Mudra is often referred to as hand gestures alongside yoga practices. Though these are the more immediately understood expressions, we observe many full body mudras in the traditional texts too.
Much emphasis is given to a set of unusual positions in the Synergy style.
Simon Borg Olivier refers to the bandhas as a subset of mudras. Bandhas are not only specific activations of subtle vital energies through various positions, but can be understood accessibly as the simultaneous tensioning of opposing muscle groups. When we activate two or more sets of muscles in sync the effect can pronounce or reduce the flow of blood and therefore pressure and heat.
Mudra can be understood as an energy control device.
We can control the distribution of blood pressure in the body in a pronounced way using the movements in certain combinations. Effectively strengthening certain regions to stabilize them when in yoga poses and transitions. There is also the possibility of assisting the movement of blood effectively round the body and reducing the effort of the heart to pump. Not often do we appreciate that the heart’s pump is actually a very ineffective method of moving blood, especially against gravity. The muscles have a profound pumping effect on the blood through activation and relaxation. Some of the regions where large volumes of blood move are in the spine and pelvic region. Experienced yogis will appreciate this tends to be the same pathway around which the most commonly known bandhas can be applied.
We can also tension nerves through use of body position. This gives credence to the idea that effective yoga is not simply stretching the body into various positions but becoming aware of unblocking the blockages of a natural loving flow of energy. When we understand the physical structure of nerves we know that the tissues are not in any way as elastic as the other tissues like skin, muscles, tendons and fascia. In fact if we get beyond 5% stretch of nerves there’s potential for damage to their effect. Many people unknowing of this are likely disabling the proper function of nerves and eliciting reflex spasms resulting in imbalances and chronic tension. It’s an all too easy trap to fall into and the saddest part is the negative effect on practitioners’ mental health. It’s entirely possible to practice classical yoga postures without this knowledge and often, the needless desire to use these wonderful tools to create disharmony in the long term is a trend leading people away from classical yoga styles into freer and more accessible movements such as seen in somatics and perhaps also supported by props as in yin style yoga.
These 3 mudras are some of the foundations of the Synergy style and have been used to great effect to very quickly remedy the nerve “tangling” from inappropriate/unconscious movements and exercises. They also open the blood vessels in certain ways which create a natural flow assisting in the circulatory pumps. It’s said by the founders of Synergy that these positions also traction along the same lines as various acupressure meridians, the channel lines through the body theorised in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Indian equivalent is a system referred to as nadis, marmas and chakras. The literature on nadis is diverse with less consistency than the Chinese system with most accepted lists of 72,000 nadis, 107 marma points converging in between 7 and 12 chakras. It is not as accessible in the divergent literature what names are given to the nadis and their corresponding marmas before they converge into chakras. Deeper study of the science of life through yoga can be undertaken through the discipline of Ayurveda.
Not knowing exactly why Synergy founders Simon and Bianca refer more to the Chinese energy lines, but perhaps due to the accessibility of consistent literature in the Chinese system and also their specific training, for instance Simon
anatu puritat mudra
Tensioning the large intestine meridian
In their book “Applied Anatomy & Physiology of Yoga”, Simon Borg-Olivier MSc BAppSc (Physiotherapy) and Bianca Machliss BSc BAppSc (Physiotherapy) offer a first and fundamental nerve tensioning position for the radial nerve at the thumb side of the hand. Though in the book the shoulders are not protracted as much and the spinal position isn’t given emphasis, here I’ve offered a demo with a slight posterior pelvic tilt which can also assist balancing the tensioning and preventing the front of the shoulders overstretching. The tummy here can automatically tighten but it’s useful to try to relax it, and if possible slowly expanding. There’s a certain bandha here which not many people understand well. It’s a coactivation of muscles around the root when both posterior tilting pelvis and expanding the abdomen. It’s the expansive (tha) mula bandha. Many people conflate mula bandha as a closed lock (ha mula bandha) but like any good lock, it has an openable position too.
The shoulders, arms and wrists are rotating inwardly with the fingers either reaching back or out to the sides. People who try to close the fingers into fists here will likely move beyond that 5% and feel tingling along the thumb knuckle and elsewhere. Tingle is not a sensation we want to encourage as it’s a sign the nerves are starting to stimulate a fight flight response. So for most people, the sense of squeezing an imaginary ball in our hands can help to create a balanced distributed feeling rather than isolated stretching in small regions.
This mudra commonly appears in conventional yoga classes during child’s pose and happy baby, but it makes an effective go to in a standing practice as it relieves pressure which most people experience usually as a result of over extending the low back, neck and wrists in yoga asanas.
Tensioning the lung meridian
Building from anatu puritat mudra, we can maintain the posterior tilt while retracting and turning the shoulders and palms out. The benefit in building on from the last is to prevent the low spine compressing which it does very easily in extension. If we keep the last form of mula bandha applied, it protects the low back and prevents soreness, enhances the tone of the front abdominals, and keeps the vital flow of blood and nerve function throughout challenging postures such as upward facing dog (which many practitioners simply collapse the low back into).
In this arm position the expected nerve tensioning is the median nerve with branches around the middle finger palm. When in a position such as updog we have the hands parallel around shoulder width with fingers facing forwards (as in a push up). When in up dog, one can elicit the character of this mudra by twisting the arms towards this position while the hands remain parallel in that pushup position. This mudra can easily transform into bukka puritat mudra by rotating the fingers skywards (as in side plank) moving towards a tensioning of the pericardium meridian.
We would do well to appreciate that we don’t get benefit from stretch alone, but by simultaneously stretching and tensioning muscles and nerves. And the beauty of posture is that it gives us some automatic benefits along these lines no matter what our flexibility or condition. These exercises give the benefits of otherwise very challenging postures in which they’re harder to recognise. Including these simple mudras in and around your sequence can offer that benefit and help to tone the nerves to be more effective throughout the rest of your practice.
Tensioning the heart meridian
Finally, of the three positions, the ulnar nerve tensioning. Affected by the extension and ulnar deviation of the wrist. In this picture’s position, the fingers turn in towards each other and if comfortable (no tingle) the palms could face more up to the sky for some people if it’s available.
The mudra includes co activation of the arm muscles which further tensions the ulnar nerve when the shoulders stay forwards and down while the elbows stick into resistance by trying to go up and back.
Many people don’t understand these cues for various reasons. Perhaps they are not attuned enough into the body to know they can feel different sensations in a single position, or perhaps they are too focussed on getting where they thing they need to go and not instead feeling into the journey.
In any case, practice of movements through these positions will help to lengthen the nerves in their beds and improve their responsive function. The side benefit is that circulation will be improved and a general sense of energy and vitality can be easily provided.
If our objective in movement and exercise is to fulfil some conceptual criteria, such as alignment, reps, or raised heart rate, we will undoubtedly miss the glorious holistic benefits of caring for the important subtle energies which sustain our bodies longevity.
We can end up destroying our balance of mental health through overemphasis on superficial measures in our practice, such as the obvious gross aspects. This is an invitation to open up to a place of transcendent intuitive feeling that we all have access to but our overstimulated lives can so easily distract us from.
My invitation is for you to continue exploring from gross to subtle, from known to unknown. To go deeper than knowing into expressing these dormant traits of ourselves, not mysterious or novel, but in fact inherent behind our concepts. When we scrabble for knowledge, we often miss so much of the wonders available, so as we practice the subtly, we bolster our habits of expansion, and find that true nature in the process.
Thanks to @simon_synergy for the amazing lifetimes of knowledge and applied wisdom. you can find more insights at simonborgolivier.com and yogasynergy.com
Thanks to Max Oppenheim & BLOK for the cover shots