The Gestures of Meditation

Updated on March 11, 2019
Stephen Austen profile image

S.P. Austen has practiced, written on and taught the subject of meditation for over 40 years.

Most people have not heard of the gestures of meditation; in the yoga system, they are referred to as mudras in the plural, or mudra in the singular. Mudra simply means a seal or gesture. These gestures refer to certain hand postures that the sincere meditator may either adopt deliberately or move into, as it were, as a natural process during deep meditative states. I outline seven of these gestures or mudras below, which you may wish to use as part of your regular meditation practice.

It is a natural progression of the meditative condition that your hands will feel the need to be 'placed' in certain 'gestures'. More so is this the case if you are seated in the lotus or half-lotus postures, although even sitting in a chair may evoke the same hand placement inclination. I am not referring to fidgeting or adjustments made to get comfortable; these hand placements are definite gestures which have spiritual significance and evoke a corresponding influx of spiritual energy as a result of the intention behind the gesture which parallels the outer symbolic placement of the hands.

Everyone has seen images of Buddha in meditative repose, and we have all seen other images of individuals in a classic meditative posture with the back of each hand resting on the knee and the finger-tip and thumb joined forming a ring and the other three fingers extended straight out. We may also be familiar with the gesture of Buddha having his hand poised in teaching. We have also seen images of Jesus with one hand raised in blessing, having the little and ring fingers tucked in and the thumb and two forefingers raised in benediction to represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Body Language

Meditation gestures are really a type of body language, in which the meditative individual is expressing through the body the inner workings of the mind and soul. As you adopt these postures, you will almost inadvertently express an aspect of the mind which is manifesting itself through the postural gesture.

As a natural response, any kind of body language that we express is actually a two-way street; this means that the posture/gesture will encourage the mental and spiritual state of mind behind the posture/gesture, as much as the mind and its innermost feelings will create the posture or the gesture.

So, in a very real sense, all of the gestures which we are exploring here are a form of 'body language'. There is an entire science of body language which anyone can find access to either through books or through the Internet. This science of how we hold ourselves or make little unconscious gestures etc., reveals the inner person very accurately. In this context, when we hold ourselves a certain way throughout all of our daily life’s experiences, we actually affect our psyche via personal body language. For as much as the body is a reflection of our internal emotional and mental state revealed through posture and gesture, by changing our bodily behaviour, the reverse is also true—that body language can affect the inner workings of our emotions and mind. These gestures send positive feedback to our inner self which assists the inner self in entering into the higher state of consciousness which we are trying to achieve.

An example of how this works is to notice how your mind and emotions calm down when you deliberately slow down your bodily movements; note how a leisurely stroll is far more relaxing than a hurried walk. Pushing the chest out for example, and straightening up the shoulders, can increase a sense of confidence. Standing hunched over with rounded shoulders can create a sense of being forlorn and reduce confidence.

It is worth pondering deeply over the interrelationship of body, mind and soul and recognising the wholeness of these aspects and how each one affects the other. That is the real purpose of these gestures. By utilising them you begin to embody the essence of each gesture’s meaning.

But what do these gestures actually signify and how do they serve us practically, during meditation? The following list of gestures explains what each one means and how these gestures affect our consciousness.

Gesture of Greeting

The 'Gesture of Greeting' is a good practice for the beginner, however, the more advanced may wish to use it often as well, as it helps to reinstate the feeling of spiritual devotion and dedication. This gesture is really an expression of consolidating the practice of 'going inwards'. See the photograph below.

Image by: ALESSA_ABRAMOFF
Image by: ALESSA_ABRAMOFF | Source

You are greeting your own soul if you like, and expressing via the gesture your clear intention of making soul contact. It is respect for the practice of meditation and reverence for all of life. In your seated posture, you place both of your hands palms together in a 'prayer' position. The thumbs are placed gently against the lower chest and your elbows are dropped down in a comfortable position. It is a beautiful gesture to use as an opening practice to meditation, once you are seated comfortably. Hold it for a few minutes and just feel the reverence for all life flowing within you as you slowly breathe in and breathe out, through both nostrils.

