Three Great Mudras for Your Workday

by Josh Ehrenreich

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A nice thing about mudras is they’re inconspicuous, they stay out of the way. You can be in an office meeting, a bus commute, waiting in line—and no one will even know you’re doing yoga with your hands! It’s not exactly the same as busting out a Warrior 1 in airport security.

Personally, I like integrating mudras throughout my day at the office. They encourage me to take an extra breath before jumping into reaction mode. I’ve found the following three mudras are especially well suited to modern life.

Apan Vaya Mudra—We’re distracted by hundreds of different interruptions, digital and physical, throughout our day. The Apan Vayu Mudra encourages one to sink into the bliss of a leisurely pause and find the beauty in stillness. In this incredibly fast moving, instant-information world, this mudra is my go to.

Bend your index finger to touch the base of your thumb and bring the tip of your thumb to touch the middle and ring finger. Rest your hands on your lap. For added affect turn your phone to vibrate and put your computer to sleep. Enjoy a few minutes of nurturing silence.

Kubera Mudra—Oh man, if you have a job that requires planning and goal setting, let me introduce you to your new secret weapon. This mudra creates momentum behind wishes, desires, and goals of all levels Trying to find that random email in your inbox from three weeks ago? Boom, Kubera has your back. Looking to position yourself for a promotion? Kubera is here to help.

Bring the tip of you thumb, index, and middle finger together with intensity. Important to this mudra is the mental attention you give to what you are trying to manifest—to recall a fact, less preparation is required, but for something more signifiant, say a promotion or successful execution of a project, take time to inquire whether this is truly in your, and the world’s, best interest.

Hakini Mudra—Research has shown that super-villains are on to something with all their finger tenting. The Hakini Mudra is recommended in many management courses as a technique to support memory recall and mental concentration. It also promotes balance between the right and left halves of the brain.

I use this in meetings a lot—it’s a wonderful way to focus on the meeting at hand rather than find excuses to distract myself. It also stimulates the lungs, which supports taking an extra breath, instead of jumping in and interrupting someone. Try it for yourself by bringing the corresponding fingertips and thumbs together. You can let it sit in your lap or on the table.

Mudras are incredibly powerful tools at our disposal. Their power is not just in their specific affects but also due to their ability to be executed at anytime. You don’t need to get to a studio or gym to do a mudra, just a hand and a couple of minutes. Try one today in a place you wouldn’t normally bust out into Lotus flow, and enjoy the benefits of a yoga wherever you are.

Josh believes in the importance of moving yoga beyond the studio and into everyday life. His even-tempo flow based classes focus on consistency of effort, breath, and attention. Beyond yoga, Josh spends his free time biking and listening to hip-hop. Catch up with him at the Lotus this August and September Monday and Wednesdays
8:30-9:30pm.

Seals of the Soul

*Repost*

by Valerie Starr

valerie

When I was growing up, I remember my mom taking sign language classes and coming home to show us kids the different signs. “Thank you”, “Please”, “What’s wrong with you” (my favorite) and “I love you” (still used to this day whenever I say goodbye to my mom). This was my first introduction to understanding that our hands can speak, our gestures have meanings, and our body language can say something

In asana practice we use different poses to do the same thing, connect and personify movements, gestures, and intentions with our body. Whether traditional poses brought to us by yogi’s past, or newer poses from the west, when we move our body with this kind of awareness we are creating language with our limbs.

Mudras are sign language (seals) of the soul. They are gestures to take our intentions further with the use of our hands. I have even heard them expressed as icing on the asana cake, something to bring us more fully into the present moment. We can use our hands, which can often times be limp or unexpressive or forgotten about in practice, to drive the pose deeper and bring more awareness. To seal the deal, so to speak.

One mudra that always seems to be speaking to me is the Ksepana Muda, the gesture of pouring out and letting go. As human beings we are constantly changing, shape shifting, and transforming who we are. The idea behind the Ksepana mudra is that we let go of the layers that no longer fit us: the identity, the preconceived ideas of ourselves, and the stuff that just doesn’t have any room in our lives anymore.

