During a yoga class, you may find your teacher using various mudras throughout the practice. If you are unfamiliar with these, mudras are gestures (usually of the hand or fingers) which help you go deeper in your yoga practice. There are different mudras you can use, depending on what your intention is for that particular yoga practice that day. Mudra means seal or gesture and it is usually used to activate the life force (prana) in our body in a specific region. Mudras have an influence on our body and our overall mood therefore they are very effective. They can be used in your yoga class, but also in your day, if you feel the need to bring your attention inward and focus on a particular area of your body/state that may feel out of balance. There are many different mudras, and below are just some of the ones I use often and encourage others to do so.
Hakini mudra is achieved by connecting all fingers together to bring harmony in the whole body, mind and the elements (fire, earth, water, ether, air) You can use it during meditation or simply when you feel out of balance and want to bring more alignment within. Hakini means power and when used it can boost mental power, clarity, concentration and focus. It corresponds to the ajna chakra, which is the third eye chakra or the 6th chakra. It governs intuition, clarity of thought and brings light into your life path to see beyond what your ego creates and perceives as reality.
Padma mudra represents the lotus flower of the heart. To do this mudra, bring your palms together, connect the little fingers with each other and the thumbs together whilst opening wide the other fingers. Padma mudra is a powerful reminder of the beauty of our soul and its purity, and it helps us open our heart to giving and receiving love, the kind of love that is honest, pure and unconditional. Padma mudra activates anahata chakra, which is the heart chakra or the 4th chakra and it heals all the wounds we have encountered in regards to love, the blockages created to resist it, the emotional pain and suffering we may have felt. It frees us of the idea of attachment, entitlement or possessiveness when it comes to love and brings understanding to the true meaning of love, the selfless kind, the love which we simply give without expecting it back because we know love is already within all of us . It helps clear the mind and brings out the joy and compassion we all have within.
The yoni mudra is done by bringing the palms together, away from the body. Keep the index fingers together and the thumbs, and interlock the rest of the fingers so that the backs of the fingers are touching (as described in the book by Swami Satynanda Saraswati, Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha). This mudra is about bring the body in balance, the left and right side of the body together, this being represented by the fingers interlocked together and connected. Yoni mudra represents the second chankra, Swadishtana or the sacral chakra, which is about sensuality, sexuality, creativity. The element for this chakra is water and using the yoni mudra creates a nice stability to this flow, a balanced state of your mental, physical and emotional energy.
Probably the most well known and recognised, Anjali mudra is also known as the prayer posture in the Western world. Anjali mudra is done by bringing the palms together at the heart centre. Most yoga teachers will include the Anjali mudra in a class, maybe at the beginning or at the end for Namaste but it is also used throughout some of the poses. This mudra is about respect, honouring and acknowledging somebody. Most commonly known when used with Namaste in yoga classes, this means “The divine in me honours or bows to the divine in you”. It’s a beautiful way to invoke love, appreciation and a gesture of humbleness I find also.
I would like to thank my amazing yoga teacher and mentor Michelle Keminski from Transformational Hatha Yoga school who has taught me about the importance of mudras.
Is it pain or is it you resisting?
Through the years, I have learnt so much from my yoga practice. Sometimes the body goes deeper, other times it feels tenser. My daily yoga practice teaches me to nurture myself more, to give love to all parts of my body, to accept that not every day is going to be super amazing and bright and that is OK! Yoga is not about doing a pose perfectly and being very flexible, or about being super happy and feeling amazing all the time, but it’s about connecting with your body, noticing where you are today, how you are feeling, where you need to surrender and let go.
I find backbends the most challenging poses and this means they are the ones I need to work on the most. Yoga is about bringing the body, the mind and the emotional self in unity, working in harmony with each other, so if the mind resists, the body will follow also.
My difficulty as I learned was not because my body couldn’t go in the backbend, it is because I was making hard for myself by resisting to let my body go with it. During one of the training classes during my yoga teacher’s training, one of my amazingly gifted teachers Marita worked with me & showed me how I was actually resisting going deeper which is why the pain was created. Every time I attempted backbends, I would feel almost physically ill and I would panic, which meant I wasn’t breathing correctly in the pose. When the breath is not in sink, the pose will almost never work. These physical manifestations were actually the reaction of me going against where my body wanted to go to because of fear. I was afraid to let go and open up. So instead I would resist which created the tension ever deeper. Backbends also require us to open up the chest area which is our heart center and where all the emotions are stored. Working with these poses is a great way to open ourselves up to the world, to live with love and trust in ourselves and the universe. This of course is not always easy, hence why a daily practice is required to continue to progress and improve at this.
In our lower back tension is often created not only by muscular spasms, but also by all the emotional blockages we have created for ourselves throughout our life. Overtime these fears, negative emotions, holding onto things or people too much, closing off and losing trust all create a blocked energy and this makes the back less mobile and the spine less flexible. Start slowly and notice how you feel. Don’t push the body to go deeper and find your edge, but also don’t resist it if you can feel yourself sinking in more. This is when progress is made and when we are able to learn to let go of all that has been stopping us to open our heart and ourselves to the world.
