Here we are, nearing the end of 2020 and it seems like many of us are struggling with our mental health, myself included. My meditation and yoga practice plus time out in nature have been my saving grace, what about you? You might be here because you read my book, The Little Book of Mudra Meditations, or maybe you’re here because you are looking for tools like mudras or meditation to help manage your anxiety.
Anxiety can show up in a variety of different ways… from feeling frozen in place, having irrational fears, and being unable to move forward to racing thoughts, panic attacks, and sleepless nights to irritability and agitation. Please remember to treat yourself and loved ones with kindness and compassion when you (or they) are dealing with anxiety.
In this blog post, I will share some of the tools, hand mudras specifically, that I use to help move through anxious moments. I’ve found these four hand mudras for anxiety, combined with a few minutes of breathing and meditation can help shift my perspective from anxiety-ridden to grounded and calm, or at least to be calmer and more grounded! If you are experiencing anxiety, I encourage you to find someone you can talk to… a therapist, counselor, or even a trusted friend. Hand mudras are a wonderful tool for healing and are often used in addition to traditional therapy and complement it well.
Why Do Mudras Work?
Hand mudras work for a handful of reasons — pun intended. Mudras are basically intentional yoga poses for your hands. Mudras direct your prana (life force energy — like chi of Traditional Chinese Medicine) and focus your intention and awareness. They are usually combined with meditation, although some can be used during your yoga practice, walking around town, or while navigating a stressful situation.
A Brief History of Mudras
Some of the hand mudras date all the way back to the Vedas, an ancient Indian text over 4000 years old. Hand mudras, or gestures, are used in yoga, Indian dance, and Ayurveda. Ayurveda is yoga’s sister science of health and wellbeing. It looks at your ENTIRE being and seeks to restore balance through lifestyle, diet, etc. Beyond India, hand gestures are used across cultures to convey intention, for example, hands in prayer, peace fingers, fingers crossed, etc.
You can use hand mudras for anxiety to feel more grounded, stable, supported, peaceful, content, calm, capable, secure, trustful, and less agitated. And those are just a few of the benefits I have noticed in my own experience and while working with my yoga students.
Four Mudras for Anxiety and Healing: Bhu, Apan Vayu, Kalesvara, and Chinmaya
Bhu Mudra For Anxiety
The first mudra for anxiety that I would like to introduce to you is Bhu Mudra. Bhu means “Earth” in Sanskrit and is linked to the Hindu Mother Earth goddess Bhumi Devi. She is sometimes simply called Bhudevi. In the Hindu pantheon, she is the consort of Vishnu’s avatar, Varaha. Bhumi Devi, much like Mother Earth herself, is considered a mother Goddess and as such, she is a nurturer and sustainer of life. Like Lakshmi, she brings abundance and blessings. Her iconography often depicts her holding a water vessel, a bowl of sacred herbs, a blue lotus, and demonstrating Abhaya Mudra. Abhaya mudra is the mudra for fearlessness. By calling in the energy of Bhumi Devi we are asking for her assistance to move through fear, to nurture and nourish us, and ground us in our connection to Mother Earth.
Bhu Mudra Benefits
- Stability, security, and sense of safety
- Groundedness & rootedness
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Helps us move through fear with ease
- Connection to the nurturing energy of Mother Earth and goddess Bhumi Devi
How to Practice Bhu Mudra
- If it’s possible, I would encourage you to sit on the ground, however, I know that sitting on the ground isn’t always practical, so any upright seat will do.
- Gently fold your ring finger and your little finger into your palm and gently place your thumb over your ring and little finger.
- Extend your middle and index fingers long.
- Bring your arms down to your sides and gently place the tips of your middle and index finger down onto the earth.
- If you’re seated in a chair, ground your feet into the earth and place your middle and index fingers onto your thighs, just above your knees. The palms of your hands will face downward.
Bhu Mudra Meditation
Find a comfortable seat on the ground (if possible). Settle into your seat, bring your hands into Bhu Mudra and bring your index finger and middle finger to gently rest on the surface of the earth. Perhaps even wiggle them around a bit and feel the blades of grass, the softness of the soil or firmness of the stone. Take a moment to close down your eyes and simply become aware of your connection to the earth beneath you. Become aware of the weight of your seat settling into the support of Mother Earth and feel the connection of your fingertips against her skin: earth, soil, grass, stone, etc.
Cultivate and sharpen your awareness
Bring your awareness back to your seat and as you inhale envision a golden light flowing up through your seat, up through your chakras along your spine, up through the crown of your head. Then as you exhale envision this golden light pouring down from the crown of your head over the surface of your skin, down your arms to your fingertips and down to the earth. Golden light flows down the front and back of your body, down your thighs, legs, hips and pelvis down to the earth. The surface of the ground beneath you is alive with golden light. Your body is enveloped in golden light.
