An article to accompany the audio lesson ‘Curiosity and the Hands’, created by Emma Alter for International Feldenkrais Awareness Week 2023
Curiosity can create learning in many ways. It leads us to ask questions. One of the main stimuli for learning. Along with a desire for new understanding or knowledge. When we are curious about something, we are more likely to pay attention. We’re also more likely to process and retain it better when we sought it out for ourselves.
Curiosity is innate
Curiosity is something we’re born with. It’s one of the 6-9 emotional patterns we come wired with.(Different researchers have slightly different opinion on the final numbers) *
Curiosity is a huge part of our drive to learn
It creates our desire to explore, know more and to understand the world around us. Curiosity pushes us to connect, find out more, or to see what’s around the corner. It’s what propelled our ancestors to travel around the oceans on tiny boats to discover new lands. And what pushes every toddler to leave their parent’s side to explore the world around them.
That curiosity starts early. Around 3 months babies begin exploring themselves using their hands. As a baby wiggles its fingers in play, it slowly senses the connections. This is accidental at first, and then later, more intentional. After time it senses the fingers connect to the hand, which connects to the arm. And that the hand and arm are theirs to move and play with.
Developing hand control
It’s part of the process of discovering where we start and end; developing the ability to be aware of ourselves. Interoceptively (sensing from the inside), and prioperceptively (in relation to something outside of ourselves), it’s through exploration that babies learn to recognise where something not-themselves starts. A mapping of their physical selves and world around them in the brain.
The explorative experience allows our senses and co-ordination to develop. The hands take up a massive amount of neural real estate in the brain. Perhaps it’s understandable that the process needs to start early!
Exploration leads towards hand-eye co-ordination
In exploration a baby develops the basis for her gross and fine motor skills: for the hand-eye co-ordination s/he will need in later life.
And curiosity leads to progress in attention and concentration. S/he’ll need that for creating ability or mastery in any subject.
Exploring and moving ourselves with attention stimulates:
Sensory processing. Sensing, interpreting and responding to stimuli inside and outside ourselves. It’s a continuous conversation between our brain and the nerve endings in the body. Which in turn leads to
Self-awareness. Learning where the fingers are, alongside levels of pressure needed for manipulating different objects.
As we map ourselves in the brain, we can
Control posture. We need to be able to stabilise the torso, and control the whole arm from the shoulder. Once we have this, we can create
Vision progresses alongside the hand control. Eye tracking, and focussing usually becomes more established at 3 months too.
We interact with the world around us with our hands
We create community and trust with touch. Mostly through the hands. We bring things towards us, or keep them at arm’s length. Touching, holding, grabbing,releasing, letting go. All of which need hand control.
Our habits around how we use our hands start early. As we automate the use of touch, we think less about how we use them. With that habituation come habits that serve us well, and others that don’t.
We have bands of fascia, or arches in the hands, (like the feet) that create structure. They work together to balance and stabilise the hand, whilst maintaining flexibility. They allow precise holds needed for writing, or grasping. Or more complex pastimes such as drawing or playing a musical instrument. We need strength in our hands, but also mobility. Without flexibility it’s difficult to adjust our tightness or size of hold. If our hands are stiff, it’s tricky to use our fingers with great dexterity.
Our hands echo our emotional tone
As we age, we can lose softness and mobility in the arches of the hands and fingers. When we’re stressed, our hands show this in their rising level of tension and muscular tone. The years of using our hands with excess force shows up as stiffness and clumsiness.
But it’s possible to rediscover this freedom of movement by going back to the explorative methods we used as infants. It’s something we do in every Feldenkrais lesson. We use our curiosity to learn in the same organic way we did as babies: Exploring and moving ourselves with attention. Sensing ourselves to re-awaken the nervous system. Growing the skill of awareness so our motor controls gives us greater co-ordination and freedom. An improvement of awareness lets us feel ourselves in clearer detail. As if we added more pixels to our internal 3D picture of ourselves in the brain. When we can sense ourselves more directly, we are able to move ourselves with greater skill.
As one of my clients said after a Feldenkrais lesson we did on the hands, “They feel so much more fluid, so much softer, and responsive. Today I fell back in love with my hands”.
Emma Alter is a Feldenkrais Practioner based in London.
* Fang: Six basic patterns
Tomkins: Nine basic emotions
Paul Ekman: 7 universal emotions