I often refer to the body as a storage unit. We accumulate past traumas, dramas, memories, habits, addictions, toxins, movements, and thoughts. It takes a constant clearing out process to help eliminate whatever negative energy we are storing and free that space up for what’s good. The entire practice of yoga is geared toward this action and to free of these things that bind us.

The Ksepana Mudra functions curiously like a hose. The fingers are clasped together, while the index fingers point out towards the ground, and the thumbs cross over each other. You can envision a stream of sludge or sewage pouring out of the index fingers unclogging the muck that has been stored for years, decades, or lifetimes. This mudra is to be held for 7–15 breaths with the concentration on the exhale.

It is no wonder that this mudra also stimulates elimination through the skin (sweat), lungs, and large intestines, releasing stored tensions as well for a physical and emotional clearing. It is all part of the letting go process.

With a baby on the way less then five weeks out, I find this mudra quite appropriate for my life. I am in a constant state of clearing and uncluttering my apartment, my body and mind. There has got to be an emptying out of my life to ensure space for this little one when he arrives. I don’t want my baggage to be stored in his closet so to speak.

An interesting occurrence I have recently been witnessing is my absorption of other people’s energy. This month I attended a large, 3-day music and arts festival here in San Francisco, surrounded by many people in a different situation than I was and found myself needing to have as much space as possible. Not only did I feel crowded but also like a sponge absorbing other’s energy that wasn’t always pure or aware. The Ksepana Mudra can help with draining the unconscious energy we pick up from others that we don’t want to hold onto.

Gertrud Hirschi, author of the book MUDRAS – Yoga in Your Hands, offers an affirmation to go along with the Ksepana mudra. “Spent energy in my body, mind and soul flows away from me, and I thankfully accept all things that refresh me.”

As you hold the mudra and think these positive thoughts you can envision the sludge becoming expulsed with each exhale; becoming more clear, all the while, knowing that this process of pouring out and letting go is a constant and gradual practice.

A Silent Language

by Laura Schadler

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Practicing the Abhaya Hridaya Mudra (Courageous Heart Mudra).

Mudras (or symbolic hand gestures) are a silent language of self-expression. As a fiction writer, I often consider the inadequacy of written language and words (as much as I love them, of course!). Even the most beautifully written phrase can only capture so much of our lived experience. After all, so much seems simply beyond words. It is exactly this energetic and wordless state that mudras give meaning, shape, and definition to. Through symbolism and intention, mudras allow us to connect more fully to our meditation and asana practice. Mudras are powerful on the mat, but equally powerful off of it as well. I oftentimes find myself forming a mudra in my hands when I’m on an airplane, when I need to wake myself up in the morning, or when I need to stay calm in a hectic moment. They serve as a beautiful energetic reminder whenever I need them.

Last year I was recuperating from a surgery, and I grew frustrated at not being able to return to my physical yoga practice as quickly as I wanted. During that time, I embarked on a more concerted study of mudras. I picked a new one each week and spent my time studying it, reading about it, and of course, practicing it. I completed my time with each mudra by gathering images that represented the energies of the particular shape. In lieu of trying to continue using words to describe this brilliant wordlessness, I will share two of my favorites with you below.

The Pran Mudra: Also known as the Life Mudra. In both hands, place the tips of the thumb, ring, and pinky finger together. Extend the pointer and middle finger. This is a good one to practice in seated meditation or in poses like Warrior 1 and Warrior 3 (or really any pose where the arms are extended).  This mudra is about tapping into our life force, igniting energy, clarity, vitality and strength. It can also bring us equilibrium and steadiness, supposedly even balancing out both parts of the brain (which as a very right brained person I am hoping is true!).

