally competent teacher.
With the ease and convenience of mudras also comes the responsibility of understanding how to harness the benefits of ancient wisdom while honoring the rituals and traditions associated with an active, living cultural practice.
Nandita Godbole is an Atlanta-based, Indian-origin food writer and author of several cookbooks, including her latest, “Seven Pots of Tea: An Ayurvedic Approach to Sips & Nosh.” Find her books at venues where fine cookbooks are showcased, and follow her at @currycravings on any social media platform of your choice.