Hand Exercises for Artists

I am forever studying my friends’ hands and everyone's hands. We make all these beautiful things with them. Yet I rarely hear any discussion about hand exercises, for artists specifically or in the context of general physical fitness. All these fine motor skills need to be taken care of, not to mention there’s a physical toll that constant phone and computer tinkering can take.

Above is a breakdown of the sequence in the video. The video shows a progression of positions, but I will often sustain some or all of these for an extended period of time while breathing through them. Whatever feels natural and necessary to me. Disclaimer: I don’t know your situation, bodies are weird. Never force anything.

Think yoga, for your hands

My hands are never still. From a very early age I've looked for new and different ways to keep them busy.

A mudra is a special hand gesture found in Hinduism and Buddhism. You might encounter mudras of one form or another in yogic practice or martial arts, although for the most part they remain esoteric.

Offering a “mainstream” version of these symbolic gestures doesn’t do them complete justice. I suppose this is the implicit caveat behind yoga and martial arts as well: the mudras themselves provide practically effective exercise, and perhaps because of their association with mysticism and meditation, they engender a deliberate consideration of our body as we do them.

The video goes through a basic sequence of stretches that are based on these mudras, but this is by no means the extent of what I do to take care of my hands. Over the years, I began to incorporate acupressure (example shown in the video) and ballistic stretches in with these static stretches. I might get into those more at another time.

A natural digression in which Jean-Claude Van Damme makes an appearance

When I was young, I took kung fu lessons. These overlapped for a time with my music lessons. I could make some deeper connection there, but really I encountered these mudras as Kuji In hand signs in the movie Bloodsport.

It is from some of these specific symbols that I derived my own, modifying the gestures into stretches that can be applied to every finger. I waver back and forth as to the integrity of these extrapolated positions, but ultimately I’m guided by what works for me. 

Opening doors and all the things hands do

Academic work, composition or musical performance, and any other creative endeavor should be — I think— considered in the same world as the disciplines of yoga or martial arts. Each operates from a special correspondence between the intellect, the spirit, and the body. They are all systems of revealing, of unlocking potential in the self and other material.

The benefits in physical flexibility or strength are perhaps only surface effects, which correspond to some deeper release of tension. Relaxation is a type of revelation that opens us up to other revelations, and so on. And so on.