Updated: Nov 18
Does this time of year feel overwhelming as you prepare to come together with friends, family and loved ones? Do you wish you had less time with your phone, and more time with your people? Do you wish to optimize your physical and mental health in a way that easily fits within your busy schedule?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, November's Mini Home Practice is for you.
Often called "prayer hands", this gesture may be a familiar sight in yoga class, but its practical use is commonly misunderstood.
Discover how to use this spiritual practice to experience more joy and authentic connection this November.
Your loved ones will thank you!
What is anjali mudra?
This month's Mini Home Practice is anjali mudra. Anjali is Sanskrit for "divine offering." In its most common form, anjali mudra is performed in a seated position by bringing the hands together in front of the heart, with the fingers pointing upward.
You may recognize anjali mudra as a gesture often used to end, and sometimes begin, Western yoga classes, often in a ritualistic way. In this context, anjali mudra evokes qualities of gratitude, respect and spiritual awareness.
Anjali mudra is a physical and symbolic gesture that invites us to connect to our divine nature. Its practice reminds us that we are part of the greater Universe, and therefore we are whole and complete just as we are.
Obviously, practicing anjali mudra requires us to put our phones down!
You might reflect now on whether that will be easy or challenging for you to do.
Screen addiction is no joke.
Check out these stats and ask yourself if they apply to you or someone you care about:
Around 8% of the global population is addicted to the internet.
85% of American adults can’t spend a day without going online.
Smartphone use is involved in 26% of car accidents in America.
12% of teen boys have a video gaming addiction.
50% of teenagers consider themselves addicted to their smartphones.
The average person checks their phone 96 times a day.
Teens spend over seven hours a day in front of a screen. (Reference.)
Screen addiction causes our mind state to become rajasic, or overly active. Rajasic minds are constantly needing more input to be satisfied, diminishing the ability to feel much without all this input.
Anjali mudra a tool to tackle screen addiction and to balance the mind state. You will learn to expand your awareness and remind your brain how to feel things in real life (IRL!)
Anjali mudra harnesses the health benefits of spiritual practice in treating screen addiction or other rajasic mind states, such as anxiety. Regular practice teaches your brain to feel more joy and authentic connection to those around you.
But wait, is anjali mudra religious?
I get this question a lot!
The truth is, it depends on your intention when practicing anjali mudra.
Anjali mudra is presented here as a Yogic spiritual practice, specifically for application as a therapeutic technique for mental health. It is not offered within a religious context. However, you could certainly use anjali mudra as a spiritual expression of your personal religious beliefs.
Where did anjali mudra come from and why does it matter today?
As a spiritual practice, anjali mudra has historical roots informed by Eastern cultural and religious contexts. In ancient India, this gesture was used as a respectful salutation to one's elders. It was also used as a gesture of gratitude and as ritual. Later, as Buddhism infused Asian cultures, the gesture took on more veneration and could be considered to have religious connotations.
Whether or not Buddhism is a religion is a topic for another day, but it is clear that the practice of anjali mudra is highly adaptable to one's own belief sets, and need not be tied to any particular creed for the modern practitioner.
Anjali mudra is highly adaptable to one's own belief sets.
There are many overlapping elements of religiosity and spirituality, and both have the potential to offer personal benefits based on one's intention when practicing anjali mudra.
Spirituality comes from the Latin word spiritualitas, which translates to mean "breath." I define spirituality as essentially experiential and highly personal. Spirituality may include the search for meaning, purpose or values, the experience of transcendence (or the sense that there is more to reality than the material world,) the practice of surrender, and the experience of connectedness, such as with oneself, others, nature, or the divine.
Or, spirituality may mean true authentic connection in real life. There it is again: IRL!
The nature of spirituality is that it is experienced uniquely, just as each person is unique.
Religion may or may not also include the experiential aspect of spirituality. I distinguish religion from spirituality in that it generally organizes the individual experiences of people into a codified or organized system of beliefs.
Some people who identify as spiritual do not identify as religious. Both religion and spiritual practices usually have cultural contexts. These contexts may be very traditional, highly personal, or may evolve and shift over time.
