Yogic Mudras in Christian Iconography
For Greeks and many Christians, Lent is a time for restraint, reverence, and reflection. In the 40 days leading up to Easter, Greeks practice fasting as a means of physical cleansing that also aids in our mental preparation for the holiest day of the year, that of the resurrection of Christ. Many of our restraints are similar to the yamas (ethical restraints) of yoga, and during Lent—ahimsa (non-harming) and bramacharya (chastity), are especially important.
As a Greek Orthodox Christian, this is a time to be pure of heart, mind, and action. During Lent, I always find myself more attuned to my innermost thoughts—the regular fasting brings thoughts about my religion, my own beliefs, my actions, other religions, the afterlife, and related topics to the forefront. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about hand mudras, and while searching for images of mudras, discovered quite a bit about my own religion in the process. Since we are in the midst of Lent, I thought it a perfect time to point out, especially for those Christians who feel conflicted about the yoga/Hinduism connection, that Hinduism, mudras, and yoga aren’t as far from Christianity as one might think.
Christian Imagery and Mudras
I’ve spent my entire life as a practicing Greek Orthodox Christian. Greek churches are breathtakingly beautiful houses of worship that are decorated with ornate carvings and Byzantine-style paintings. I’ve been looking at Byzantine imagery of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and various other angels and saints for as long as I can remember—but it wasn’t until I began practicing yoga and learning about mudras that it my eyes registered what I’ve been seeing all these years.
Mudras have been depicted not only in Buddhist/Hindu imagery for centuries, but in Christian as well. Christ is often painted with His right hand in prithvi mudra, in which the tips of the thumb and ring finger are joined. Prithvi mudra is said to provide stability and cure weaknesses of the body and mind.
Another interesting realization I had is that occurrences of prithvi mudra aren’t limited to Byzantine religious icons alone. To this very day, Greek Orthodox priests often hold the fingers of their right hand in prithvi mudra while making the sign of the cross during a spoken blessing, say over a meal. Prithvi mudra is also known as the Sign of Benediction or Blessing.
There are also depictions of Christ with His right hand in pran mudra (little finger and ring finger connect with the thumb), which is said to increase vitality and protect the body against disease. Of course, one can hardly avoid the most obvious mudra in Chrsitian imagery—anjali mudra—Christ with prayer hands at heart center. I don’t know about what others think of all this, but I am completely and utterly fascinated by it. Because this is yet another common thread linking Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism—three belief systems that I am increasingly intrigued by as I learn more about them.
Some final thoughts: I’ve written this before, but I have to write it again. I’m completely blown away by the fact that the more I study yoga, Buddhism, and Hinduism, the more apparent it becomes that in life, everything is connected in the most divine and mysterious way. Think me a kook if you’d like, but I tell you that the more I seek knowledge, the more it comes to me—even when the questions haven’t yet formed in my head, the answers are appearing everywhere—in my own research, through the exchange of information with others, through happenstance and circumstance. Maybe it’s the Law of Attraction, or maybe I’m finally waking up. Whatever it is, in the words of Oprah, what I know for sure is there more to this world than meets the eye. There is some wisdom well beyond us, and all our religions and beliefs and numbers are just bits and pieces of the puzzle.
If your interest in mudras and the commonalities in Christianity and other religions is piqued, there’s some very interesting writing out there on mudras, the similarities between Christianity and Buddhism, the ancient Indian/Greek relationship, symbolism, and more. I encourage you to do your own reading and exploration—but definitely check out these sources out:
This article originally appeared in The Yogaphile blog.