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The Shankh Mudra: Encircle the left thumb with the fingers of your right hand. Touch the right thumb to the extended middle finger of your left hand. Hold this shape in front of your heart. Your left thumb represents your higher self, and this mudra gives you a chance to connect with this higher self. Remember that you have everything you need within yourself.  The Shankh Mudra is also about tapping into the energy of the 5th chakra and the power of your voice. This mudra can be practiced with a mantra practice as well: Try chanting OM and then holding this shape for a few moments in the silence that follows.

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I am currently working with the Varuna Mudra, which assists us in breaking through areas where we are blocked. It helps us to let go and embrace change.

These are just three of so many possible mudras that you might practice. Nothing can substitute for just diving in and experiencing them for yourself! I highly recommend Gertrude Hirschi’s book “MUDRAS: Yoga in your Hands” which goes into great detail about many mudras and explains their physical, mental, and spiritual benefits, along with accompanying affirmations and even herbal remedies.

Mudras are rich, creative, and infinite. They can move us beyond words and allow us to explore in the depths beyond our more familiar languages.

Laura grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and has lived in San Francisco for the past 14 years. When she isn’t practicing and teaching yoga, she is hard at work on a novel. Yoga info and inspiration can be found at “Yoga with Laura” on Facebook.

The Divine Dance of the Hands

by Robin Wilner

*Repost*

Our hands are like the looking glass into our souls. We reflect our feelings, our moods, and our inner struggles through gestures without even realizing it. Do you clench your fists when you’re frustrated? Do things tend to slip through your fingers when you’re feeling anxious or depressed? Have you ever waved in a friendly greeting, given someone a cheerful thumbs up, clapped in excitement, or angrily raised your middle finger? Have you felt the impact of taking a new love’s hand for the first time? These are all subtle expressions that require no words, and yet they each have a complex simplicity that speaks volumes.

As a kid, when I had trouble finding the right words to express myself, I used my body through dance instead. Every limb had its own dialect to relate to the world, and even as I matured and my vocabulary grew, I still preferred the power of gesture as my form of communication. Whenever I tell a story even now, I use my hands and body to channel my thoughts. Until I found yoga, I had the hardest time keeping still. And then something shifted. I realized that my hands, creating their own special dance as conduits of my heart, were these incredible receptors of energy and healing. The stillness in meditation brought me such calm and clarity, and I was able to tap into my deepest Truth through the yogic hand expressions, or mudras.

In the ancient practice of yoga, a mudra (or “seal” in Sanskrit) is the mystic sign language that translates the deep intentions of our hearts. Whether we’re creating shapes while in a meditative seat or whole body mudras during our asana practice, we have the means to transform our energetic state. Some gestures may act as physical or emotional healers, while others may help to heal us spiritually or connect to our divine inner nature.

“Each mudra ultimately creates a special connection to cosmic consciousness, [and the] primary goal of yoga is oneness of humanity with cosmic consciousness,” says Gertrud Hirschi, author of Yoga in Your Hands. Whether we are in search of our own personal connection to the Source, are working to heal a relationship or let go of past emotions, want to enhance our breath, calm our minds, or need help making everyday choices with better clarity, there are numerous mudras from which to choose your expression. These are just a few of my personal favorites to help you along your journey:

1(1) Prithivi Mudra (stability): connect the thumb and ring finger together with the other fingers extended, resting both hands this way on your thighs. By stimulating the root chakra and connecting to the energy of the Earth, this mudra helps to create a powerful feeling of stability, security, and confidence.

2(2) Anjali Mudra (gratitude): place both hands together in front of your heart with the palms facing inward. As you sit with your breath, express gratitude for the abundance of blessings in your life. This will create harmony, balance, and peace of mind.

3(3) Garuda Mudra (inner freedom): clasp your thumbs with your right hand on top of your left and your palms facing your abdomen. This gesture activates circulation, refreshes the organs of the pelvis and chest, and creates a sense of fearlessness. Let this mudra take flight like an eagle above your head after several breaths and enjoy the inner freedom!

