Homage to the Human Hand

By David Lauterstein

For the first thirty years of my life, I was a musician and composer. Among my first loves was the guitar and its music made through the wonderful composition of metal, strings, wood, and open space. I am still thrilled with the sight and sound of the guitar and all the variants that have been made over time – the lute, lyre, harp, mandolin.

Imagine a beautiful guitar that could change into a flute and then become a piano and then a wonderful drum.

The love of music led me almost simultaneously to the love of the human hand.

As a child, I saw an illustration in the book, The Family of Man. It was a picture of an old woman’s hands. You could just feel all the things she had done with them over the course of her life. She cared for loved ones, helped feed them, cleaned the house, repaired clothing, facilitated birth, consoled people through sickness, life’s struggles, and even death.

The use of the hands unites us with the labors of all human kind through time. Ever so gradually, our hands evolved over hundreds of million of years; freed from having to support us on the ground; freed to grasp and manipulate; thus, freeing our mouth, from the grasping function, and so giving us the capabilities that over time became speech and song.

With the role of the hand in articulate action, the mind was now freed further to allow the development of new structures and functions, making possible more and more complex interactions with the environment and with each other.

“…the hand is not only the organ of labor, it is also the product of labor. Only through labor, through constant adaptation to new operations,through inheritance of the special development thus acquired of muscles, ligaments and, over longer periods of time, bones as well, and by the ever renewed use of this inherited refinement in new, increasingly complicated operations, has the human hand attained that high degree of perfection that has enabled it to conjure into being the paintings of a Raphael, the statues of aThorwaldsen, the music of a Paganini.” – Friedrich Engels

The human hand, in concert with the mind and heart, is the most sophisticated instrument in the known universe.

In the art and science of massage, we have the privilege to use this greatest of all instruments. An evolved miracle is brought to bear every time we touch in a thoughtful, heartfelt manner.

This instrument indeed is self-transforming through the use of knuckle, fist, fingertips, pads, heel of hand, and palm. It is guided through the imagination and conscious thought of the cerebrum, the emotional intelligence and passion of the limbic system, supported by body movements coordinated with the cerebellum and the incredibly complex development of proprioception through each muscle, tendon and joint.

With a continually renewed appreciation for the miracle of the hand, we know we touch using a miracle of mind and body, united through all of human history with the common and extraordinary labors of our ancestors. We all are the receivers and givers of this blessing conveyed through space and reaching through vast expanses of time, this human hand.

What a journey our hands take with us through life. What would a thorough history of the hands’ experience be? They are tools and themselves talismans. in their gestures and mudras; in their silent lines, they convey volumes. Hands write the book of life.

“Hands make the world each day.” – Pablo Neruda

David Lauterstein teaches continuing education courses at the Downeast School of Massage. Check our website at www.downeastschoolofmassage.net for his Deep Massage courses.


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