Our hand positions may affect our breathing. This inevitably brings to mind Indian Mudras, or hand positions, used in meditation and dance. The specificity of breathing that has been forged in these explorations demonstrates that each mudra is an orchestration directing our breathing and our awareness with precision.

Awareness of the elements of this orchestration contributes to our understanding of how mudras can be so powerful. Consider the following simple mudras:

Prana Mudra: For Calm Alertness

With both hands, your thumbs press the tips of your fourth and fifth fingers. Your index and middle fingers reach out in extension. The reach of the fingers augments your inhalation into the back of the upper lungs. The touching of the thumb to the fourth and fifth fingers encourages breathing into the lower back and lowest lobes of the lungs.

Hridaya Mudra: Heart Opening

Tuck in the index finger, press the middle and ring fingers with the tip of the thumb, and extend the pinky finger. The pinky finger stretching augments your inhalation into your lower back, while the touching of your middle and ring fingers brings the breath to the area around your heart. Tucking in your index finger encourages lateral breathing.

Gyan Mudra: Mental Clarity

Join together the tips of your thumbs and your index fingers. Reach through the remaining fingers. By directing the breath to the upper lobes of the lungs with the index fingertips, while augmenting a full breath with the outstretched remaining fingers, the oxygenated blood is forced through the carotid arteries into the brain.

Simultaneously, the pressure on the thumb tips brings our awareness to the center of our brain. Over several minutes, this orchestration supports mental clarity. The effects of this motion are dramatic. No doubt they are wired into our breathing and enabled fellow primates to breathe fully and powerfully while swinging through tree branches and vines.

Exploration: The Segments of the Fingers

• Loosely tuck either pinky fingertip into your palm and hold it in place with your thumb. Light pressure from your thumb will direct your inhalation to the area of your spine where the diaphragm attaches (12th thoracic vertebrae and lumbar vertebrae one). Stronger pressure will increase your awareness of this connection.

• Loosely fold your fingers over either thumb. This position draws the inhalation to your sides.

• Make a fist. This hand position sends your breath to the entirety of the ribcage. As you hold your fist more tightly, the pressure inside your ribcage will increase.

The second and third segments of the fingers also affect our breathing and our awareness of our breathing. Pressure on the fingertips sends our awareness to the surface of the lobes of the lungs. Pressure in the middle segment of each finger sends our breath to a deeper layer of the lobe, and pressure to the third segment of the finger, nearest to the hand, sends the breath to the deepest layer of the corresponding lobe of the lung.

Pressure on the segments of the thumb draws our awareness from the superficial aspect of the corpus callosum for the end of the thumb to the deep aspect of the corpus callosum for the segment nearest the hand.

What is True for the Hands is Also True for the Feet

• Begin an inhalation, then stretch out the toes of one of your feet.

• Feel the augmentation to your inhalation.

• As you inhale, flex your foot into dorsiflexion. Feel your inhalation as it is directed to the front of your lungs. On your inhalation, point your foot downward in plantar flexion. Feel your breath as it is directed to the back of your lungs.

• Pointing your toes toward the sky will direct your breath to the front of your lungs.

• Pointing your toes toward the ground will direct your breath to the back of your lungs.

• Putting pressure on the outside of your feet (eversion) will direct your breath to the lateral portions of your ribcage.

• Putting pressure on the inside of your feet (inversion) will direct your inhalation to the middle of your ribcage.

The Importance of the Interosseous Membranes

The sheaths of fascia connecting the radius and ulna bones in the arms, and the tibia and fibula in the legs, are called the interosseous membranes. Their importance goes far beyond maintaining a harmonious relationship between the bones as they move from palms facing the ceiling (supination) to palms facing the floor (pronation). This movement has a profound effect on our breathing (Fig. 3.5).

• Begin an inhalation, and during that inhalation rotate your forearms from palms up to palms down. Feel what this motion does to your inhalation.

• Moving either your arms or your legs into internal rotation while inhaling will direct your breath to the back of your lungs.

• The arms and legs act as rudders as you inhale. As you breathe in and move your arm forward, your breath will be directed to the back.

• As you inhale and move your arm behind you, the breath will be directed to the front of your ribcage.

• As you raise your arm up your breath will be directed to the lower portion of the ribcage. As you reach toward the ground, your breath will be directed to the upper portions of the ribcage.

Breathing Placement & the Pelvic Floor

Very few discussions of breathing include the importance of the pelvic floor. And yet without resilience in the pelvic floor our breathing will always be shallow, and all of the organs of the abdomen and pelvis will be denied what could be continuous massage by the movement through the torso of our breathing.

When I first discovered the increase in general well-being that can come from breathing that includes the pelvic floor, I felt I had stumbled upon a secret about which few people knew. And this has been borne out through years of teaching breathing.

The pelvic floor is a diaphragm, as is the respiratory diaphragm. It separates cavities within the body, in this case the contents of the pelvis from the outside world, and its resilience is crucial to both breathing and movement of the torso and legs. The idea of resilience within the pelvic floor seems to only reach the general public in terms of Kegel exercises.

But so much more awareness and fine motor control of the musculature is possible. To feel the pelvic floor as a whole, tuck your index fingernail into the crease at the base of your thumb. Purse your lips to fit inside the space inside the circle of your finger. This circle activates the perimeter of the pelvic floor.

• Keeping the shape of the circle, spread your lips and breathe in. The perimeter of the pelvic floor will descend. Maintaining awareness of this area, you will either feel the pelvic floor descend and ascend with the inhalation and exhalation, or you can easily coach your pelvic floor to follow this regimen.

• Keeping the shape of the circle, spreading your lips on the inhale will also cause the perimeter of the pelvic floor to flare.

• Keeping the shape of the circle, pursing your lips will elicit the sensation of the entirety of the pelvic floor filling with pressure and descending.

This article was reprinted from the book “Mudras and Meridians,” by permission of Jessica Kingsley Publishers, an imprint of Hachette UK.

About the Author

Bill Harvey has been a Certified Rolfer since 1984, Certified Advanced Rolfer since 1990, Rolf Movement Practitioner since 1999, and Biodynamic Craniosacral practitioner since 1984. His interest in combining these three approaches while working with clients led to the development of his training in Biodynamic Structural Integration, which began in 2005.