Updated: Nov 21, 2020
As the seasons change, especially at Autumn or Spring Equinox, you may find that you suffer from more allergies. I know I do. It's because pollens and more allergens are floating through the air. I wake up sniffling and have a bit of a croaky throat. But did you know that yoga can help? The word 'mudra' has many meanings but is usually translated as a 'seal'. 'It's a gesture, a mystic position of the hands, a seal or even a symbol', according to Gertrud Hirschi, author of 'Mudras, Yoga in my Hands'. This small book was recommended to me my by dear mentor, Kay Manby, when I was training to be a yoga teacher. I had broken my arm badly and couldn't do the yoga I loved. Its subtitle is brilliant: "yoga in your hands', because it is up to each of us how we use them.
If you are unable to practise asana (yoga poses) because of injury or even because you are confined in some way, such as being on a plane, or maybe even in a dull meeting- though perhaps I shouldn't say that- you can use mudras as a substitute. You can certainly use them at work discretely if you are stressed. Link 'yoga in your hands' to pranayama practices (breathing techniques) to make them more powerful. Hirschi, who learnt this ancient art form Indian teachers, also argues you can intensify their effect with affirmations, visualisation, music, colours, herbs and food.
Illustration from Gertrud Hirschi's useful manual Check out the whole book here.
To help with allergies, or even a weakened immune system, you can try Bhramara Mudra, (The Bee). This gesture represents the bee in traditional Indian dance, and it is interesting because many people also use bee products such as propolis, bee pollen and royal jelly to help with allergies.
To do it, place your index finger in the fold of the thumb and tip of the thumb on the side of your middle finger. You can then extend the remaining fingers. Be sure to do this on both hands. You can sit with the mudra in meditation, or simply hold it a few times a day. It is also great to combine this mudra with other yoga asana and integrate it into your practice and you can be creative. What I love is to link it to Bhramari breath, which is one of my favourite pranayama practices. It can help with headaches and, from my experience, it may even make migraine and toothache a little more manageable. Take a deep inhalation and 'hum' the breath out on the exhale. You might find that you could make a 'buzz' sound initially and then move to a hum. It really is a wonderful feeling and easy to do. The practice clears out the sinuses if they are blocked, leaving you with a sense of amazing clarity and peace.
So what is the science behind it? Practising Bhramari breath works because it shifts the automatic nervous system into parasympathetic dominance, which helps manage stress or anxiety. To use it in this way you might like to make a lower humming sound. You can even do it in your car if you are feeling stressed, providing you keep your eyes on the road. The other benefit is that it helps shut out mental stimulation (pratyahara) so will benefit you in meditation or mindfulness, when we need to stop getting engaged in stories that our mind wants to create, especially about the past or the future. It really will help you be in the present and feel calm.
One more situation where you might use it is to find is in what might be a challenging asana, where you want to go a little further, but your body is holding on. We all have poses that are like that for us: Paschimottanasana (forward fold) or maybe Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana (pigeon pose)? You will have your own. Give the bee a chance to reveal its benefits and let me know how you get on.