4(4) Hakini Mudra (concentration): place all ten fingertips together, leaving a sphere of empty space between both hands. This mudra stimulates brain activity and improves concentration. Place it centered onto the third eye, which is the seat of our intuition, thoughts and perceptions, to help clear the mind and improve memory.

5(5) Varada Mudra (forgiveness): point the left fingers downward with the palm facing forward, and rest the right hand in your lap or on your thigh. One of the popular gestures depicted by Buddhist and Hindu deities, this is a gesture of forgiveness and mercy. Practice being forgiving towards yourself for any past or present wrongdoings, as well as being merciful towards others who may have wronged you.

6(6) Lotus Mudra (purity): place both hands in front of your heart, keeping only the heels of your hands, pinkies and thumbs together. The rest of your fingers extend wide open, blossoming like the bud of a lotus flower emerging from the mud. This gesture of purity opens the heart to the goodness in all beings and to our true Divine nature.

Give yourself time to sit and explore these mudras fully. Discover the energetic feeling that comes up, whether it is uncomfortable or uplifting. And remember that your hands have the ability to express your Truth louder than words.

Robin is a passionate dancer/singer and yogi who loves to explore the power of expression through creative movement. You can flow with her at Laughing Lotus on Mon/Fri @12pm, Tues/Thur @9am, Fri @ 5:30pm, or Sun @ 10am.

Kali’s Fight

by Jen DeSimone

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Statue of Kali I bought at Mount Madonna last October

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Sri Yoda

Kali is one of the fiercest incarnations of the Divine Mother. In pictures and statues, she is often depicted wearing a necklace of human skulls, a skirt of human arms, holding a severed head in one hand, and stepping on the body of a god, her husband Shiva. This illustrates Kali at the critical point in the most famous story about her: how she vanquished the demon Raktabija.

The gods were fighting a horde of demons including Raktabija, whose name means “blood seed,” but they could not defeat him because every time a drop of his blood fell to the ground, a duplicate of him would arise. Unsure of how to subdue such an enemy, the other gods turned to the goddess Parvati. Parvati transformed herself into the warrior goddess Durga and then rode into battle on her magnificent lion to fight Raktabija. With her many arms each wielding a weapon, she was able to cut and wound him, but when his blood fell to the ground, still new copies of him would arise. Soon, there were thousands upon thousands of Rakabijas.

When it became clear to Parvati/Durga that she too could not conquer Raktabija, Kali sprang from Parvati/Durga’s forehead. She devoured all of the clones of Raktabija and then she grabbed hold of the demon. She cut off his head and then caught and drank all of his blood so not a single drop fell to the ground.

Afterward, she turned her attention to the other demons and tore them all apart. Still drunk with Raktabija’s blood, she began killing all living creatures in her path. The gods started to worry that Kali was out of control so they turned to the god Shiva, her consort, for help. In response, Shiva threw himself beneath his beloved’s feet. When Kali realized she was trampling on her husband, the effects of the bloodlust burned away. Eventually, she turned back into Durga and then reverted back into Parvati.

There are many ways to interpret this fight between Kali and Raktabija. Some see this as a struggle between the ephemeral and the eternal, where Raktabija represents the present moment and Kali, whose name means time, is eternal. Some see this as the victory of being able to look beyond who we think we are and see who we truly are, where Raktabija is asmita (“ego”) and Kali is Atman (“Self”). In rereading the story today, however, I viewed the battle to be between man and fear. With his blood, Raktabija plants his seeds of fear which sprout as anger and then blossom as hatred.

We are all Kali, thrust upon a battlefield to conquer fear, anger and hatred. Fear is a slippery foe as it can manifest in many different forms and in many different ways. Fear is also highly contagious. Raktabija’s blood, in just touching one particle of dust, can plant fear. Kali herself, we see from this story, is not immune. After she drinks Raktabija’s blood, she goes on a lethal rampage and it only when Shiva sacrifices himself that she realizes that she had become the very thing she was fighting against. With this realization, she is able to stop.

