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10. Hands

The Instruments of Formation and Creation

In mime and in dance, hands design the space and sculpt the air. From one creative impulse, the air is given movement, the space takes shape, by simple movements.

The Uniqueness of the Human Hand**

The hand exhibits one of the most important distinctions between human beings and other animals. It has profoundly influenced our evolution, enabling us to create works of art and feats of engineering.

The arboreal life of our ancestors encouraged the develop ment of this efficient grasping mechanism, capable of performing delicate manipulations. The sense of touch sharpened and indirectly enabled our progenitors to judge distance and direction more accurately. When early hominids descended from trees, the prehensile hand, now free, became the main exploratory tool.

Primates, including humans, lost their claws early in their evolutionary ascent. But of the primates, only humans can join the tip of the index finger with an opposable thumb. Due to the maneuverability and dexterity of the thumb and fingers, humans gained a precision in grasping small objects and a lightness of touch, and thus a facility with the use of tools that would be impossible with claws.

We owe the architectural and functional excellence of the hand to an intricate system of muscles, a metacarpal (palm bone), and phalanges (finger bones). Around and within the layers of ligaments, fibers, and tissues that stabilize this skeletal structure, there is an intricate network of muscles that makes possible the amazingly versatile motor performance of the hand.

The prehensile action of the hand makes two basic movements possible: the precision grip and the power grip. The first permits accuracy and fine control. The second is a posture of labor, in which the entire hand holds an object between the flexed fingers and the palm while the thumb supplies the necessary pressure to maintain the grip.

A network of nerves of the fingers transmit heat or pain and convert the mechanical energy of touch into electric energy that is carried by the nerves to the higher centers. Other more sensitive neural tactile receptors permit discrimination among objects. Even the fingerprints with their unique configuration of whorls, loops, and arches, assist the fingers to grip and pick up objects.

The thumb and fingers are primary organs of the vast human sensory system. A relatively large area of the brain governs them. The thumb, for instance, is governed in the brain cortex by an area almost as large as that which controls the entire hip and leg.

The Awareness of Touch - Hands exercises

Human beings have very highly developed eye-hand coordination, the hands responding instantly to silent messages from the brain, informed by the eye. But the very delicate pressure sensors (propioceptors) in our fingertips enable us to know when we are approaching an object, even without the assistance of our eyes. This is how, for example, we can close our eyes and touch the tip of our nose. Even the most sophisticated robot cannot begin to match this kinesthetic capability, which we take for granted. To become aware of the subtle capabilities of the hands we suggest a few exercises:

1. Rub the hands very vigorously for about a minute until you feel heat created by friction. Inhale and raise your hands over your head. Feel the generation of energy flowing through the body.

2. Once again, rub the hands very vigorously for a minute. Then place the palms in front of you as if you were holding a ball about six inches in diameter. Feel the lines of force, like the lines of force of a magnet, connecting the hands. Now slowly bring the hands together until they almost touch. Do you feel the tingling? Do any "sparks" leap the gap between your hands? Now s-l-o-w-l-y pull your hands apart until the lines of force snap, just as do the lines of force in a bar magnet when the poles are pulled apart and then suddenly release. How far apart are your hands when you feel the snap?

3. Clap the hands lightly for about a minute in such a way that the palms and all the fingers meet. Then, with the arms at a right angle, shake the hands at the wrists in a variety of motions -- up-and-down, side-to-side, towards each other, away from each other -- for several minutes. Finish by dropping the hands at your sides. Discover for yourself the intensity of the energy concentrated in them by the tingling sensation of sparks shooting out the ends of the fingertips.

4. Stand facing the sun in the morning and stretch the arms to shoulder level. Close the fists, contracting the fingers, and then open the fists, stretching the fingers. Do this for one minute and feel the result. After performing any of these hand energizers, touch an object s-l-o-w-l-y, as if for the first time. What new sensations do you discover?

5. Stand erect. Stretch the right arm forward until the hand is at shoulder level, then extend it straight out to the side at shoulder level, and then let it come back down to your side. Repeat this with the left arm. This exercise is especially good for coordination of the right-left crisscross of energy in the body.

6. Practice the "Fish Wave", a wavy movement in which the hand is taught to undulate like a fish.

Begin with the palms together, fingers touching.

Second, fan the fingers, keeping the palms together.

Third, cup both hands away from each other, keeping fingertips and heels of the palms touching.

Fourth, bring the first knuckle joints together, leaving the outspread fingers still cupped.

Fifth, slowly stretch the fingers up until the whole hand is flat against the other once again, and then allow the fingers to peel outward as far as possible from each other, like the petals of a flower opening.