The same principle applies to our everyday living. Are you resisting something which is causing you emotional pain and/or imbalance in your life? Can you dissociate yourself from it and simply observe what is actually happening? Take a deep breath and reflect on where you are at in this moment in time, what is happening inside of you and how you are perceiving this on an external dimension. I am still learning to go deeper, but progress is being made and even tough I find them difficult still, I am starting to enjoy working with my mind and body and just letting it all go, being in the moment and surrendering.
“The teacher appears when the student is ready “ …Thank you Marita for teaching me to surrender
I used to believe that confidence can be reached by achieving goals. After all, when we achieve our goals we get a big kick out of it and it feels good, right? This is what we have been conditioned to believe in. From a young age, when we do something good we get rewarded for it. At school our intelligence is measured mostly by the types of grades we get, completely ignoring the notion of emotional intelligence. So it comes as no surprise that most of us feel more confident only when we manifest something externally and the confidence levels raise even higher when we get acknowledged for doing so. For the last few years I have been pushing myself to achieve goals and become a better version of myself, instead of acknowledging who I already was. I’d set milestones in my career, to become the professional I always aspired to be. I created goals for myself to improve my body, to tone and feel better in my own skin. I started eating healthier foods, to cleanse my body and detox. I set financial goals so that I’d feel more secure in my life and be able to purchase things that I desired. But what happens when we achieve these goals?
Well science tells us that when we successfully tick something off our to do list, the brain releases dopamine, a chemical also known for making us feel good by increasing our sense of reward. But dopamine is also associated with addiction, so ultimately the more we achieve, the more we become addicted to achieving. But it makes us feel good, so we continue to search for more to do’s so we can get our next kick of feeling good and this continues until we habitually create a cycle of doing the action, achieving it, get the reward and then start again by finding new goals, creating more action and receive more rewards.
Endorphins are also released by the brain which give us a boost of energy and feel good vibes. These endorphins are great for our well-being when released in a balanced active lifestyle and amongst other functions they have, endorphins are also known for hiding away the pain. For example, when we engage in physical exercise and go for a long run, endorphins are released so no matter how far we run and how much strain we put on our muscles, we don’t feel it because endorphins hide away the pain. We get a boost of energy and we feel so good, almost unstoppable. But what happens when we stop running? After a couple of hours, we feel sore, our legs start to feel like jelly and the muscles start to hurt. This is because the endorphins that were released during the run helped us not to feel the pain, but once we finished, it all felt different because reality has kicked in and the high we felt from the endorphins has now disappeared.
So if we take all this in consideration, what happens then when we base our confidence levels on the accomplishments that we gain throughout life? The problem comes when we need to feel the next kick of dopamine and want to do more, because once that’s gone, we feel empty and our self-worth diminishes. So instead we continuously find new goals to achieve and create more to do lists just to feel empowered again, almost as if we deserve a reward for everything we do and that reward adds to our self-confidence. In the past few years, I have accomplished a lot. I say this, because looking back at all my to do lists I created for myself, I managed to somehow tick most of them off and made them happen. With this came a sense of self-confidence and I felt incredibly proud; it felt as though I can do anything and that the more I do, the better I feel about myself. But I also felt exhausted and identified this over achieving state to be interfering with my true self, because I was no longer embracing the experiences in the moment but instead pushing through these, just to get my desired outcome, which resulted in a boost of self-confidence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to push ourselves to get out of our comfort zone and achieve the things we want to, because this helps us discover new areas of the self we perhaps never had an insight into. However, when we start to base our confidence levels solely on what we achieve, this can become detrimental. It’s as if we are saying to ourselves we are not good enough unless we do this, or get there, or become that.
The best example in today’s modern society is social media. We are now living more through our Instagram and Facebook accounts, than actually being in the moment and living as we are. We take selfies and impatiently wait for the likes to start showing in our notification centre so that we can feel good about ourselves. We want to be liked, so when people like our photos, it gives us a big boost of confidence. We seek validation in the way we live our lives from both our loved ones and strangers on these social media accounts who like and comment on our images. These images show our reality the way we want to portray it to the world so that others can see just how amazing we are and how great our lifestyle is, but in fact what we are doing is creating an illusion that is slightly influenced by the actual reality and mostly influenced by the desire of how we want others to see our reality. So, if we need to seek that validation for that external reward, this simply means that we are relying on that next kick of dopamine to be released so that we feel good about ourselves. We get a like, and we get a kick from it. The same goes for when we look at ourselves in the mirror. Instead of facing the person looking back at us, we swap this experience for our phone camera. We take a quick photo, add some filters to it and post it for the world to see; then we add hashtags that are supposed to represent what we see and then we wait for others’ response to it instead of our own. We might also be tempted to reach for our make-up bag to paint over our imperfections so that we can see ourselves as perfect, instead of acknowledging that these imperfections are actually what make us unique and wonderful, just the way we are. And through all these conditioned behaviours, we have become masters of living as somebody else, a created self by our own ego in order to feel protected, liked and confident.
