“Our ability to grasp, to build, and to make our thoughts real lies inside this complex of bones, nerves, and vessels”…“The hand is a signature for who we are and what we can attain.” Neil Shubin, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion Year History of the Human Body.
In the past year my hands have taken on a life of their own. During yogic and meditative states, an external/internal energy begins to pour into my palms, compelling my hands to form basic shapes and gestures. Sometimes it feels like my hands and fingers are being pulled by a force, other times it feels as if they are seeking to express something, embody something – but what?
So in a quest to better understand what was happening- I began to research everything I could find about the hand. And what I discovered was revelatory.
Today mysticism and science are converging to tell us that not only do our hands receive, transmit and even project energy – they are a vehicle by which we transform consciousness into the world of form. (Is this why the Latin word for manifestation, Manus, is also the Latin world for hand?)
That’s why I’ve come to understand , as Sir Charles Bell wrote in his classic anatomy handbook The Hand, Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design – that the designed perfection of the hand “could only have a divine origin.”
The Sacred Hand
According to Gertud Hirschi, author of Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands, the idea of the hand as containing and expressing divine energy is found in nearly all spiritual traditions. Hand gestures are depicted in cave art, indigenous art, Christian and eastern religious iconography.
The traditions of Tantra and Hatha Yoga, Buddhism and Taoism, agree that the palms of the hand contain energy vortices (chakras or power-points) that connect the physical body (brain, organs, glands, veins, tendons) with the subtle or energetic body (chakras, nadis, meridians). The thumb and each of the fingers are imbued with specific metaphysical powers, and offer channels for the flow of Prana or Qi (life force or divine energy) through the energy body.
In Tantra and Buddhism, holding the hand in specific positions is called a mudra. When prana begins to flow through the energy body, the hands can begin to form spontaneous mudras – on their own. (Was this the phenomenon I was experiencing?)
While mudras can happen without conscious volition, they can also be used deliberately. By utilizing certain hand postures and pressing the fingers together in particular positions, prana can be channeled intentionally along differing energy pathways (nadis or meridians).
Of course, the existence of these “spiritual energies “and “energetic bodies” is still up for debate. In the modern scientific paradigm, using hand gesticulations to engage with our chakras and meridians is pointless – there is no hard evidence documenting they actually exist.
But what I do find compelling is that science is coming up with evidence that mudras DO create real physiological effects in the body and brain.
The Hand & Bio-Energetic Phenomenon
Today we know that every area of hand forms a reflex zone for an associated part of the brain. And the hands, with their multitudes of nerve endings, occupy a significant portion of this neural tissue. Neural imaging experiments on mudras have demonstrated not only their ability to activate specific portions of the brain, but alter brainwaves and create specific physiological states.
Research conducted by Albert Roy Davis and Walter C. Rawls found activating the right palm and inner fingers promote strength and confidence while the left hand palm and fingers have a “sedating soothing calming effect.”
Davis and Walter also found the natural energy in the palms was similar to the two different energies that exist in all magnets. By clasping the hands together in prayer or Anjali mudra as it is known in yoga, forms a “closed loop” or a “closed circuit.” Energy flows through this circuit from right hand palm (positive) to left hand palm (negative) enhancing the flow of electrical energy within the body”. Interestingly, this is similar to the Taoist view of the left hand as conducting yin energy and the right hand, yang energy.
In Taoism the palm is believed to contain a power point called Lao Gong – Pericardium 8 which can be used to enhance the flow of Qi into the body. According to modern Taoist Master D. Baolin Wu, our hands are “sensitive tools” to “interpret and direct the constant flow of Qi circulating throughout the universe”. It is through the hands that we direct Qi towards the fulfillment of our will and intention.
Okay so this idea that we can manifest our desires through the power of our hands may seem just a little woo-woo. But bio-imaging studies demonstrate that the hand, palm and fingers emit an bio-magnetic energy that has measurable effects on the physical world.
Research conducted in Japan demonstrated that practitioners of healing and martial arts techniques (Qigong, yoga, meditation, Zen etc.) were capable of emanating extraordinarily large strong pulsating magnetic fields from the palms of their hands, about 1,000 times stronger than normal human bio-magnetic fields
Experiments by John Zimmermann with highly sensitive SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device) detectors measured increased magnetic field emission from the hands of psychic healers hundreds of times stronger than normal body activity.
