Today I thought I’d incorporate a bit of a history lesson. Some of this may come as new information, some may be familiar. Either way, I ask you to be open-minded because this world is a big place and it has been here for a long time.
A MUDRA is a seal, mark, or gesture that can be symbolic or used to enhance a ritual or practice. In yoga, mudras are ways in which we hold our fingers. Often they are used during breath practices or at the holding of a posture. Mudras with hand and finger involvement in yoga have also been believed to help stimulate different systems in the body. Mudras are often seen in pictures and have also been used in classic Indian dances as well.
There is a particular mudra that you may not even know you are familiar with and it looks like giving the sign of peace. The first two fingers are straight and the thumb may wrap around the palm and hold down the ring finger and the pinkie. This mudra is actually called Prana Mudra.
The word “prana” in sanskrit and in yogic terms means breath of life. Prana is the slow and intentional breath you take in and focus on during deep meditative practices. It is a way for you to become more in tune with your own body and oftentimes, (as we do in with Holy Yoga) become more in tune with God as you slow down your mind, focus on your breathing, and open your heart for whatever He wants you to become aware of during your time with Him.
You may also be familiar with Byzantine or early Christian artwork where Jesus or other saints and angels are depicted using this same hand gesture. Oftentimes the artwork actually shows the palm facing outward and the figure in a peaceful way offering their salutation. In some Christian studies, the thumb doesn’t hold down the last two fingers but it is held gently out to the side. There are countless philosophers who believe this is a way to show the three persons of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The final history lesson I want to incorporate is that the modern-day peace sign of two fingers outstretched, palm facing outward, and thumb holding the last two fingers down came into popularity after WWII and really gained ground in the 1960s-70s. We all know this sign. It is linked to the word “victory” and subsequently signifies peace after a war is over. Obviously, we use it today mostly for a way to offer each other a gesture of love, kindness, and, of course, peace.
I was thinking about all of this the other day, and I had this epiphany of sorts thinking about what we are taught as Christians about the greatest commandments as appointed very directly by Jesus, Himself. He was asked to rate the most important rules or laws by which man should live. Thinking He could be tripped up, those around him waited for His answer.
He replied very directly, what? Number 1: “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
And number 2: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Two of the greatest commandments. Two fingers. Two great gestures of love by which if we all lived, perhaps there would be peace…true peace.
Today, as we sit for a moment and breathe, I invite you to keep your eyes closed for just a bit longer. Bring your hands to your knees and flip your palms upward. With the backs of your hands on knees, bring your thumbs in to hold down your last two fingers on both hands. Place your own fingers in the Prana Mudra…peace fingers.
Take a long and intentional breath in. Maybe hold that breath at the top. Feeling your ribs stretch and your belly fill, become in tune with your body. On your exhale, feel the air leave you, knowing that the space longs to be filled again.
Imagine, on your next breath that your are filling your lungs and your open space with the breath of Life…the breath God gave you…not just in this moment, but in all of your moments. Exhale and prepare your heart, soul, and mind to be filled again with His breath of Life, His Prana. Take one more intentional breath and note to yourself and to God that you will continue to love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, mind, and soul….and as we move in this practice especially, your strength. And when it is time to move off of this mat, you will love your neighbor as yourself.
Think of all of the references we have heard of the breath of Life. We have learned of God breathing life into Adam, we have heard the story of the breath and wind coming into the room where the apostles met in secret after Jesus’s death to be filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit.
We know of the eternal life that Jesus gave us when He, in Mark 15, breathed in a loud cry and gave up His Spirit.
This prana, this breath of Life flows through each of us a a gift from Him. With this breath filling our bodies, may we be a peaceful people who love the Lord, our God, with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. And may we use the very breath in our bodies, given by God to love each other as we love ourselves.