TEACHING YOGA, PART IV: JNANA-WHO?
Yet another astonishing teacher-trainee revelation
Last week in class we were doing one of Chandra Om's lovely variations of Vasisthasana when I asked the students to place the fingers of the right hand into Jnana Mudra. Everyone touched their index finger to their thumb - except for two students. I was a little taken aback, since they were recent graduates of a respected teacher training program.
Again, words came out of the mouth - this time in mock horror: "You just finished a teacher training program, and you don't know Jnana Mudra? Oy!" I put hands on hips and then pretended to shake my fist. "Kids today!"
And then I explained Jnana Mudra. And they did it.
And now I will explain further.
Yogis believe that each finger has a different energy, and there are hundreds if not thousands of mudras or hand positions with different meanings and healing capacities. Jnana Mudra is one of the simplest and most common mudras in yoga.
Jnana means wisdom or knowledge. Its root is similar to the Germanic root for the word "know." Mudra means seal or gesture. Jnana Mudra is the seal of wisdom.
The index finger is said to represent the individual ego. The thumb is said to represent the universal consciousness. Joining the two symbolize the joining of the individual soul with the universal consciousness; the enlightened state. It leaves behind the other three fingers, which represent the body, mind and intellect - all of which are useless without the thumb.
I've also heard that it simply "circulates the energy."
I've also read that it bestows intelligence and wisdom, purifies the mind of the practitioner, cures many mental ailments, gives a feeling of joy and "cures intoxication and addictive habits."
Whether you believe this or not, both Pattabhi Jois and Dharma Mittra teach jnana mudra with the hands resting palms-up on the knees, the arms and remaining three fingers straight.
NOTE: It is not necessary to practice jnana mudra in Times Square in order to receive the benefits.
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On a related note - At least once a week in ashtanga class, when I teach jnana mudra, I see newbies joining the middle finger to the thumb. I'm not sure what that means (although in Kundalini Yoga this is Shuni mudra, or "seal of patience." Perhaps they don't understand the term "index finger," or perhaps I garble the explanation. When I explain that they should join the first or pointer finger to the thumb, the correction is usually made.