Put some heart into it

By A. G. Mohan and Dr. Ganesh Mohan

The Anjali Mudra facilitates a peaceful attitude during the practice of asana

There is an ancient way of expressing the goal of yoga practice. It is part metaphor, part instruction. When we hear the word ‘heart’ in ancient yoga texts and the Upanishads, it does not refer to the physical organ pumping away inside our chests. Instead, it refers to the space within the centre of the chest, the space where emotions seem to resonate and the centre of our identities seem to reside in our bodies. That’s where we point when we say “I.” We place our hands on our hearts and point our fingers toward that centre of the chest when talk about our feelings — sad or happy. It does not mean that the mind literally is in the region of the chest. But for meditation, this region of the heart is a special area to be focused upon.

In that heart centre, the mind is conceptualised as a lotus flower, closed and upside down. In anjali mudra, we bring the fingers of our two hands together, the base of the palms touching, with the knuckles apart from each other. The palms are not flat against each other but are shaped like the bud of a lotus flower — ready to blossom with the tocuh of the sunray just as our hearts are ready to open with the teachings and practice.

This signifies the potential for and intention to progress towards a greater spiritual awakening. This helps to set a peaceful inner attitude during the practice of asanas. We form a lotus bud because of the qualities of the lotus flower. A beautiful lotus can grow in muddy water. Our lives can become “muddy” through difficult circumstances, but it is possible, through our effort and daily yoga practice, to emerge from difficulties and blossom like the lotus flower. When we blossom in this way, we radiate beauty to those around us.

Try doing asanas with and without the anjali mudra, with and without that feeling inside the heart. You will notice the difference. Additions like anjali mudra help ensure that asanas bring us humility rather than make us proud about the ability to perform asanas. Humility should be present in the mind of the practitioner and find expression in his conduct. The point underlying the anjali mudra in all contexts is developing the sense of humility and reducing the ego.

By adding this simple mudra in our practice, we can remind ourselves to stay on our feet and ensure that our yoga practices or our lives do not give rise to unhealthy pride but instead become an act of offering and grace.

Attitude is a little thing, but makes a big difference.

This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.