As this light continues to flow up your spine and then down the surface of your skin, envision every cell of your body being nurtured, held, and supported by the sweet energy of Mother Earth. Like a mother caring for her children, she takes away your pain, your stress, your worry. She takes away your fear of the unknown and she churns and composts it into that which is rich, fertile, and nourishing. Invite her nourishment to flow up the central channel along your spine and allow it to cascade down through your body.
Stay with this imagery until you feel calm, grounded, and peaceful. Sit for a moment or two longer and then slowly and mindfully transition back into your day.
Perhaps an affirmation resonates more?
When working with Bhu Mudra you might find it helpful to work with a mantra or affirmation. I particularly love this affirmation by Jennifer Reis, “My roots run deep into the core of the living earth.” If the above meditation doesn’t resonate with you, try using an affirmation like the one here or create your own.
Apan Vayu Mudra for Anxiety
Apan Vayu Mudra is another mudra that works with the Earth element. It is thought to increase the earth element (think grounded, stable, supported, safe), the fire element (action, heat), and akasha/ether (space/void) and it down-regulates the air element. According to Ayurveda, excessive air element in the body can lead to nervousness, flightiness, erratic behavior, and even panic attacks.
Apan Vayu Mudra, according to the ancient rishis (seers in India), is used to promote heart health and should be used during a heart attack while on your way to the hospital. This mudra is occasionally called the Lifesaving Gesture for the Heart. To be honest, I was quite skeptical when I heard that it could be used during a heart attack, but a small study published in 2017 shows promise. However, a much larger study needs to be done to really know and understand its efficacy.
That being said, I don’t practice this mudra for heart health (although I know that it’s working its magic there too). I practice it when I’m losing my sense of calm, when my mind starts racing, when I’m nervous, and even before public speaking. I use this mudra for anxiety when I am in the moment… I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, so let’s get right into the practice.
Benefits of Apan Vayu Mudra
- Calms the mind and nervous system
- Lessens panic attacks
- Heart health
How to Practice Apan Vayu Mudra for Anxiety
- When possible, I like to practice this mudra in a comfortable seat — if that’s not an option, sometimes I’ll do the mudra and jam my hands in my pocket, not traditional, but sometimes you do what you have to do.
- Bring your index finger down to the base of your thumb.
- Then bring the tips of your middle finger and ring finger to the tip of your thumb.
- Keep your pinky extended long.
- Place your hands on your thighs or knees
- Practice for up to 30 minutes.
A Pranayama & Meditation for Apan Vayu Mudra
Unfortunately, many of us aren’t taught how to breathe properly. We’re taught to constantly suck in our bellies and we carry loads of tension in our back and shoulders — our breath potential is wildly limited. Our breath is one of the most powerful tools we can use to regulate our nervous system.
Dirga Swasam, Three-Part Belly Breath
We’ll start with a yoga breathing technique called Dirga Swasam. It’s essentially a full belly breath. To practice Dirga Swasam, bring one hand to your belly and one hand to your heart. Inhale and send your breath down to your belly. Your belly expands, then your rib cage expands, and finally, your collarbones lift. As you exhale, it’s the reverse: collarbones drop, chest softens and the belly draws toward the spine. Balance the length of your inhales and exhales. You might find it helpful to count your breath, usually, a four-count breath is a good place to start. Breathe like this for 3-5 minutes or until you feel calm.
Now let’s move on to Square Breath. This is one of my favorite breathing techniques. I find it incredibly grounding. However, if you felt like Dirga Swasam was challenging or holding your breath causes you anxiety I encourage you to stick with the Dirga Swasam practice a bit longer. For square breath, all parts of the breath are the same length. I like to use a four-count. One round of breath goes like this: inhale for a four-count, pause at the top for a four-count, exhale for a four-count, and pause at the bottom for a four-count. You might find it helpful to envision a square. If you lose track, don’t worry about it. Simply begin again.
Feel free to stay with the breath practices above or add on a mantra. When I’m nervous and anxious I find that my meditation needs to be easy. If it’s not easy I get stuck thinking about whether I’m doing it right! So the mantra I like to use is “I am”. Inhale “I”. Exhale “am”. The Sanskrit version is “So hum”. Inhale “so”. Exhale “hum”. I like to use the Sanskrit version because I can hear the sound in my breath, but choose the version that works for you. Recite the mantra quietly and internally to yourself for 5-10 minutes.
