Adi Mudra is the first mudra. Not literally, although who knows. Whether it's Adi Yogi or Adi Shankaracharya, you will bump into the term ‘Adi’ ever so often in yoga. In Sanskrit, Ādi is the word we use to denote a starting point, commencement, or a beginning'.
In simple words, the Adi Mudra is the ‘newborn fist’ but with a few crucial things to remember. You must touch the thumb to the base of your little finger. Many instructions on how to do the Adi Mudra omit this crucial detail, which detracts from its uses and benefits.
This hand gesture is used in spiritual practices like meditation and pranayama. It's less relevant as one of the mudras used in Ayurveda as a healing modality to gain health benefits. So, let's see the meaning, benefits, and uses of Adi Mudra in yoga.
Definition: Adi Mudra
Adi Mudra is a yoga mudra (hand gesture) to increase lung capacity, oxygen flow, mental alertness. It is used to calm the nervous system and promote internal awareness during yoga practice. The mudra is formed by placing the tip of the thumb at the base of the little finger and forming a fist. It is used in pranayama as it strengthens the lungs and has a positive influence on Udana Vayu.
Mudra is the Sanskrit term for gesture, seal, mark, or attitude. Adi refers to ‘the first or primal – that which existed at the very beginning'. Combining the two words, we get Adi Mudra - the Primal or First Gesture. But why is it called that?
Adi = Primal or First | Mudra = yogic hand gesture
Look closely. The hand gesture may look familiar. It’s the same hand formation we see infants make during their early years. In fact, this is the configuration of the hands inside the fetus (womb) during gestation. Thereby, it is the first gesture humans make upon existence, which has earned it the name Adi Mudra or Primal Gesture.
Effect on the Elements and Chakras
The thumb represents Agni (Fire) and the little finger represents Jala (Water). Placing the thumb at the base of the little finger increases the water element in the body. Water represents communication and flow – it increases these aspects of the mind and body.
Gheranda Samhita associates the Adi Mudra with the Manipura (Solar Plexus) Chakra, which is also called the Agni Chakra. People often associate the Adi Mudra with the Crown Chakra, but we have found no source to back up such claims.
How to form Adi Mudra?
To do Adi Mudra, get into a meditative asana – typically a kneeling posture such as Virasana or Vajrasana. Easy Pose (Sukhasana) is ideal for beginners.
Experienced yogis can use Accomplished Pose (Siddhasana) or Lotus Posture (Padmasana).
Keep the head, neck, and spine straight. The spine should be elongated and erect.
Place the palms on the thighs. The palms can face the sky or the earth. In yoga, upward-facing palms represent openness and downward-facing palms represent grounding.
Fold the thumb into the palm with the tip of the thumb touching the base of the little finger. Wrap the four fingers over the thumb to form a fist. This must be done with both hands.
This configuration of the hands is called Adi Mudra.
Keep the eyes closed and take slow, deep breaths. It is very important to breathe slowly.
Your awareness should be centered around the breath. You can also add some simple pranayama breathing exercises such as Viloma breathing at this stage (optional).
Do this for a few minutes (or 7 to 10 rounds of breathing).
Release the hands and place them on your knees to continue with your spiritual practice.
Duration and Time
Generally, the time to attain the benefits of Adi Mudra ranges from 10 to 30 minutes.
20 to 30 minutes of continuous practice is recommended for optimal results.
A few minutes of Adi Mudra is sufficient to prepare for meditation.
You can also use it while doing pranayama, for however long your practice lasts.
Time refers to the time of the day as in “when to do Adi Mudra”. The answers vary among practitioners. The only commonality is that is best done at dawn and/or dusk when the stomach is empty. It can be done before bedtime to improve sleep quality and provide relief in insomnia.
Safety and Precautions
We all have made this hand configuration as infants or inside the womb. Thereby, there are no known contraindications. It has been used anecdotally for centuries. No literature suggests any negative benefits of Adi Mudra. It is safe to practice for people of all ages.
Benefits of Adi Mudra
As we said earlier, Adi Mudra is not used as a supplementary therapy in Ayurveda. It is purely used to improve concentration and internal awareness. Based on that, the following are the commonly discussed (anecdotal) benefits of Adi Mudra -
Increases oxygen flow and improves lung capacity
Increases (internal) communication and self-communication
Calms the nervous system
Stimulates the intellect (Buddhi) and increases attention
Induces quiescence, concentration, and higher awareness
Effect and Uses
Adi Mudra has many classical references. You will find how to do it within yoga kriyas, Kundalini Yoga, and Hatha Yoga practices. It finds mention in classic texts such as Gheranda Samhita, Siva Purana, and Siva Samhita, among others.
Traditionally, this yoga mudra is used before or during pranayama and meditative practices. That’s because the benefits of Adi Mudra are geared towards stability and quiescence. In simple words, it helps you link the breath and the mind to attain a reflective state.
Is Adi Mudra good for the lungs?
Adi Mudra energizes the breathing apparatus and the nervous system. It stimulates the sense organs and increases oxygen flow. The mudra can be used as a stopgap practice right before an intellectually challenging task. In India, it is frequently recommended for students to boost their concentration and cognitive abilities.
How to use Adi Mudra for meditation?
In spiritual practice, Adi mudra can be done in a meditative asana such as Siddhasana or Padmasana with mantra chanting. It improves the flow of prana in the body, balances the elements and chakras, and brings us to a state of deep concentration. Meditating on the breath (linking the mind to the breath) can also yield the benefits of Adi Mudra during meditation.
Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath) is another excellent resource to prepare for meditation.
How to use the hand gesture for Pranayama?
Adi Mudra improves prana-flow in the upper body. It has a balancing effect on Udana Vayu (the upward-moving current of the breath) located in the chest region. It’s useful in pranayama as it increases expands the lung capacity and improves the flow of oxygen in the body. Therefore, it is a great way to start your pranayama practice.
However, it is used slightly differently. Yogis use it for 7 to 21 rounds of deep/slow breathing in Hero Pose (Virasana) with the arms placed on the cavity between the abdomen and thighs (see pic). In this period, the practitioner brings all the awareness to the breath to link it to the mind.
How to use this hand gesture in Yoga and Asana?
In yoga, Adi Mudra is used in standing for better balance and relaxation. It lends to stability in yoga postures such as Tree Pose (Vrikshasana). However, it will be held for a very short while and won’t have any overall impact. In supine poses, it is used in Corpse Pose at the end of the yoga session. It calms the mind and restores energy so you can continue with pranayama.