If you breathe slowly and deeply and focus inward mentally at the space between the eyes whilst doing this, you may find that your eyeballs turn up towards the brows slightly. This combination of practices, i.e., breathing, focus and gesture, can produce highly exhilarating feelings of oneness and is not to be underestimated for its effectiveness in creating a decidedly receptive meditative state. It is often a quick way to overcome a negative frame of mind at any time during the day, for at subconscious levels this gesture and the breathing practice teaches us to be grateful for the many hidden blessings in our lives, and it reminds us of who and what we really are—the Soul, a spiritual reality in an often unreal, illusory world.

The Gesture of Greeting may be used at any time during the course of your meditation, but my suggestion of using it as the opener is probably best as it acts like a key to soul-consciousness, unlocking the door which greets the light of the soul. Used in this way, at the beginning of your practice, the rest of the meditation session can become a truly enlightening experience. Once you feel that you have definitely made some kind of deeper spiritual connection, you may then slowly lower your hands to rest comfortably upon your knees or in your lap and then allow yourself to go deeper into the time that you have allocated for being with your higher self in meditation.

Gesture of Contemplation

In this meditation gesture, the hands are placed in the lap, one on top of the other, palms facing upwards. It is said that the left palm should support the back of the right hand, and this is probably symbolic of the left being the receptive, intuitive and subjective side of the body supporting the right, outgoing, objective side of the body. You can have the thumb-tips just touching each other or just resting casually without touching each other. The main point is to get a sense of 'repose' from the hands.

Image by: truthseeker08
Image by: truthseeker08 | Source

The general feeling engendered by the Gesture of Contemplation is one of a quiet acceptance of being just where you are, right now. Whatever it is that you are contemplating is allowed to just 'be' whether it is an external symbol for instance, set before you with your eyes open, or a candle flame. It may be a mental concept such as 'Love' which is being contemplated with the eyes closed.

The whole pervasiveness of this gesture is to allow yourself to feel the energy of contemplation diffusing throughout your being. You can maintain this gesture throughout the entire meditation if you wish, or use it at any point during the session when it feels appropriate to do so. Remember that gestures such as these are used as keys to invoke the accompanying quality which they embody.

Gesture of Consciousness

This gesture is one of the classic finger-to-thumb gestures. It is a traditional meditators gesture composed of the back of each hand resting on each knee. In this gesture the index fingers and thumbs of each hand are made to form a small ring by curling the index finger under the thumb. The index fingertip touches the first joint of the thumb and forms a tight circle. See the illustration.

Artwork: Gesture of Consciousness by S.P. Austen
Artwork: Gesture of Consciousness by S.P. Austen | Source

This gesture makes the whole chest feel more 'open' as the arms and hands are held in such a manner that frees the chest area with shoulders held square and the spine nice and straight. In all of the gestures, the spine should still be straight of course, but this particular gesture allows for more of the 'open' feeling needed in the chest. The feeling behind this gesture, as one breathes deeply and slowly, is one of entering an altered state of consciousness, a condition of true consciousness beyond and higher than, ordinary Earthly consciousness.

Really try to 'feel' that your consciousness is changing towards a higher state of being. This gesture may be comfortably held for all or most of the meditation session.

Gesture of Knowledge

In this gesture, we reverse the attitude of the hands by placing them palms down on the tops of the thighs with the index fingers and thumbs forming the close circle as in the Gesture of Consciousness. See Illustration below.

Artwork: Gesture of Knowledge by S.P. Austen
Artwork: Gesture of Knowledge by S.P. Austen | Source

Focussing on the breathing, one is permeated by a sense of understanding and knowledge. Any concept which usually poses a problem in comprehension for you may be meditated upon using this gesture and illumination on it may come to you. The hands themselves send a direct message to the brain that you are intending to discover and know your chosen subject fully. The Mind, which already has access to all knowledge, is invoked to open up and bring you into contact with the Universal Energy Pool of Intelligence which exists in the Universe.

Through focus and clear mental intent, you can bring knowledge of virtually any subject into your consciousness. This takes time and practice, and the hand gesture alone will not give you this; the hands act merely as pointers, as a 'link' to Universal Knowledge. Accessing this Universal Energy Pool is something which resides in your soul, and only your constant and regular meditations will bring such knowledge to you directly.

