Today I had my second-to-last yoga class. Just one more, and I’m done with this training program. I’ll be a ‘real-live’ yoga teacher…on paper, anyway. It’s kind of strange to think about, actually. But, I’m not done yet – so on with today’s class.
This tech session was about mudras, which are various hand positions that are usually used to enhance the energetic quality of an asana (pose). Translated, “mudra” means ‘lock’ or ‘seal’ – as in, a mudra locks in or seals in the energy of one’s own body, thereby intensifying it. Mudras can also be used to re-direct energy. So how does a mudra actually ‘work’? Well…let’s say I have some sort of illness. I could have a common cold, or an injury, or a disease… just some physical malady. Yoga says that the right mudra can direct energy to the place in the body that is ailing; and that specific energetic concentration can help with the healing process. It’s like getting a fresh, increased supply of bone marrow, or blood platelets, or stem cells – but all originating from one’s own body, and without requiring any external interventions (like transfusions or injections). Mudras can also be used as a spiritual aid; in that application, a person uses the external force of a specific hand position or body position to help individual energy connect with the larger cosmic energy all around, and/or to help physical human energy connect with spiritual divine energy – thus, helping the person awaken to their real, true, already perfect and enlightened Self.
If you’ve traveled with me on this year-long training journey, you may recall that I have struggled with the whole notion of energy, chakras, mantras, and the like. So, I’m not entirely sure why I signed up for this specific tech session…. I mean, I didn’t have to take this class – there were certainly other options I could have chosen. And yet, I found myself in this specific session…so I have to assume there is some ‘reason’ as to why I arrived here. After a bit of reflection, I think I landed in this class in part because of logistics: I’m ready to close this training process, and move on to something else – and this tech was offered at a good day and time to help me accomplish that goal. But, I think that reason is a relatively small one; I think a larger reason why I signed up for this class is because I feel ready to explore yoga at a deeper level. Six months ago, I completely shut down/shut out any hints of ideas around energy bodies, koshas, nadis, and the like; but after my recent experiences with Yoga Nidra, and Restorative Yoga, and yogic meditation, I felt my mind and my spirit open up a bit more, and be willing to at least listen to instruction about these topics; and so, here I am. They say when the student is ready…. I guess I’m at a spot where I’m at least a little bit ready.
So, anyway… I’m in today’s class. Sitting on my yoga mat, pen and paper in hand, ready to receive whatever instruction might be offered about mudras. Energy. Hand positions that supposedly have the power to change my life. Okay, bring it.
Then the instructor says that she has never taught this topic before. Uh-oh. But, Stef, stay open – this teacher has been teaching yoga for many, many years; I’ve taken a few classes from her before and trust her knowledge; so, let’s give this a fair shake. Okay, ready to receive.
Then, the instructor says that she has learned most of what she will be teaching us today through reading books; that’s she’s still quite a novice when it comes to mudras, that she’s never studied this topic with a real-live teacher before. Uh-oh number two. I can read a book, and learn via the written word; I don’t need to spend 90 minutes in a classroom setting to get that kind of an experience… But Stef, wait; the teacher will probably add more examples and personal stories than what I might get from a book, so just stay cool. Breathe. Focus. Okay, I’m back to being ready to hear whatever will be shared. Bring on mudras.
Then, the instructor said that mudras have a strong alignment with Kundalini Yoga … Uh-Oh Number Three. (Click on the link if you want to read about my past experiences and thoughts regarding Kundalini Yoga. The one-sentence summary of them is that they aren’t overly-positive.) Seriously… seriously? At this point in the class (which was all of about 10 minutes in), I felt like I was being tested. I ‘claim’ I’m ready to learn about mudras, but am I really ready? Really? I felt resistance pop up again and again in a matter of minutes; the question then became what was I going to do with it, about it?
Without even really ‘thinking’, I made the (semi-conscious, semi-intuitive) decision to keep an open mind during this tech session. As each nagging concern, doubt, and experience of displeasure or annoyance surfaced, I saw it, acknowledged it, and then gently set it aside. I repeatedly turned my attention back to the instructor, and listened and participated as fully as I could in the task at hand, with as few judgments clouding my mind/heart as possible. And I’m pleased to report that after a few minutes of this active back-and-forth, acknowledging-and-releasing, seeing-and-setting-aside, I found a space where I could settle in, and allow the information to come instead of keep pushing against it. It felt like an internal pendulum eventually slowed to a very tiny rocking at the center.
And from that place of moderate openness, I learned some helpful things. I learned that mudras are just tools, just aids to enhance and deepen the yoga practice. Mudras don’t replace yoga, they just help focus and hone intention; and it’s through intention, the sincere desire and earnest application of effort towards experiencing union of breath/body and mind/heart, that the transformative power of yoga is released. Mudras can just help establish and deepen that connection. I also learned that deities (Hindu deities were mentioned specifically, but the concept applies to all deities) are just tangible representations of classical archetypal energies. So Ganesh in-and-of-himself isn’t to be respected or revered, so much as the energy he represents – the power of new beginnings, and of cleared obstacles. The Incas had their sun god, and Native Americans prayed to the rain god; and all of it is just a way for humans to try and understand something that is beyond us; something that is so profound and vast and powerful and omnipotent that we have to somehow try to contain it, label it, name it, in order to even begin to understand it. And I was reminded that yoga is as much an ancient wisdom as it is an ancient science. As such, we may not always know how or why yoga techniques work – but that doesn’t change the fact that they do work. Just because we can’t ‘prove’ everything from a purely scientific perspective doesn’t mean certain practices aren’t valuable – if something yields beneficial results, do we really have to understand the how or why of it? Just look at acupuncture, meditation, other non-Western healing modalities; ‘modern science’ (as we like to define it) only very recently began to be able to ‘prove’ the value and genuine physiological benefits of these practices, yet they have yielded very real benefits for literally thousands of years… So who’s to say that mudras aren’t also in this same category of ‘helpful-but-not-fully-provable-at-this-moment’ tools? If they help, shouldn’t they be used? They can’t really do harm, can they?
And so, the message of the session became: Just try. Stay open, and experience, and see what happens. Then make a decision. But no need to dismiss outright, based on nothing but prejudice or skepticism… just, pause. Wait. Try.
So I did. In the remaining 60 minutes of class, we sampled about a dozen mudras (of the over 500 that are available to be used). We tried mudras for grounding, and for receiving; for facing fear, and for deepening trust; for reducing anxiety, and for increasing love…. and at the end of the experimentation period, I did feel that some of the mudras had an impact on me. Granted, some of them didn’t feel like anything special; but I did feel some energy begin to shift inside of me with a few of them. I’ll be darned – perhaps there is something ‘valid’ to this whole mudra/chakra/energy thing after all. ;)