Recognizing an intimate connection between the mind and the hands, ancient yogis developed a rich tradition of exercises for the extremities. Yoga hand gestures, known as mudras, help you focus your mind and recall your higher purpose. Mobilizing your mitts will also help keep the joints in your hands healthy and pain-free.
Mudra literally means "seal." Although some mudras can feel like jigsaw puzzles for your fingers, mudras do more than develop digital dexterity. Each mudra is meant to evoke a particular mental or emotional state. Finding stillness in your hands can also help soothe your mind when it's over-active. You may have begun or ended yoga class with Anjali Mudra, joining your palms in a prayer position. Anjali Mudra is a symbol of union, reflective of the interconnectedness of all beings.
Lotus Mudra symbolizes the awakening of your heart. To make Lotus Mudra, bring your wrists together and touch the tips of your thumbs and little fingers. Spread your other fingers apart like a lotus flower blooming. Uttarabodhi Mudra represents enlightenment and the experience of interrelatedness. Interlace your fingers. Extend your index fingers and press them together. Bring your thumbs together and pull them away from your other fingers. Practice Uttarabodhi Mudra in poses in which your arms are overhead, such as Warrior I.
In their book, "Yoga for Arthritis," Dr. Loren Fishman and yoga teacher Ellen Saltonstall suggest a series of hand exercises to keep your joints healthy. They recommend Anjali Mudra to stretch your wrists and mobilize your fingers. Reach your arms overhead with your palms together. Keeping your palms in contact, draw your hands toward your chest, then turn your wrists to point your fingers away from you. Turn your fingers up again and pull your hands toward your belly, keeping your palms together until you feel a stretch through your wrists. Point your fingers out and down again and hold the stretch in this position before releasing your hands.
Fishman and Saltonstall also suggest a series of finger stretches to loosen your hands. With your right hand, sequentially bend each of the fingers of your left hand toward your palm. Start at the fingertips and flex each joint individually. When you're done, open and close your fist a few times, then switch hands. To stretch your palm, try the same thing, but bend each finger gently backward. Don't stretch to the point of pain, and keep your arms and fingers relaxed. To stretch both hands in a standing position, interlace your fingers and press your inverted palms toward the ceiling.
Joe Miller started writing professionally in 1991. He specializes in writing about health and fitness and has written for "Fit Yoga" magazine and the New York Times City Room blog. He holds a master's degree in applied physiology from Columbia University, Teacher's College.