Nyasas: Symbolic gestures that turn your body into a temple3
Mudras are specific hand gestures that are meant to have symbolic, energetic and healing qualities. Most mudras are static gestures, but you can also make them dynamic when the actual act of moving into a mudra is infused with symbolism.
In Deity yoga, your thumb, which makes most manual tasks easier for us, represents the Divine. Your index finger represents your sense of Self; your middle, ring and little finger represent the three gunas, three fundamental energies and their representation within us. Middle finger represents sattva, ring finger represents rajas and little finger represents tamas. Together, they represent your conditioning (your experiences, beliefs and daily concerns).
Moving into the traditional Chin mudra, for example, has deep symbolic meaning. When you hold the fingers of your hand together, this symbolizes your identification with your conditioning. This is a normal human state, when we define who we are through our past experiences and the roles we play in our daily lives. The first stage is to separate your index finger (your sense of Self) from your conditioning. Symbolically, this means that you are breaking your identification with your daily ups and downs. The second stage of the mudra is to begin to move your index finger (representing your sense of Self) and your thumb (representing the Divine) toward each other. This reflects your movement toward the Divine and the movement of Divine toward you. In the final, third stage, your thumb and index finger connect, symbolizing your connection to the Divine. This reflects the process of “deification”, becoming one with the Divine. Once you arrive at this stage, you can hold Chin mudra and meditate on your chosen Deity and your connection to something greater than yourself.
Another way of “deification” through gesture is to use nyasas, dynamic hand (or body) gestures that are meant to place the essence of the Divine into your body. Nyasa means to “place, put, install.” Every Deity has a manta, a sacred sound that represents its essence. When you chant the mantra for a specific Deity and touch different parts of your body, you are symbolically placing that mantra into your body, so that your body could become a seat for, or a temple of, your chosen Deity. Nyasas are practiced with deep absorption in both the meaning and feeling of mantra. They connect multiple layers of our systems, including the body, speech and mind for a more integrated experience.
Kara Nyasa, for example, picks up where Chin mudra leaves off. It uses the same symbolism of the fingers that we’ve discussed earlier, but the purpose of Kara Nyasa is to evoke the energy of the Divine (your chosen Deity) and then use that Divine force to purify each layer of your system. You begin Kara Nyasa by sliding the tip of your index finger along your thumb, from tip to base. This symbolizes the surrender to the Divine force, the deity of your choice.
Once you surrender, the Deity can take over and clean out all the impurities within your sense of Self and all three gunas that are part of you. To purify, you slide your thumb along each finger, starting with the index finger, from base to tip, and then flick it at the end.
Once the purification is complete, we distribute the resulting positive energy throughout the hands by sliding the left palm over the right hand, and right palm over the left hand. In some traditions this whole sequence is done simultaneously with both hands, and in some it is done with each hand individually.
Kara Nyasa is usually done with a mantra that evokes an image of a different Deity for each finger, it is rather elaborate. You can also do it by choosing a mantra for one deity and repeating it as you do your gestures. For example, you can choose mantra OM DUM DURGAYE NAMAH to call on the image of Durga, the Divine Mother. Then Kara Nyasa would look and sound like this.
Next time we will take a look at Hrdaya Nyasa and how we can call on Divine power to help us understand, manifest, achieve, sustain, see and endure. Tune in!
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Lovely! When I was doing my teacher training years ago, my yoga instructor Dr Pooja Madella explained the connection of fingers in chin mudra this way, “when we break the Tamas (stagnation) and calm the rajas (energy) then we come into sattwa (balance) from here we can gracefully bow down to our divine or higher selves” (as she brought her index finger towards her thumb)
That has always stuck with me. I love your interpretation too. Thanks for all your wisdom Olga. 🙏 I will be reading this post again and again!
Oh, I love this Natasya! This is such a poetic way to describe moving into Chin Mudra. I will put that into my toolbox, if you don’t mind 🙂
This is just a wonderful post. Thank you for such a clear instruction and explanation. I’ve never known what the gestures were for and now rediscover again how beautiful and powerful our bodies are. And how incredible and detailed ancient wisdom is. This complements further what I learned through ‘Health is in your hands’ which is based on Jin Shin Jyutsu, a Japanese ancient healing method. Just holding each finger for a few minutes, mindfully supported by breathing, will calm the whole body system witting very short time. I feel very fortunate to have come across your Youtube offerings.