The following exercise is excerpted from The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi by Peter M. Wayne, PhD, and Mark L. Fuerst.
A good way to experience the interactions between gentle, pulsing movements, relaxation, imagery, and intention and their potential to alleviate pain is by practicing a simple exercise I developed called “Hand Tai Chi.” As a Tai Chi teacher, I have found that this exercise is often therapeutic for those who have arthritis or repetitive-stress injury. More generally, I have found that this exercise helps students experience a number of the core principles of Tai Chi. Once they experience therapeutic Tai Chi qualities in the hand, it’s easier for them to experience and begin integrating these principles into the rest of the body.
Hand Tai Chi
Hold your right hand in front of your body in a relaxed way, palm up. If it’s tiring to hold it up, rest it on your thigh. Slowly and mindfully, extend all your fingers and separate them, and then relax them. Don’t try too hard, no more than 70 percent effort. As you stretch, take time to notice which knuckles and surrounding tissues feel as if they are opening and which ones are not. It’s more important at first to just feel and notice without trying to affect any change. Feel the network of elastic fascia in and around each joint, and notice how the gentle stretching and resting begins to allow the surrounding inner ocean or living matrix to rehydrate and nourish the tissues. Compare the front and back of your hand. Invite the warm, inner ocean to spread more deeply and freely into all tissues, with each cycle of the palm stretching and relaxing back to neutral.
Now add a bit of imagery or intention. Imagine warm, healing energy, perhaps a miniature radiant yellow sun, in the palm of your hand, relaxing and nourishing the tissues.50 As you open and gently stretch the palm, allow the healing energy to radiate out into every cell of the hand, adding a gentle, charged quality to the inner ocean. As you relax your hand, feel the energy become more focused in the heart of the palm.
Each time you open the hand, the movement of the joints and the flow of the energy should be a just a little easier. Do this for three to five minutes with your right hand, and then compare it with how your left hand feels. Sometimes, the right hand feels warmer, sometimes more tingly, sometimes a little “bigger.” It’s different for each person. Switch to the left hand, and do Hand Tai Chi for three to five minutes. Now feel how the left hand feels compared to your right hand.
The principles of Hand Tai Chi are the same as those you use to practice the essential Tai Chi forms. For example, as you move forward in the “Push,” the palms open to strengthen the connection between the joints and to express energy. Once you “Push,” your palm returns to a more neutral, relaxed (or yin) phase. During the same movement, more experienced Tai Chi practitioners may sense the opening and closing of many more body joints—the spine, ribs, and lower extremity joints. And, during certain stages of Tai Chi training, the whole body feels like a hand, opening and closing, and being bathed with awareness and energy.