Fingers and toes don’t get much attention, but awareness of these distal ends of our hands and feet can enhance our fitness, our happiness, and our presence in any situation. Yesterday, we looked at the many benefits for body, mind and emotions of relaxing, engaging, and wiggling the toes. Now, let’s look at how we can do similarly cool things by paying attention to fingers.
My dad used to joke that all he’d have to do to get my grandmother to stop talking was to tie her hands down (gratefully, he never tested the theory). Hands and fingers are some of our most expressive body parts, both literally and figuratively. When they use their hands, I don’t have to hear what that another driver is saying to know what they are feeling. I can see by their gestures if they are calm (as they thoughtfully wave me in front of them) or angry (as they furiously flip me the finger). And there are dozens of idioms in English that illustrate how fingers are intertwined with how we see ourselves. Whether I’m “all thumbs” or have a “green thumb,” whether I “don’t lift a finger” or “work my fingers to the bone,” how I use and talk about my fingers says a lot about who I am.
While it can be cool and helpful to understand finger anatomy and Nia’s take on fingers, I’ve noticed that simply paying attention to the fingers and using them mindfully is good for the brain, body, and spirit. As a movement instructor and student of the body, I’ve put my finger on the ways people use (and don’t use) their fingers. Here are the top four ways to get all the benefits that we all have at our fingertips:
1. Use them
Most people use their fingers in limited and unconscious movements both during their day and in their dance. Fingers are designed to do a huge range of movements – not just typing and texting! Stretch them wide, shake them out, make a tight fist and flick them. By engaging the fingers in more ways, the hands become stronger, more powerful and more flexible. What’s more, the entire arm gets benefits that only finger movement can offer. (Do an experiment: flick your fingers like you have water on them repeatedly for 30 seconds and notice the sensation in your arms and hands.) The more fully I use my fingers in my movements, the more I am moving as a whole, the more of my body I am using, the more of me that is engaged. Want a better workout? Use your fingers.
2. Relax them
During freedance in Nia, I can be standing in a room full of dancing, jumping, swirling bodies. But the fingers? Frozen in a claw. Or splayed out tight. Or even held in a fist. Like the tight toes I talked about yesterday, fingers often hold lots of unconscious tension. When I notice I’m tensing my fingers, I like to vigorously shake mine out. Shaking out my hands and fingers, restores circulation, moves energy, and shows me where I’m holding tension (for me, in the big muscle at the base of my thumb). And like relaxing my toes, relaxing my hands and fingers lets my whole body let go, too. Want to feel more relaxed and have more possibilities in your movement? Relax your fingers.
3. Break habit
Almost everybody is dominant on one side. Whichever side you write with you probably do most everything with and, most likely, you hardly notice that you do. Overuse of the dominant side can lead to imbalance in the muscles and even injury, but also it entrains the brain into only one pathway, one way of doing things. So it’s great for the body and the brain to play with your non-dominant side. Brush your teeth, write or draw, eat your breakfast, and use the computer mouse with your non-dominant fingers. Play with grasping doors handles and carrying bags with your non-dominant digits. If you always wear a ring, watch or bracelet on one hand, really light up your brain by wearing it on the other side. Want to burn new neural pathways in your brain? Break finger habits.
4. Be expressive
Expressing emotion with the hands and particularly the fingers can move stored emotional energy and be tremendously healing. However, given their delicate movements, it can feel intimate and vulnerable to use the fingers expressively. There at the edge of our bodies, at the end of our arm, our fingers are where we most often meet the world. I’ve used my fingers to prepare every meal I’ve ever made, to steer every mile I’ve ever driven, and to write every single blog post — including these very words. It’s with my fingers that I caress a baby’s cheek, plant my garden, and squeeze a grieving friend tight. When I stop and notice, I realize how sensitive and personal every movement with my fingers really is. So be gentle. Approach expressive fingers with curiosity and awareness. Choose finger movements that feel both challenging and healing. Want to free up emotional energy? Be expressive with your fingers.
We use our fingers for so many familiar gestures, many of them vulgar, that I can already hear the jokes and snickers in class. And that’s okay, this week, you can flip me the bird. I genuinely invite you, though, to look beyond the stereotypical high-fiving, scolding, fist-bumping, swearing, peace fingers. Those movements we share are fun to recognize, but what’s really interesting is the way you uniquely move and express using your very own fingers.