Sentient Fingers

Awareness of Sensation Improves Coordination

If you'd prefer to listen to this post, click here:

I’ve taken 25 Tai Chi (Chen style) classes in the last nine months, which is to say that I'll be a beginner for a while. The movements are flowing, circuitous, repetitive, subtly ever-changing and suddenly percussive. Lately it’s my favorite 90 minutes of the week.

Today I had a lucky spot right behind my teacher Kathy Chyan, so my mirror neurons were in for a feast. She’s a tiny woman, soft-spoken, gentle and oh, so strong. She moves as if there are no joints in her body while at the same time being an embodiment of grounded power. (She is “floating compression,” tensegrity in motion!)

Cloud Hands

Today I was fascinated by her hands, how fluidly they float through the air, transform into fists without warning, and melt again into clouds. Other students in the class have been practicing for many years, but none of them has this particular quality in their hands. Kathy speaks about letting our hands move as if through water, but it seemed to be more than that. I kept watching.

Awareness of sensation improves coordination.

And then it occurred to me to put my attention on my finger pads, in the whorls of my fingerprints. And to let each finger pad be alive to the air as I moved my hands through it. This seemed to change the coordination of my whole body, enhancing my fluidity. But only for the patterns that I know best. In the later sections, when I had to focus on the choreography, I couldn’t also attend to sentience in my fingers.

Reflecting on this after the class I thought about my cousin’s garden. It’s her personal aviary, with bird feeders that serve 25 different types of Los Angeles birds. From her kitchen window you watch an aerial ballet.

Kathy’s hands are like those birds I thought, not imitating them, but being what the birds are feeling. I tried to let my fingers feel what feathers might sense as they glide from branch to branch with purpose and grace. Birds are miniature Tai Chi masters.

See what happens if you focus on experiencing the life in the pads of your fingers. You can try it during your yoga practice, Pilates, dance—or doing the dishes, making the bed.  I think you already do it when you pet your cat.

© 2018 Mary Bond