The practice of anjali mudra is an opportunity to bring a personal spiritual practice into your daily routine in a way that feels synonymous with your beliefs.
Not the spiritual type? Well, maybe you should be.
As a yoga therapist, my focus in offering spiritual practice is on its therapeutic application and health benefits for those who are suffering from conditions.
And spiritual fitness is the new prescription for optimal physical and mental health.
Spiritual fitness is the new prescription for optimal physical and mental health.
Anjali mudra remains relevant for the modern practitioner seeking to remedy suffering related to conditions such as screen addiction, depression, burnout, or a sense of emptiness or lack of joy.
Yoga therapists blend traditional practices and Western medical knowledge to treat conditions in a holistic way. An awareness of the benefits of spirituality have been around for a long time in Yoga.
In Western medicine, this ancient wisdom is more recently recognized through growing interest in the real world benefits of spirituality. According to Harvard medical researchers, it is now widely accepted that spiritual practice leads to better physical and mental health outcomes. Spiritual practice has also been shown to preserve cognitive function with aging.
Neuroscientists are beginning to understand the impact of spiritual practice on brain function, with new findings in brain circuitry linking spiritual practice to primal areas of the brain, indicating that spirituality is a key component of what it means to be human:
“Our results suggest that spirituality and religiosity are rooted in fundamental, neurobiological dynamics and deeply woven into our neuro-fabric,” said Michael Ferguson, PhD, a principal investigator in the Brigham’s Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics. “We were astonished to find that this brain circuit for spirituality is centered in one of the most evolutionarily preserved structures in the brain.”
It has been established for some time in Western medical institutions that both religious involvement and spiritual practices "are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide. Several studies have shown that addressing the spiritual needs of the patient may enhance recovery from illness" (Mayo Clinic, 2001.)
It is no wonder that more and more hospitals with chapels are adding non-religious wellness centers to support the psycho-spiritual needs of patients and their families.
Define your intention
If you are new to spiritual practice, consider how spirituality might help you.
Is it the guilt of neglecting your relationships? The pull of your to-do list that robs your days of meaning? Do you find yourself thinking, "There's got to be more to life than this?"
Do you find yourself thinking, "There's got to be more to life than this?"
As we head into the holiday season in the Northeast, it is a good time to care for our mental and physical health by adopting or re-establishing a spiritual practice.
Anjali mudra is one option for inviting spiritual contemplation and inner connection in order to be more present with our loved ones. Regular practice of anjali mudra creates the opening to welcome more joy and presence into our lives.
Take a moment now to define your intention in adopting a spiritual practice.
It could be as simple as: "I would like to be fully present with [i.e. myself, my child or aging spouse, my community] in order to feel more love and joy in my life."
Tie your practice to a part of your daily routine. Add this to your intention. For example: "I would like to feel more joy, and I intend to practice anjali mudra each morning as I wait for my coffee to brew."
How to practice anjali mudra
Ready to try it?
Find a seated position that feels supportive and stable for you. This could be in a chair or on the floor, perhaps with a blanket folded beneath the sitting bones of your pelvis.
Bring your palms together in front of your chest with your fingers pointing up towards your sternum. Lengthen your spine upwards, and gently lower your chin to lengthen the back of your neck.
Lower your gaze or close your eyes, whichever helps you to orient your attention inside your body. Feel the sensation of your hands and fingers touching. Notice any sensations of energy or awareness within, around, and in front of your heart.
Direct your attention within, without expectation or judgement. Notice your breath moving in and out of your body. Open yourself to sensation, and allow your mind and heart to open to the possibilities of perception on a more subtle level.
Stay within the practice for several minutes or longer.
Notice what you feel.
It's ok if you feel nothing, but if that's the case, notice that you are feeling nothing, and really experience what that is like for you to sit with. Ask yourself to look inside again and discover what is available to feel. Allow yourself to be satisfied with whatever your experience is here.
Close your practice with a ritual bow. You might try saying the following words to yourself: "With great respect and love, I bow to my own heart, my inner teacher."
"With great respect and love, I bow to my own heart, my inner teacher."