This is a relevant story today because we live in a time where fear has been sown, anger has taken root and now we are reaping the fruits of hatred. People are being murdered because of their religion, race, nationality, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Terror has taken the world hostage.

When faced with these atrocities, this is when we are Kali fighting Raktabija on that battlefield. We are using everything in our intellectual, spiritual and moral arsenal to fight against others’ fear, anger and hatred of us. But, as we see from Kali, it is so easy to be infected by Raktabija, and then we too can become agents of fear, anger and hatred. We see that happening all the time in the news where key political figures counsel bigotry and division.

Unfortunately, it’s become a daily if not moment by moment struggle to keep fighting the good fight. When it becomes overwhelming or I start to lose hope, I remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says about conquering hate: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This struggle is hard and there are days when we want to just throw in the towel. But, as yoga tells us, everything is a practice. All we can do is pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try it again. Again and again and again until no trace of Raktabija is left on the face of this planet.

Jen first discovered yoga in 2001 and has been practicing it ever since. Since completing her 200 hour teacher training with Laughing Lotus four years ago, Jen has been offering classes where students are met where they are. You can follow her on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bloomingfloweryoga/.

Teach Me, Mama Earth

by Tina Spogli

Big Sur_Half Moon

Often the best thing we can do for ourselves when life gets crazy is to get outside. The summer season can leave most of us feeling a bit overwhelmed with activities and obligations. In the world of ayurveda (the science of life), summer is pitta season, meaning more fire and action. We need grounding Earth energy to find our center more than ever during this time.

So last weekend when a spontaneous invitation to camp in Big Sur was presented, amidst the craziness of things to do, it felt right to choose nature. Something undeniably happens when we return to the arms of Mama Earth – all of the other ‘stuff’ sort of just melts away. You’re left in the moment, with an indescribable connection with everything around. It’s only when we become fully present in nature that we’re able to receive her messages.

When we arrived in Big Sur, we drove to a camping spot at the top of one of the mountains. It was sunset, and words can’t really describe the incredible views, though I’ll try. We were so high up that you could see the cloud line below. Across the way there were more mountains with rows and rows of beautiful green trees, and an ocean that seemed to go off into infinity. The magic continued into the night, as one by one the stars appeared before us, and the crescent moon shed light onto the darkness. The Big Dipper and the Milky Way also made their appearance. Since we were above the clouds, it felt like we were so close to the cosmos that we could feel the vibrations of the stars.

When we look up at the cosmos, it’s a reminder that there is something beyond our scope of understanding. One of the things we know about space is that it has no end. Yoga teaches us that everything is linked together by Shakti – a feminine power source responsible for the creation of all things in our world. Wherever there is energy, Shakti is working – and everything is energy. Alan Watts says, “You didn’t come into this world, you came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.” We are indeed connected to all life – we are tied to the mountains, the wildflowers, the trees, the sun, the moon, the stars…and even to that unknown space in the cosmos!

Our yoga practice aims to connect the two selves – the known physical self, and the unknown cosmic self. The path to the unknown begins with our feet firmly planted in the known. Now is the time to connect with Mama Earth, to open our eyes, ears, and hearts to her great lessons. The mountains remind us of strength and foundation, the trees teach the importance of stillness, the ocean tells us we are vast and deep, the flowing streams show us the beauty of adaptability, and the cosmos reminds us that there is an unknown. David Polis says, “Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”

Now go get outside!

Tina developed a deep love for quieting the body and mind during her time living in one of the loudest cities. Yoga found Tina in 2007 while she was living in New York, and the practice quickly became her sanctuary amidst all of the hustle.

She believes in the transformative process of yoga, with its ability to bring us back into our bodies and breath, and stretch our mental limitations of what we think is possible – both on and off the mat. Her mantra is to come as you are, and observe what unfolds. Tina’s classes are thoughtful and intentional, sharing inspiration from her personal practice and life.