Gesture of Wisdom

This gesture is very similar to the Gesture of Consciousness and is also a classic meditators gesture. With the back of each hand resting on the knee or thigh, the index finger and thumb form a ring again, but this time by the finger tip and thumb tip which are lightly touching each other in a slightly wider and looser circle. See the photograph below and note the subtle difference compared to the Gesture of Consciousness. We must also remember at all times that these hand gestures are mostly symbolic of the hidden meaning behind them.

Image by: rawpixel
Image by: rawpixel | Source

The ring formed by each finger and thumb represents the circle of perfected being. The rest of the fingers are extended straight out but need not be held stiffly. Once again, breathe deeply in through the nostrils and out through the nostrils and allow the all-pervading feeling of Wisdom or Higher Knowledge to fill your being. Become wisdom. Allow wisdom to become embodied in you.

You may be amazed how this particular gesture actually conjures up an air of wisdom and deep understanding within you. There is a freeing of the mind, an expansion of consciousness and a dropping away of the lesser forces of ignorance. If you focus your entire mind-energy and beingness on Wisdom and allow the sensation of having all-pervading knowledge flow through you, this gesture can aid you in your quest to reach the very heights of profound spiritual insight. When the posture is correct with the gesture being just right, and the Self is aligned with the highest Spiritual Source, gestures such as the Gesture of Wisdom can act like the crowning movements of an expert dancer, bringing a synchronistic harmony, balance and poise which suggests perfection of being in one faultless moment of time.

Gesture of Acceptance

This gesture is another one in which the backs of the hands are allowed to rest on the knees or thighs. The difference here is that the fingers and thumbs do not form any seal or ring as in the Gesture of Consciousness or Gesture of Wisdom. Here, the hands are held in an open, relaxed manner, the fingers and thumbs just being allowed to be completely relaxed.

Artwork: Gesture of Acceptance by S.P. Austen
Artwork: Gesture of Acceptance by S.P. Austen | Source

It is an open attitude of accepting life, the Universe and everything that it contains, just as it is, including all of life’s many faults and shortcomings. This mental stance reflects the Chinese philosophy that, 'All is as it should be'—that life’s circumstances and its myriad events are happening just as they are meant to, in accordance with a Divine Law, regardless of what the personal self may rationalise about it.

One enters a state of complete acceptance of the present conditions, of whom and where you are, and what indeed you essentially are on a higher level. In this way, this gesture symbolises our recognition of a higher purpose pervading our life and the entire Universe. This perception shows us the method of transcending Earthly conditions and conditioning; we move steadily beyond our imaginary limitations either self-imposed or imposed upon us by others.

As subtle energies awaken within the Crown Chakra during this gesture (or any of the other gestures for that matter) you may also feel the inclination to gently move the hands out from the body, and let them become suspended in the space around you. Just follow what you feel, and be intuitive. I have often held my hands out from my body like this for a full thirty minutes without the hands or forearms dropping or even feeling fatigue, as the limbs actually feel and become lighter. It is a very blissful experience and encourages a sense of enormous trust in the Universe as you feel aware of being 'suspended' in space. It’s as if God is supporting you and you are embracing that Great Spirit.

It is also a wonderful time to send out prayer, either for yourself or for another, and to let your love flood out upon the World and toward all beings. But you should only perform this action if it feels right to do so; it is not wise to create strain or unrest in your body by doing this against your better judgement. If it feels like an inner compulsion to hold the hands and arms out from the body unsupported, then you may if you so choose, go with this inclination naturally, and if not, then do not do so. Don’t try and keep the arms suspended in space if it feels uncomfortable. We are not aiming for any physical feats of endurance. Just let it happen naturally, and follow what you feel from within the Self.

Gesture of Benevolence

This final gesture is one which may also be familiar to you from certain religious icons. It is a gesture of raising one hand in blessing or benediction, and leaving the other hand resting palm upwards either in the lap or on the knee with the finger tip and thumb touching as observed previously.

Artwork: Gesture of Benevolence by S.P. Austen
Artwork: Gesture of Benevolence by S.P. Austen | Source

The hand which is held up in blessing is usually the right hand. The reasoning behind this is that the right hand is associated with the 'positive' side of the body which is an outgoing, dynamic 'giving' type of magnetic vibration, whereas the left side of the body is said to be negative, passive and receptive energetically. There is quite some evidence for this assumption, as science tells us that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body.

