Rest Your Hands

Exercise from How to Train A Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays:

Several times a day let your hands relax completely. For at least a few seconds, let them be completely still. One way to do this is to place them in your lap and then focus your awareness on the subtle sensations in the quiet hands.

The hands are always busy. If they are not busy, they are somewhat tense, ready to work.

The hands reveal our state of mental ease or discomfort. Many people have unconscious nervous hand gestures, such as rubbing or wringing their hands, touching their face, tapping a finger, snapping a fingernail, cracking their knuckles, or twiddling their thumbs. When people first learn to meditate, they often have a hard time letting the hands be still. They may restlessly rearrange the position of their hands, and as soon as there is a small itch, the hands fly up to scratch it.

When we relax our hands, the rest of the body and even the mind will relax, too. Relaxing the hands is a way of quieting the mind. We also find that when the hands are quiet in our lap, we can listen more attentively.


As I did this task, I discovered that my hands tighten on the steering wheel when I am driving. Now I can check for this unconscious habit, and relax my grip. I realized that I can hold the wheel with a lighter grip and still drive safely. When I relax my hands on the steering wheel, I often find that ten minutes later, they have resumed their habitual tight grip again. This is why we call it mindfulness "practice." We have to do it over and over again to truly become aware. We set out to do the practice, then revert to unconscious behavior, then become aware again, then start the practice again, and so on.