What I have learned through this process of almost obsessive goals setting and accomplishment is that we do not need to seek external gains in order to find our value so that we feel more confident. We are already complete human beings, we have been created this way. Our physical self helps us manifest everything that our soul is guiding us towards. But deep inside, we are complete and nothing we do externally should affect this. Instead the goals we set for ourselves should be congruent with the true essence of our soul. How can I best serve the world with what I already have? What is it within me that I can offer to the world, to those around me, to the environment that will add value to their lives and to all that’s around me because I want to not because I need to do so in order to feel better about myself? Confidence has nothing to do with how much better we become, or the more glamorous version of ourselves we reach. We must learn to start appreciating ourselves as we are, the complete beings we are in this present moment and regardless of all the amazing things we can do, those are just physical manifestations of our self. What really matters is how we respond and accept who we are internally. Instead of going to social media for the answers or achieving goals that validate just how amazing we are, we can start practicing meditation which takes us within, to connect with the true essence of our self, to explore the world as it is in the way that we are. We can start our day by doing yoga or going to the gym, focusing solely on being in the moment and enjoying our bodies and the amazing ways we can nurture ourselves, instead of jumping on the scales to see how much weight we lost or how much muscle we gained in order to create our next goal to be achieved during that morning exercise routine. We can start enjoying food simply by realising that it is the fuel to our body and not there to comfort us or to make us skinnier or happier. We can engage in actual real-life conversations and truly let ourselves experience those moments, instead of pressing pause on the experience to take a photo and turning this reality into an illusion on our social media channels and then inviting others in this experience, without them actually being part of that reality. We can choose what we do professionally based on who we really are, and not for the kick we want to have from reaching a higher status. Money can certainly make life easier at times, but to truly emerge yourself in experiences, without expecting any external gains to follow, that's true freedom! We can release our fears of not being rich enough, because wealth has more to do with our journey and how we walk our path than the size of our wallet or the digits in our bank account! And most importantly, we must feel grateful for the fact that we are here, in the present moment and truly embracing every bit of our own selves by allowing it to just be, instead of constantly trying to deny ourselves of it and reaching better versions of our self which are just illusions created by our ego so that we feel like we matter. The truth is, we all matter and our existence is very much needed and welcomed in this world, for if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t exist.
So the next time you reach for that to do list, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it so that you can get your next kick of reward and recognition from others, or is it something you are ready to do simply for allowing yourself to be part of an experience without expecting the outcome to add to your value, self-confidence and state of happiness.
The way you choose to start your day will determine how you will feel for the rest of it. The truth it most of us are completely aware of how important it is to prioritise our well-being, but sometimes don’t really know where to start. If life has been giving you lemons lately and you allowed them to rot instead of making lemonade, you may find it more difficult to get out of your current state of stress, confusion, anxiety, pressure, depression or whatever you are feeling at this point in your life that is blocking your true potential. The good news is that you do have it in you to make a change, but you must take 100% responsibility for it and take the first step. Every day is an opportunity to reinvent yourself, to be more open minded, to become more flexible in your approach, to love without expecting in it return, to be more focused, present and disciplined. And every moment in life is an experience which we can see with an open mind or from our ego’s perception. Ultimately, how we interpret what life brings for us influences our entire reality.
There is no such thing as a “bad day”. The word bad is the association we make to specific situations we react to in a matter we label as “bad” by comparing it with something we label as good. This is usually life seen through the ego self, that part of us which desires, craves more, creates our self-limiting beliefs and validates our fears by keeping us in an illusionary bubble of protection. Whilst the ego does play a part in our existence in the physical realm, learning to live from a deeper source will add more depth to our existence as a whole.
Wake up every morning feeling gratitude and find two aspects you feel thankful for. Some people may name five, ten, thirty whilst others will start with a small number. The important thing is to bring your awareness to these aspects and notice how it makes you feel when you show gratitude. Step out of the little bubble of self-entitlement and never-ending desires society teaches us to aspire to and connect with yourself, with that inner part of you that sometimes (in most cases more often than not) gets overshadowed by your ego. Give yourself some time first thing in the morning and get out in the nature before you get on with your activities for the day. You can go for a walk, choose to do some yoga or meditation in the park or if you are near a beach, simply sit by the water and relax, observe everything that's around you with an open mind and slowly shift your attention inward. Focus on your senses - breathe, see and feel the fresh breeze against your skin; hear the ocean waves or tree branches around you move freely with the currents, let the sun’s rays radiate warmth and light upon and within you. Take this feeling of inner peace and light with you throughout your day and when something takes you away from it, remind yourself of it once again and go back to that state. Whatever happens, just know that you have that power to bring that feeling back to you whenever you want. The more you practice this, the more consistent it will become. Open your heart, help others if you can, smile more. Become aware of everything that exists in the present and what is happening for you in the now. Look around you and realise there is more to your world than just yourself. Be thankful, explore and enjoy life!