December is a month when many people observe holidays that promote giving gifts. These days, the ads I see surround me with images of smiling people handing beautifully wrapped gifts to friends and family. Being a kinetic person, my mind focuses more on the action than the object, the gesture of giving more than the packages being exchanged. As a result, this month I’m reminded of the important physical, emotional, and metaphoric role one of the most important parts of our body play for us – the hand(s).
From an ancient yoga perspective, the hand, or hands, are considered one of our organs of action. Most of us think of organs as a group of tissue that together perform one function for the body and its survival. (i.e. the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, etc.) But within yoga philosophy, the body consists of 11 organs – 5 organs of receptivity, 5 organs of action, and 1 organ (the mind) which coordinates the interaction of all of them.
Each receptive organ has a correlating organ of action that together give humans the experience of one of the 5 senses. Each pair of receptive/active organs brings the outer world into our inner world of awareness and understanding, and allows us to transmit some of our energy and inner experience back out to the world. For example, the hands are an organ of action correlated with the skin, which is the receptive organ. Together, they help us experience the sense of touch.
In yoga philosophy, touch is connected to the heart chakra, our energetic center for love. In fact, many people say they feel “touched” when someone is kind to them. The heart feels touched, not smelled, not heard… touched. Therefore, our hands are the organs of action responsible for sending whatever love and joy we have to the outside world. What an important job they have!
Most of our day is spent using our hands for work, play, cooking, and functional interactions with our world. But we also shake hands to say “hello” and for business agreements. We “lend a hand” when we help someone in need. We “hand it to” our friends when they triumph at something difficult and deserve a round of applause. We use hands to both give, and to receive, both literally and symbolically, through objects, emotions, and metaphors.
An open hand, with the palm facing upward is a natural gesture of asking used around the world. When we bend the wrist of an exposed palm a little bit more in order to point the fingers towards the ground, then we create the mudra for forgiveness. The gesture of asking, and the gesture to offer forgiveness, are such similar shapes, they remind us that receiving and giving (or forgiving) are just two sides of the same coin.
When we think of the times we’ve given and received gifts, most of us can easily remember a time receiving the “perfect gift,” and a time we’ve given the perfect gift to someone else. Didn’t the delight and joy feel the same for both experiences? Even though the gifts were probably tangible in some way, the real exchange was actually a little piece of love and joy.
If we’re not careful, any of our organs of action, especially the hands, can be used for a negative impact instead of a positive one. So, it’s worth our time to try and fill our hands (the actors) and minds (the directors of action) with positive energy, which can be done in a multitude of ways: self-reflection, mudra practice, meditation, etc. to ensure the actions of our hands are always filled with love and joy, coming straight from the energy of an open heart.
And if you plan to participate in gift-giving this month, just remember that no matter what gift you give, use your hands, the messengers of your heart, to give your gift from a place of love.