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Mudras
by Emily Fuller Williams, LMT
Emily Williams

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Feature stories:
Mudras: Power in Your Hands
Relieve Stress with Scent, Sound, Self-Massage, Mudras

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Feature Story
Mudras: Power in Your Hands

Think of mudras as self-talk for your hands. These simple movements, the gestures that we often make unconsciously, can help us focus on our work, calm ourselves, release anger and energize us. Used for centuries by many different cultures, mudras are documented in Eastern dance and meditation, in ancient Egyptian friezes, even in Byzantine icons of Christ. Most of us use them today, too—sometimes unknowingly. We wave goodbye, we press a hand to our chest in distress, we wriggle our fingers to release energy, or press fingertips together to calm ourselves.

Open Mudras: Ancient Gestures to Ease Modern Stress or the companion Mudra Pocket Cards and you'll see how easy these gestures are to learn. Even better, mudras can be done anywhere, at any time: at traffic lights, in meetings, in airplanes, when we're arguing, when we're grieving, when we need to prepare for sleep.

The word "mudra" can be translated from the Sanskrit as "that which brings inner peace," and as author and massage therapist Emily Fuller Williams points out, mudras are a physical means of quieting our bodies. This physical tool for soothing ourselves can also change how we look at ourselves, at the people in our lives, and at our challenges, she believes, citing reports from her clients.

"People who do the love mudra say that it changes what they perceive. They notice that people love them, and they find themselves more likely to see more love in the world," Williams says. "This may be because when you focus on something you see more of it."

The prosperity mudra, rather than bring instant riches, makes people more aware of opportunities, explains the author. "People also tell me that it makes them more willing to ask others for help with their careers and projects."

Perhaps most important, with mudras, people develop greater confidence in their ability to cope and to weather crises.

"They learn they can quiet their minds and either relax or energize their bodies," Williams continues. "When you learn to release some of your anxiety, what is left becomes more bearable. In the same way, when you use a mudra for courage or trust, it becomes easier to deal with fear."

Mudras are for those of us who:

  • Need patience to be better parents, partners and caregivers
  • Want to release anger, frustration, grief or sadness
  • Struggle to relax
  • Need to to focus better on work or at school

Williams, who has a degree in secondary education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, began her career in medical research. She was licensed as a massage therapist 25 years ago. Her emphasis has always been how massage can impact feelings, and thus an individual's sense of well-being. Almost ten years ago, concerned about the level of stress she saw in the practice she shares with psychologists and counselors, Williams began studying specific mudras and the benefits they offer.

A warm, gentle woman, Williams introduces mudras wherever she is: to clients, colleagues, even strangers on airplanes.

"Anyone, of any age, who is willing to listen and provide feedback!" she chuckles.

For the past several years, Williams has incorporated mudras in her practice and in her frequent presentations at conferences and retreats. She's taught the gestures to hospice workers, therapists, teachers, parent educators, and to members of church, civic and business groups at such programs as "Managing Holiday Stress," "Stress Management for Parents," and "Teaching Mudras to Children."

"Just as we can impact our feelings with positive self-talk, we can impact them with positive body talk," she explains.

These are simple gestures that can be done for a few minutes a day, Williams emphasizes. They are ideal for what she calls "ordinary people," people for whom a massage might be a luxury, people who may not have the time for meditation or regular yoga classes.

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