Presence in Your Palms


The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.

During a cherished holiday week with my sister’s little ones, tiny hands twirled my hair, traced my face and playfully tugged my arms, pretty much around the clock. The reciprocal nourishment of this sweet physical connection caused a tiny weight to form in the pit of my stomach as I flew back home, where children do not yet reside.

Generally, even for those of us that are married, the majority of our days are often physically detached from one another. Ironically, I used to welcome this kind of boundary. Despite being attracted to careers that depend on touch (dance, yoga, physical therapy), I wasn’t naturally a “hands-on” type of person. Therefore, years ago, when a teacher guided us to place our own hands on our sternums, then our frontal ribs, then our sacrums, I was skeptical. This self-connection tool, woven all throughout the movement class, was offered as a way to harness interoception – awareness of moment-to-moment sensations. As someone that values practicality and shrugs at anything that has a tint of pampering, I was shocked to discover my body’s immediate receptivity. I realized that simply holding the base of my own skull in meditation melted my neck muscles. I discovered that the warmth of my hand weighted on my solar plexus would calm the acid reflux so often brewing in that region. In savasana, resting my palms on my stomach gradually built a bridge to this area of my body that I had dissociated from as a dancer. Again and again, I realized that placing my own hands onto my “pose” soothed and deepened my experience. I slowly began to understand how to find my own sense of center, while simultaneously becoming more present in my surroundings. Gesture by gesture, I began to layer this tool into my regular yoga practice, and later, into my teaching.

Today, I consistently “self-assist,” to help stay grounded, while still open and receptive. I employ this tool not only in yoga practice, but also all throughout my day. Not once has anyone seemed to care when I settle a hand onto my heart mid chat, or briefly anchor a palm onto my core during a busy workday. This tiny tool helps me become more embodied – more whole-self present. By connecting more fully with myself, I notice I am better able to connect to the people and situations in front of me.

No matter where we each land on the “hands-on/off” spectrum, the nourishment of mindful touch is essential. Our hands complete the sentences that our brains cannot. Spending time with my nieces reminded me how much we all need and thrive on physical contact. Our world is indeed fragmented, but surely reconnection begins with our individual work. As we navigate through our new year together, perhaps we physically connect with our compasses more frequently. The next time you feel dissociated, distracted or stressed (in yoga, at work, at home), perhaps you land a steady palm over your chest or belly. Breathing into that connection, notice the moment-to-moment sensations that roll through your experience. If this practice is meaningful for you, take it with you into 2015, enjoying that it is a strategy never further than an arm’s reach away.

Photography by Kathy Hartsell

5 Responses to “Presence in Your Palms”
  1. Mel Saint Claire says:

    Thank you for this! This touch of hand upon our vessel brings the gesture to know and to heal.

  2. Liz says:

    I am enthralled by the prospect of this strategy’s power! So simple to apply yet so momentous in its capacity to soothe, ground, connect. A friend and I were just discussing tonight how grateful we are as dancers to have a relationship and recognition of our physical bodies (not always healthy but that’s another matter), these frames in which we live and waltz through the world. But how often do we actually touch ourselves, with intention? Also that word – interoception…what a fascinating parallel to meditative practices in that connection to moment to moment. Have to look into that further…thank you for sharing all of this!

  3. Marissa says:

    Over the past few years of being in college and away from home I’ve become very aware of the importance of physical touch between two people. A simple hug from a friend or family member can bring such an immense sense of comfort and the lack of physical touch in my life makes a large difference in my wellbeing. However, I haven’t thought too deeply about the importance and necessity of self touch as well. I have noticed that self assists in yoga asana inform a lot about my posture and energetic expression in the asanas but I haven’t played with the idea much outside of dance and yoga. I’m going to start incorporating this strategy into my everyday life to remind me to stay present and to help calm myself in stressful times.

  4. Thanks so much for this. It reminds me that biologist say that human touch triggers the release of oxytocin, which is pretty much that warm feeling all over. Here’s an article about it, to complement yours.

  5. I love this post, I too have experienced self-touch, first heard about it from Tara Bach, this information is so beneficial for us all, I am starting to bring it into schools, self-compassion, friendly wishes, hand on heart, or belly, or can be on arm. Thank you

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