Thursday, February 2, 2012

What Arises from Mindfulness of the Hands

This post arises as part of mindfulness project over at called The Wild Elephant Project. It is based on the book How To Train A Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays. Each week, over 70 participants attempt a simple practice in mindfulness that invites us to examine our habitual patterns. It offers us a way to bring more mindfulness even to our most mundane tasks, thus bringing more awareness into our lives.

This week's practice: Become aware of and extend an appreciation towards your hands.  

"Several times a day, when your hands are busy, watch them as though they belonged to a stranger.  Also look at them when they are still." (p.29)

As a yogi and teacher I am already fairly fascinated with my hands. Each yoga class I teach, I like to start off by warming up our hands and wrists in very unorthodox (can I say that?) way in a yoga setting.

Why? Firstly, because it helps get you out of your mind and ground yourself in your body.

Secondly, trying to get people to activate their hands during yoga is easier if you warm them up and bring attention to them through stretching and movement.

Lastly, I cue hands a lot in class because I believe that hands help transport a profound amount of energy throughout the body. And moving energy through cells in a conscious/positive manor, like yoga, is the key to healing and keeping healthy. Imagine an image of a dancer or actor expressing great boundless joy and bliss. Do you think their hands would be limp to express this?

The other day while teaching, an image snapped into my mind. While the students where breathing in a posture, I suggested they think of their hands and feet as light switches. Meaning, by activating their hands and feet, it was like activating the internal energy current that flows from one end of the body to the other helping to nourish and purify the cells. *Sneeze!* (Someone at that point sneezed.) Bless you. The hands and feet are the key to turning on the radiant energy current within.

I was validated in my hand (and feet) obsession when learning that "active hands and feet" are one of the four basics of Forrest Yoga  - founded by Ana Forrest, internationally renowned yoga teacher. In her book, Fierce Medicine, she goes so far as to say:

We use our hands to reach out to people or push them away. Our hands are intimately connected to our heart, so when we get them active, there are direct and wonderful consequences for the heart. This is especially true if we are aware that reaching out with our hands means we're also reaching out with our hearts. If you reach for the keyboard, you want to make what comes out matter. Become more aware of how your hands move through space, your life - what are they picking up? Frequently our hands will tell us if we're recoiling from some thing - they curl in, they get arthritic or cold and achy - all the signs of poor circulation. We're literally not moving energy through them. That's why we need active hands. (pg 25).

Not to mention that keeping your hands active helps to relieve compression in the wrist and hand bones. This compression is what leads to carpal tunnel syndrome.

As for how the practice of observing my hands is going this week? A few observations:
  • DEVELOPING THE WITNESS: When I notice myself observing my hands, it creates that "witness" or separation they always talk about in meditating. The observer is just observing, conscious but impartial. It's nice to create more opportunities in the day, even doing mundane tasks like folding laundry or washing dishes, where I can identify more as the witness. As opposed to identifying with the brooding that may arise from the little self.

  • INNER MIND STATE REFLECTS ON HAND MOVEMENT: The way people use their hands seems correlated to how they treat others and how they also treat themselves. For example. I have a friend who looks after elderly and disabled people and who was also a Buddhist nun. From using her hands to physically take care of people, she was gifted with a lot of healing and powerful loving energy flowing through her hands. However, it was as if she had no idea of her own inner and outer strength. Even if she did things mindfully, like poured tea or put down her mala, there seemed an absence of lightness in her movement and her hands. Her hands: thick, stocky and strong. When she touched, it was strong, heavy, direct with precise intention. Her inner world was equally intense.

    Interestingly enough, my 15 month-old daughter is capable of the lightest touches with her fingers and hands running across my skin. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, mostly with her eyes closed and half conscious, while trying to fall asleep. Sometimes her touch is so delicate that it is barely even noticeable. There is certainly a skillfulness in being gentle. But imagine, it is possible for even a baby to do, so why not anybody? (My daughter has been able to do this for a while now).

    However, when she is more irritated (teething, sick or what-not) the same falling asleep process with her hands on our skin can turn into the most intensely painful moments. She will pierce, jab and pinch my skin with her tiny fingers. It brings tears to my eyes at the intensity. It is like what I imagine it feels like to be stung by two dessert scorpions repeatedly for 10 - 20 minutes. She will grab the tiniest of tiny amount of topmost skin on my neck and squeeze it with her pinches with all her might. As my husband says, it just what little Scorpios do.

  • HAND LEADS THE BRAIN: Maria Montessori (founder of the Montessori schools) is known for saying, the mind can only develop as far as the hand.  She is quoted as saying, “the hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence." And, "the human hand allows the minds to reveal itself.” 

My Hands:

I truly believe that the way I move my hands throughout the day is a reflection of my inner state of mind, as well an expression of my most authentic self.

When I talk I am expressive and use my arms and have a keen sense of awareness in my hands. When I touch or lift objects or brush my hair, for example, I usually do so with lightness. However, when I am stressed, I tend to grip things more tightly or set things down quickly and clumsily. When my mind is elsewhere, my hands seem to take on a life of their own, going at a mile a minute.

Actually, even when I am conscious of them, my hands sometimes go so fast and seem to take on a life of their own. Do you remember as a kid racing, and when you tried to pay attention to your feet and make them go faster it just seemed to slow you down? It's amazing really how fast the hands and feet can go even without   being actively willing them to do so.

My hands are strong but feminine. They look like my father's, but prettier. I will always remember the way my father took care and used his hands with pride. I remember them clean, red in the cold, precisely resting just so on his desk. They were not hands worn through with calluses from labor. They were thinking man's hands, and he was proud of it.

Both my brothers, my dad and I have similar hands. One of the first things my dad did when he meet my son for the first time was check his hands. "Nope", he said. Meaning no crooked baby pinky. Not "his" hands.

I love my hands. Even with their funny shaped nail beds that don't grow out so well. Crooked baby pinky. Super flexible finger joints. They are my hands afterall, and as Ana Forrest says, they help me to give and receive love.

How do your hands express your inner feelings? How do your move through your life?


  1. WOW. This is absolutely AMAZING! Your insight and understanding of the hands, your awareness of your own and that of others...and the energy that travels within and beyond those hands is simply astonishing. (Not surprising) :) I can't wait to share this with palms tingle as I type this. (I want to respond to so many individual things in there but am afraid I would write a book!) THANK YOU!!

  2. I sit in awe as well, great read, great insights!

  3. I read this post right after you posted it but never got to tell you how wonderfully this post has helped me. I have often focussed on my feet-both in yoga practice and as a part of walking meditation but hands? I never thought about the hands! And you are so right about how your hands reveal what your mind is thinking. Thank you for this.

    (PS: I know I dont usually comment here, but ever since I wanted to tag you I feel the need to directly tell you how much I value your posts :-) )