The Human Hand

by Wayne Still

human hands massageIn 1908 J. Madson Taylor MD penned the following lines:

No single therapeutic agent can be compared in efficiency with this familiar but perfect tool… The Human Hand. It is preeminently the instrument of the artist in all departments. The hand is an ever present agent of skill…. It is capable of infinite adaptation…. If half as much research had been expended on the principles governing manual treatment as upon pharmacology, the hand would be esteemed today on a par with drugs in acceptability and power….


The laying on of hands has long been associated with healing powers. The founder of Structural Integration, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, said that the work she took to a new level of organization was at least five thousand years old. Why is the human hand so well adapted to its role as an agent in healing? The human hand is very well endowed with nerve endings making it very sensitive to incoming information. The simple act of placing a hand on a clients body to feel the texture of the underlying structures gives the practitioner a sense of where tensions may be in the body and how to proceed with the task of bringing balance into those tensions. For energy workers who do not actually touch the body, the hand is able to discern changes in the energy field around the body and so determine their best strategy for proceeding with their treatment. A temperature change of as little as 1/100th of a degree Fahrenheit can be detected by a practitioner’s hand. Such a heat signature can be used to pinpoint the location of an underlying structure or adhesion. Osteopaths learned a technique they called “listening” with the finger tips. Where there is an adhesion in the body, the body will be trying to release it. The attempt is felt as a subtle movement in the area of the adhesion, this movement is referred to as a “listening.” By working with the listening a practitioner is able to release the adhesion with little or no discomfort to the client. A certain level of detachment on the part of the practitioner is required when they first start to learn this technique to believe that what they are feeling is true. Jean-Pierre Barral, a French osteopath and the founder of Visceral Manipulation, points to his head and says “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” he then points to his hand and says “Smart! Smart! Smart!” The first feeling the practitioner gets will be the right one, no need to analyze it. The hand is also a very efficient and adaptable means of delivering information. Much of what we do as healers can be referred to as education. Information in the form of directed pressure tells the body where it needs to get a bit more length to bring balance into a structure that is not comfortable. The hand may also hold one end of a muscle while the client moves the muscle body to achieve the needed lengthening. Whether it is active or passive in moving the tissue, it is the hand which is transmitting the necessary information to the practitioner so they know whether what they are doing is effective and how to proceed with the next step. Next time you are receiving bodywork take a moment to appreciate the marvelous complexity and ability of the tool doing the work, the human hand.