Kalesvara Mudra for Anxiety
I have an affinity for mudras that bring awareness to our heart center, our essence, and Kalesvara is no different. The gentle pressure of thumbs against the sternum, even if I’m overcome with grief or stress of frustration this mudra helps anchor me back into this essence. This mudra not only brings our awareness to our heart, the home of the divine, it also creates the shape of a heart and a temple. How perfect is that?
Benefits of Kalesvara Mudra
- Calms the mind
- It has a cooling effect that can reduce agitation
- Helps create space between our thoughts, so we can respond vs. react
- Reduces anxiety and stress
- Can assist with addiction recovery
- Can assist the process of habit change/evolution
- Quiets the constant bombardment of thoughts and brings them under our control
- Can help calm our emotions
How to Practice Kalesvara Mudra
- In a comfortable seat bring your hands in front of your heart.
- Bring the pads of your middle fingers to touch and the thumbs to touch.
- Fold your little finger, ring finger, and index finger in so the second knuckles touch. You’ll see a heart form.
- With the middle fingers extended you will see the shape of a temple.
- Gently bring your thumbs to your sternum.
- Hold the mudra for 10-20 minutes each day. This can be broken into a couple of smaller practices. Sunrise and sunset are potent times for mudra and meditation.
A Heart Meditation for Kalesvara Mudra
In a comfortable seat, bring your hands into Kalesvara Mudra. Thumbs to the sternum.
Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your heart center. Take a moment to connect with the sacred rhythm of your breath and your heartbeat.
Now envision a tiny flame within your heart center. This flame represents your highest self, the divine within, and your true essence at your core. It is good; it is beautiful; it is love; it has your best interests at heart.
With each cycle of breath invite the flame to grow. Each breath fans the flame of your essence. Golden, white light emanating from your heart center, your temple. The white light expands and fills every cell within your body with divine essence. As this knowledge and wisdom settle in, realize that you are good. You are beautiful; you are enough; you are love, you are loved, you are divine. Allow this wisdom to wash over your body and bring you peace.
Chinmaya Mudra for Anxiety
Chinmaya mudra is the gesture of awareness. It is translated as supreme wisdom or awareness and is a tool to tap us into the ancient wisdom of the divine. I like to practice Chinmaya mudra when I know that I am ruminating on something… maybe I made a mistake or I’m not sure how to go forward and I am consumed by it.
I’m typically a “good” sleeper and fall asleep with ease, but occasionally I am struck with anxiety-induced restlessness and insomnia, and usually, it’s because my mind is fixated on something. Chinmaya mudra can help anchor awareness into the present moment, the breath and the physical body, and unburden our mind and heart by helping us process our life experiences with ease.
Much like Apan Vayu mudra and Vajrapradama Mudra, Chinmaya Mudra helps bring awareness to our inner innate wisdom, the wisdom of the heart and it teaches us to trust this wisdom.
Benefits of Chinmaya Mudra
- Helps lengthen the breath and promotes the function of the breath
- Improves the flow of prana
- Helps sleeplessness/insomnia
- Creates a sense of rootedness and support
- Promotes trust in our inner wisdom and intuition
- Lessens rumination
- Helps release lethargy/stuckness/weight gain
How to Practice Chinmaya Mudra for Anxiety
- Bring the thumb and index fingers to touch like you would practicing chin mudra.
- Then curl the middle, ring, and little fingers into your palm.
- Whether you practice seated or lying down, you can practice with palms up or down. I find turning the palms down provides a more grounding experience.
Chinmaya Mudra Meditation
Find a comfortable posture… this could be seated or lying down, just make sure that it is not distracting. Bring your hands into Chinmaya Mudra and close your eyes. Take a moment to center. If you’re struggling to center, bring your awareness to your breath and lengthen out your exhale breaths. Notice the physical sensations as your breath flows into your nostrils, through the nasal passages, down the back of the throat into your lungs, and then follow this breath as it exits your body. Follow your breath until you feel centered. When you feel centered you can repeat the following mantra, “I trust my intuition. My higher self and my intuition work together for my highest good. My intuition teaches and guides me as I move through life’s challenges.”
I have one other mudra that I practice for anxiety and that is Vajrapradama Mudra. It’s a mudra for unshakeable trust and courage and it helps me move through those moments of feeling insecure or incapable. I’ve already gone over Vajrapradama mudra here on the blog, so I’ll just link it here.
I hope that you find these mudras for anxiety helpful. I encourage you to choose one that resonates with you and stick with it for a bit. Please feel free to reach out with questions or join me on a retreat to learn more.
Love and Light,