“Strengthen Ye the Weak Hands”

by Robert Rickover

The title of this article comes from Isaiah 35, 3. The hand has long been a symbol for the power of manifestation. We speak of a person being handy. Someone who who does essential work for another is sometimes called his “right hand”. In Latin, the word for hand is manus and this comes originally from a Sanskrit word meaning “thinker”. The English word “man” derives from the same root.

At times, the power of the hand has been ignored or under-utilized. In the field of medicine, for example, there was a time when physicians deemed it beneath their dignity to actually touch a patient and went through great lengths to avoid doing so. For example, If they needed to hear a person’s heartbeat, they would use a long cylindrical tube, one end on the patient’s chest and other by their doctor’s ear.

If surgery was needed, a surgeon was called in. Because it required such intimate contact with the patient, the social and professional status of surgeons was far lower that that of physicians - pretty much on a level with butchers or barbers, who in fact often did surgery on the side. Only when surgical techniques were perfected in the mid 19th century did the status of surgeons begin to improve.

The quality of medical care obviously suffered as a result of this failure to utilize the powers of the human hand. We are fortunate that today’s doctors have moved beyond the inhibitions of their predecessors. It is a bit ironic however that the stethoscope, which today is practically an identification badge for a MD, was originally designed as an improvement over the cylindrical tube technique described above!

Not only are hands being used to palpate and help diagnose disease, but increasingly they are being used in more active healing ways as well. Physical therapy, for example, with it’s extensive use of hands-on help has grown enormously in importance and in respect in the medical community.

Around a century ago, chiropractic and osteopathy came into being. These modalities relied on the practitioners’ hands to manipulate bones, sometimes with a fair amount of force, in order to bring about improvements. In more recent years, there has been a huge growth in the popularity of non-medical hands-on therapies and techniques. Massage therapy is certainly the best known of these but there are many others like Reiki and CranioSacral work and various movement reeducation methods like Feldenkrais, Trager and Roofing. It’s no exaggeration to say that the power of the human hand as a means to help and and to heal has, in the last generation or two, been unleashed as never before.

My own field, the Alexander Technique, is another example of this phenomenon. For a long time there were very few Alexander Technique teachers. When I first started taking lessons in 1975, the teachers’ list for the whole world fit on one typewritten page and almost all the teachers listed were in London, where Alexander spent most of his life. Today, there are thousands of teachers around the world and the number is growing rapidly as more and more people discover the benefits of the work.

F. Matthias Alexander, the Technique’s developer, made many of his discoveries about human functioning in the late 19th Century. Interestingly enough, Alexander did not originally think to use his hands at all in his teaching of others. At the beginning, he believed that he could simply explain what he had discovered to his students and while this worked to a certain extent, it proved to have serious limitations. At some point he realized that he would also have to show his students what he meant, and that’s when the Technique became a hands-on method. Over the years he refined the use of his hands and late in his teaching career he remarked, “My brain is in my hands.”

Which takes us right back to the Sanskrit connection between “hand” and “thinker” mentioned at the start of this article.


Robert Rickover is a teacher of the Alexander Technique living in Lincoln, Nebraska. He also teaches regularly in Toronto, Canada. Robert is the author of Fitness Without Stress - A Guide to the Alexander Technique and is the creator of The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique

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