Namaste & Anjali Mudra
My teacher, Mark Whitwell, held his hands in Prayer much differently than most American yogis. He and Srivatsa Ramaswami learned this from their teacher, Sri Krishnamacharya. Yoga is far greater than asana alone. In fact, Anjali Mudra was a point of study for them.
Yoga is extremely well known but it is barely understood. It is spread so wide that it is losing its depth. This sacred hand position is a familiar gesture in yoga classes and is often accompanied by the word, Namaste, and a bowed head. As Westerners, we think of bowing our heads as a gesture of defeat. However bowing the head slightly symbolizes surrendering the brain (mind/ego) to the body and breath, honoring the heart center and allowing the truth to flow. By removing the mind, we are free.
The arms should be close to the body, but not touching the body, relaxed enough to allow the ribs to expand and the lungs to fill with air and oxygen. The folded hands held about 30 degrees just in front of the heart or base of the sternum. The palms slightly cupped while keeping the hands together. There should be a hollow between the palms as if to hold an imaginary lotus. The energetic or spiritual heart is visualized as a lotus at the center of the chest. The palms are drawn together at the heart symbolizing the return to one’s heart and source of our existence – the breath. Just like we create space in our body during asana practice, focus on the space between our inhale and exhale in pranayama, rest in the space between our thoughts during meditation, we create space in our hands to mimic the openness in our heart.
Unfortunately, this posture of prayer is often done without conscious thought or mind-full-ness. In fact, it is unlikely you will see the traditional hand position described above in any American yoga class. Instead, you will see elbows and wrists parallel to the ground, fingers pointed upward with the thumbs stabbing inward like a knife and the palms pressed tightly together figuratively strangling any life force that may exist at the heart center. This version has a stiffness, rigidity and forcefulness to it unlike the softer, more receptive version that lives, breathes and feels the heartbeat of every moment in life.
As you bring your hands together at your center, not only are you joining your physical and energetic heart, you also connect the right and left hemispheres of your brain as well as unite the inhale and exhale. Hridaya Yoga Sutra, The Heart Yoga Sutra, is based upon classical yoga principles and is a 'thread' that weaves together these messages of the Heart. My teacher describes the hrid as the place “where left merges with right, above with below, front with back, inhale with exhale, outer with inner, female with male, strength with receptivity, where heaven meets earth and spirit takes form.” The heart is the energetic “mixer” and place where all opposites merge. (More on this in my “Yoga is Union” blog.)
Upanishadic thought teaches that the entire universe is no bigger and no smaller than the universe that evolves in your heart. Each one of us contains the whole. Carl Sagan said, “If you remove one atom from the universe, the entire universe will collapse.” The spiritual heart is the essence of everything that is and we are all connected if we live from the heart.
Whether you use the image of a lotus or of holding your own glorious heart, it is a gesture of loving offering to the nurturing source that is around you, within you and IS you. The divine source is already in you, you only need to allow the mind to realize it. Now that is the picture of peace and devotion.
Karen Pierce is a professional organizer and yoga teacher. She helps people transform their lives…inside and out.
She was introduced to meditation and yoga as a teen and has continued to deepen her practice over nearly 3 decades. Karen holds many certifications including her E-RYT 500 through Yoga Alliance, is a certified Yoga Ed instructor, a Professional Yoga Therapist, and a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. She is dedicated to bringing the practice of therapeutic yoga to all populations in a safe format that is rooted in exercise science. Her style is based on being safe and includes many modifications and adaptations. You will learn when to push, when to surrender and when to rest. Her approach focuses on falling in love with yoga and her students love her challenging, ever-changing classes and her upbeat, relaxing style. Karen is also the author of Yoga Bear: Yoga for Youngsters - a children's book published by Northword Press (2004) and Co-Contributor to Yoga in America (2009).
A life-long student of yoga, she has been blessed to have learned from many world renowned yogi masters. Her style is based on her extensive teaching experience and her studying with multiple lineages, teachers and styles of yoga. Karen takes what is most helpful and meaningful from a vast array of different sources and styles... but her heart belongs to the teachings of Krishnamacharya and her dedication to her mentor Mark Whitwell. Mark is a gifted teacher and she is fortunate to have the experience of the true spirit of yoga and the authentic essence of how it was taught over 100 years ago by Krishnamacharya who was a true pioneer in his ability to translate ancient teachings and make them relevant in a modern context. He inspired thousands of practitioners worldwide and today his teachings are very popular through his many students including his son TKV Desikachar (Viniyoga), BKS Iyengar (Iyengar), Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga), and Srivatsa Ramaswami (Vinyasa Krama).
Karen is a master of progressive teaching (breaking poses down in a systematic way and teaching series classes that train students to master the actions and the inner attitude to progress in a logical and balanced way over time.) Karen works with movement sequencing (asana and somatics), breath work (pranayama), mudras, energy work, and the wisdom of Ayurveda (Indian Medicine) so that the yoga can be adapted to all levels of ability. Every class has an intention or sequencing (krama) that is unique to the group and follows Krishnamacharya's principle to "teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other." Yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual.
As a Yoga Therapist, Karen works one-on-one with individuals honoring ancient yoga techniques while combining modern wisdom to identify imbalances and empower the person to progress toward improved health and well-being. Through in-depth postural assessment, testing of specific joint range of motion and muscle strength, observing breathing patterns and taking into account the person's Ayurvedic constitution, a customized treatment plan is devised. Yoga therapy's greatest goal is to guide each person in his/her own deeper awareness, greater understanding, and movement to facilitate healing and wellness.