Finally, bring the palms together as in the beginning and repeat the exercise many times. Eventually do it with one hand alone in space, moving it in many different directions -- vertically, horizon tally, diagonally, right-to-left, left-to-right -- like a fish swimming.

With continued practice of this exercise, your hands will become remarkably supple and responsive. You will be able to touch with greater sensitivity and have a fuller appreciation for tactile nuances.

By increasing our awareness of the hands through exercises, we come to realize that they are actually transmitters of energy and of the knowledge in which our fluid thoughts take form. If we take this into consideration, we will see a positive transformation in our lives. Every moment and gesture becomes of utmost importance to us. We gain poise and calm envelops all life within and without. We will then write our poems on the walls of history with these hands.

It is said that when the hands are flexible, it is a sign of spiritual flexibility. An ancient Chinese exercise of pushing the fingers backwards makes them flexible so that the spirit will also be flexible. The ancient Greeks would test children's hands for flexibility to see if they had the potential to become artists.

The attainment of high spiritual powers by the individual has been associated with certain postures of the body, especially hand gestures, which not only aid concentration, but are capable of evoking the inner spiritual consciousness.

The Hindus have devised a highly formalized and cultivated gesture language, kathakali, a grammatically complete language of hand symbols or mudras, regarded to be expressive of spiritual states and the qualities of deities. The palm, for example, symbolizes the calm center of action, the meditative control over the five senses or fingers agitated around it. One hand held up, palm outward, is known as "turning the wheel of the law." It is also a teaching position. The hands held together indicate the begging bowl.

Some of these gestures, apart from their spiritual significance and symbolism, are wonderfully articulate, with a grace and tenderness of poetic expression, and capable of depicting any theme, situation, emotion, or action required. Each theme has its own sequence of hand positions and movements, with coordinated attitude and body movements based on certain archetypal or idealized forms.

The opening lotus bud, for example, is shown, not only by a single symbolic gesture, but also by a series of hand movements, beginning with a cyclic twist of the hand to suggest the very growth of the flower, followed by delicate movements of the fingers to indicate unfolding petals. Visualize for a moment an Indian dancer, her hands fluttering to indicate water, the flight of the bee, or the opening of a lotus. An undulating hand suggests waves, or a fish; a swinging hand creates elephant ears or the flight of a bird; and a shaking hand shows anger, a river, rising flames, or lightning. These movements of the hands are thought to represent divine actions, being distinguished in their conventions from the movements and gestures of ordinary human beings.

Native Americans evolved elaborately codified ceremonial sign languages which yet retain a beautiful mimetic simplicity and directness. A ceremonial dancer, for example, shades his eyes to see into the distance. This action is repeated toward the four points of the compass as the dancer looks to ward the approaching rain gods who bring the rain. He may also enact motions of sowing seeds, digging, and gathering plants. Native American animal dances are highly mimetic, imitating the flight of geese or eagles or the supernatural powers of bears or bison.

Many traditional ceremonial hand gestures also prevail in the Christian church. The thumb and first two fingers raised represent the Trinity and are used by the Pope in blessing the faithful. The arms outstretched form a cross with the body, expressing suffering in life and death.

The seated Buddha calls the earth to witness with a downward pointing right hand, while receiving from above with an upturned left hand laid in his lap. Similarly, dervishes whirl with the left palm extended upward to receive from heaven and the right palm facing the earth to transmit the energy through their bodies to the earth.

At ancient Egyptian funeral ceremonies, the hands held palms upward above the head signified the rising of the soul; holding the arms in a gesture of throwing dust on the head indicated mourning; arms held directly upward signified interceding with the gods for the dead; a pushing movement sent threatening evil spirits away from the dead.

In the Hebrew tradition the hand is the connector through which the spirit may touch matter, and with which we may touch spirit with matter while living in the flesh. In Hebrew, the word for hand is Yad. Yod, the first letter of Yad, is the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and designates the ten fingers.

Now Yad numerically in Hebrew equals 14, designating the 14 phalanges of the human hand. We have two hands, equaling 28 phalanges. The number 28 creates the word Koah, meaning "Power," the power that we possess in our hands or actions.

The hand is also our point of contact with others; we shake hands to make contact with a friend two hands come together. In Hebrew, the word Yedid, meaning "friends," is spelled Yad Yad, which also adds up to 28, (Koah,) power. So the power of two hands is friendship. And in joining hands we gain a mighty power to create and expand.


"Samuel brings awareness to the soul of people and gives the artists who work under his direction the need, dedication, and love for the world of silence and the beautiful art of movement."


- Marcel Marceau, BIP 1961

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Le Centre Du Silence
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Lafayette, CO 80026

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About LCDS

LCDS is an independent school for self-discovery through the human Arts.  The school offers seminars and workshops teaching the concepts of Theater, Mime, and Movement.