But most amazing are the countless experiments demonstrating that this “field emission” is capable of altering enzyme activity in cells, changing the Ph level in water, and increasing the growth rate of plants. Dr. William Bengston has conducted numerous clinical trials demonstrating that “hands-on healing” consistently reduced tumors in mice and led to “the increased health of the sick organism.”
Is this pseudo-science as the skeptical minded contend? Or are we slowly beginning to rediscover what the Tantric and Taoist mystics already understood, the energetic power of the hand to shape reality itself?
Biology & Gesture & Embodied Cognition
On this question, I find the hand’s evolutionary history most telling.Research published in the National Academy of Sciences revealed that hand gestures stimulate the same regions in the brain as language.
Research in the field of language evolution suggests that this is because gesture is hardwired into our physiology and may well be the oldest form of communication. That’s why we all understand that hands held high in the air means victory or that two pairs of hands clasped together means love.
Studies conducted in the emerging field of ‘embodied cognition” demonstrate how the simplest of hand gestures affect our psychology i.e. reaching upward makes it easier to recall happy memories, while reaching downward brings negative memories to mind.
Researchers theorize this phenomenon may have something to do with dominant and submissive body postures, which are deeply wired into our most primeval instincts and internal structures – and take place at a realm beyond conscious awareness.
David McNeill, has spent the greater part of his career studying body language and gestures and he believes our hands are doing much more than simply expressing our inner states. McNeill concludes that gestures do not simply form a part of what is said and meant – but have an impact on thought itself.
He writes “When we speak, we shape our thoughts for language, and when we gesture, we shape them in the space in front of us…by putting our thoughts in our hands we learn and remember better, speak more fluently and find the right words.” McNeill theorizes that gestures directly transfer mental images to visible forms, conveying ideas that language cannot always express.
So is it by talking with our hands, that we discover what we want to say? By helping us verbalize, give name to what was previously unconscious (inchoate emotion or sensation) are our hands helping to shape self-consciousness itself? And so I wonder (when my hands are spontaneously forming mudras) – what knowledge are they attempting to express?
Love & Mirror Neurons
In the end, what resonates most in my exploration of the hand, is its connection to the greatest and mysterious energy of all, love. Because, all the traditions of yoga agree, the hand chakra connects directly to the greater chakra of the heart. Which seems so obvious, after all? Because it is through the physical expression of touching, stroking, holding, that we give and receive love.
Neuro-imaging also shows us the area of the brain called Broca’s area (where language is believed to originate) lights up when people grasp an object and when they watched someone else grasp the object. This is theorized to be the work of ‘mirror neurons’ – meaning when we watch each other gestures – we literally “feel” them in our body. So could witnessing a mudra be as powerful as experiencing it?
I find this question intriguing considering that Anjali mudra (hands clasped over the heart) has today become practically synonymous with all things “spiritual”. According to the great yogi sage Krishnamacharya, this gesture “seals” our relationship with the Divine, and “signifies the potential for an intention to progress to the greatest spiritual awakening”.
Could this image, gracing nearly every new age, meditation and yoga website/magazine/product, actually be capable of affecting us spiritually? Did ancient mystics already understand this? Is this why images of sacred hand postures are so ubiquitous in spiritual art? Who knows? But it’s an interesting question to contemplate.
In yoga tradition the heart chakra is seen as the gateway to higher consciousness. Awakening the energy center of the heart opens the “gate of heaven” where we experience hridaya, “the whole” a place of unity, oneness. And most fascinatingly, science does confirms that our heart connect us to a higher dimensional field of energy beyond time and space. (See my post The Sacred Heart: Gateway to Higher Consciousness)
So it makes sense then, that our hands are the “flow-ers” of the cosmic energy of the heart. And that’s why while I’m still not exactly sure what my hands are doing or why, I’ve decided to go with the flow and trust them to lead the way. Because whether it’s through “spontaneous mudras” or reaching out with a caress, I trust that my hands are transmuting divine energy -love- into the world of form.