Tina is a 250 RYT, and a graduate from Laughing Lotus in New York and San Francisco. When she is not on the mat, you can find her in nature, exploring
photography, and hanging with her animal friends! She is very grateful to be a
part of the Laughing Lotus community of the east and west, and is thankful for
this space to share her heart and energy with you.

The Divine Mother and all her forms

by Astrud Castillo

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My experience with this theme always comes back to the way I relate to the Earth and Mother Nature and how that reflects in my relationships and Yoga.

This topic now has a name, it is called Eco Yoga. This would be the study of the environment in which plants, animals, and humans live, and the application of moral and spiritual principles of Yoga, an ancient practice, while applying it to our modern situation.
We can apply the Yamas (how we relate to others) and the Niyamas (how we relate to ourselves) to how we relate to Mother Nature.

I heard the acronym G.O.D standing for the Great Out Doors.
I believe in the sanctity of the great outdoors and know the power of connecting to spirit through a walk in the woods, a hike on the mountain, or a nap in the park.

So I ask myself: How can I apply the Yama-Ahimsa (nonviolence) to consciousness about what our planet needs? In what ways am I harming the environment? And how can I lighten my carbon footprint?

I picked some examples of how we can apply these principles starting with the Yamas:

AHIMSA translates to Nonviolence or reverence to ALL forms of life. The main practice here would be to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. We are invited to be mindful of how we may cause suffering to animals and even plant life. If you choose to consume animal products, be mindful to not support the widespread and cruel practice of factory farming. Get educated! Join P.E.T.A

SATYA means truthfulness. Can we be honest about our situation with the environment? How can we stay informed and not fall into a pit of ignorance around these issues. We must remain awake on all fronts, not just for our own salvation but for the salvation of our surroundings. We might be concerned about the local air quality if we practice pranayama (breath control). And in order to sustain healthy bodies and eating habits we want to make sure our fruits and vegetables have not been laden with pesticides. Here is a site to keep you informed and to inspire you! earth911.com

APARIGRAHA means not hoarding or taking only what we need and relating to life in a balanced, non-grasping manner. Do I respect the rights of others to share limited resources? If you take something, consider how you can replenish it.

Here are a few examples of some Niyamas and how they help us relate to the environment:

SAUCA means cleanliness. I may consider how respectful of the environment I am. Do I pick up after myself or ask how I contribute to pollution? How I can eliminate it from the environment and my own life?

TAPAS means discipline or commitment. Am I personally committed to making an effort and making a difference no matter how small?

ISVARAPRANIDHANA translates to devotion to the Divine or to reality. G.O.D, the Great Out Doors! Do I revere nature and make an effort to commune and connect to my source and have respect for not only my inner environment but my OUTER environment too?

There are numerous efforts we can make. Maybe riding a bike instead of driving a car, or changing light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs to avoiding products with a lot of packaging (reducing your garbage by 10% reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 1,200 pounds). Planting a tree (a single tree absorbs one ton of carbon dioxide over it’s lifetime) or turn off electronic devices when not in use. The most powerful effort you could consider would be going vegetarian. 51% or MORE of global green house gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture!!!

These are some basic concepts most of us are familiar with.
We are now starting to look at them through the Yogic lens.
It is said we have two eyes we look out of, but really one we truly see from. Developing a relationship with the natural world and what sustains us as a species helps us to rediscover wisdom and live in the harmony and balance we seek as Yogis.

Jai Ma…
Astrud

Astrud teaches Yoga, leads her Kirtan group https://www.facebook.com/Astrud-and-the-Cosmic-Caravan-126578667531850/ and leads retreats to India. *Upcoming retreat to India October 20-November 17th 2016 – For Info on all the above check out http://yogawithastrud.com/ Or my FB page https://www.facebook.com/AstrudMaitriYoga/