Meditation Hands

Re-reading Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness recently got me thinking more about the specifics of my meditation practice. Posture, for example, is one of those things I hadn’t been paying close attention to anymore. I don’t mean that I was meditating in slumped over disarray. More that, after some years of practice, I have established my posture. Cross-legged. Seated on a cushion. Back straight. Neck long. Pelvic energy rooting down and my upper body’s energy rising, as if a string were pulling me gently up by the crown of my head. As for my hands, most often, they rest on my thighs, palms down, close enough to my body so that my shoulders and heart can open. Somewhere back in the mists of time I learned that palms down was grounding and palms up was for lightness and a more ethereal experience. But my reason for palms down is prosaic—I find it the most comfortable hand position.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try meditating with my hands in a mudra—palms up, thumb and forefinger lightly touching, the other fingers extended. Even though I mostly meditate alone and no one is watching, I’ve felt uncomfortable with the idea of using a mudra. Too many magazine-y images of yoginis in pristine white outfits, their faces a study in serenity, their perfectly manicured hands holding thumb to finger lightly. Mudras seemed twee, fake, over-earnest, precious, pretentious and just plain why?-ish.

At first, I felt nothing different, except the slight hitch as my body-mind adjusted to the different hand position. Then, about 30 seconds later, it was as if I’d been plugged in to a gentle, calming yet zesty energy feed. I felt … collected. Gathered.

Not that my mind didn’t wander. It did. Not that I didn’t lose my way. I did. But overall, I felt more invigorated, deeper inside the meditation. The union within and outside myself was more robust. At first, I thought, “Oh, it was just that day.” I was already in a union-y mood, a tuned in to the universe frame of mind. So, I tried the mudra again the next day. And the day after next. Each time, after 15-30 seconds, a similar sensation of plugged-in-ness. It’s been more than two weeks now. I’m continuing the experiment. There has been the inevitable feeling of growing accustomed to the plug-in. The energy doesn’t feel quite as special. At the same time, it is discernible, distinct and interesting. I’m not going to stop.

I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s something to this whole mudra business; those yoga practitioners with their thousands of years of wisdom. In preparation for writing this, I searched out the mudra I’ve been using. It’s called the Gyan mudra and is to improve concentration and sharpen memory. It’s the mudra for seeking knowledge. I like that. I also learned about other mudras, which I think I’d better try now. Who knows what new sensations I’ll encounter with my new meditation hands?

Oh, and one other tidbit I recently learned about my meditation posture. I had noticed over the last year or more that during my sits my head was often turning to the left. As if I were trying to listen to or look at someone or something over my left shoulder. Often, I wasn’t even conscious of the drift until I finished my meditation. A wise guide I encountered recently helped me piece the impulse together—I am listening for my female ancestors, my feminine (feminist!) lineage. I love that idea. But I also want to keep my head pointing forward and use my meditation to listen for all the wisdom. That might be something the Shuni mudra can help me with.



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