The left brain governs practical, analytical, outgoing, and worldly pursuits, giving us a predominance of right-handed people on the planet, evidence of which is seen in the world around us in terms of modern 'progress' (some of which is good, some of which is bad) and the right side of the brain governs creative, artistic and mystical realms of imagination, giving a much smaller percentage of left-handed people. Evidence of such right-brain activity is seen in art, sculpture, literature and mystical inspiration. Most of us use a bit of each side of course, but the majority of people are very much predominantly left brain users.

In understanding this, there is a very definite reasoning behind the use of the right hand as the means of benediction in spiritual work, for this side of the body is a conduit for ‘grounding’ spiritual energies, and the left is the side for receiving them via right-brain activity. Thus, the left hand is held open, finger tip joined to thumb, as a receiver of spiritual energies and the right hand conveys those forces outwards into the world. The right hand is held up at roughly shoulder height, and the little and ring fingers are folded into the centre of the palm, leaving the thumb, index and middle fingers upright pointing vertically.

In Christian mysticism the benediction gesture represents the Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet such a benediction gesture can often be observed amongst religious icons of the Buddhists also. The thumb and two fore fingers represent the threefold Godhead and our personal identification with it. In raising the hand thus, you may feel overwhelmed with a flood of spiritual forces. It is good to then consciously direct that influx of energy out into the world.

Don’t try and visualise in too great detail when this happens, but just allow the mind to consciously hold an awareness of sending light or energy out to a needy planet. Visualise the Earth itself, if you are able, or envisage individuals whom you would like to help. Don’t strain at this; feel the blessing flowing out to all those in need. You may open the other fingers of the right hand if that feels right to do so and just hold the open hand in benediction. In ancient Egyptian times the open hand of blessing was also a significant image. Just let the energy flow naturally. Focus on your slow, rhythmic breathing, in and out through the nostrils. Become a being of transcendent light and let that light flow out to all beings.

In this gesture, the Crown Chakra should feel fully open, and you may even sense the fine filaments of the Thousand-Petalled Lotus radiating out from the top of the head. As you go with this feeling, you may feel inclined to hold both of the open hands out to the sides of the body or to place the hands on the knees in the Gesture of Acceptance. In this manner, the hands seem to act as channels for Light, radiating out love and blessings to all beings, and to the entire world.

May these Gestures of Meditation prove to be a blessing both to you and to the world around you.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 S P Austen

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      • Stephen Austen profile imageAUTHOR

        S P Austen 

        8 months ago from Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

        Thank you Marja; I hope that you find these gestures useful in your meditation practice.

        Best Wishes to you, and thanks for reading this article.

        S.P. Austen

      • Marja Radic profile image

        Marja Radic 

        8 months ago from Split, Croatia

        I used to practice mudras, some of them listed here. It worked for me and I recommend it to at least for trying. I might use one of the others. Thank you for this!

      • Stephen Austen profile imageAUTHOR

        S P Austen 

        8 months ago from Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

        In order to know more, Jamieson, you must be prepared to study the subject in depth, as I have done for over 40 years. Look into the Yoga system and you will find a wealth of knowledge and practical techniques.

        Best Wishes,

        S.P. Austen

      • Jamieson Phoebe profile image

        Jamieson Phoebe 

        8 months ago

        I would be interested to know more

      • Stephen Austen profile imageAUTHOR

        S P Austen 

        8 months ago from Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

        Thank you Maria, I appreciate your good feedback, and hope that you derive great benefits from the techniques in this article.

        Best Wishes,

        S.P. Austen

      • Mariamarukh profile image

        Maria khan 

        8 months ago from Islamabad

        Very interesting and informative

      • Stephen Austen profile imageAUTHOR

        S P Austen 

        8 months ago from Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

        The Gestures of Meditation do not require that you sit in the Lotus or any other Yoga posture, so you may sit on a chair or in any position that works for you.

        Best Wishes,

        S.P. Austen

      • profile image

        Carol Rafferty 

        8 months ago

        I can not fold my legs in that position, because of injuries to my legs.

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