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Waking up the Hands

This is a Betty Martin exercise which you can find on her website. Before reading this post, it’s probably a good idea to read my post on Direct and Indirect Pleasure. In it, I talk about the difference between receiving pleasure because you enjoy the sensations something gives you (direct pleasure) and receiving pleasure because you believe that someone else is enjoying your touch (indirect pleasure). 

Waking up the Hands is an exercise from Betty Martin which she explains in these two videos. It’s essentially a mindfulness exercise about noticing sensations in your hands. If you have read my post about the DBT skills of observe and describe, you are aiming for observing only in this exercise. 

If you are someone who would like to increase your capacity to enjoy physical sensations, Waking Up the Hands may well be a useful practice to develop. But as I explained in my Direct and Indirect Pleasure post, enjoying physical sensations is not a prerequisite to enjoying sex. You may be someone who is more excited by fantasy, power play or latex and you might not have any interest in heightening your sensitivity to physical sensations. Your sex life should not be considered less than if that’s the case. 

If deepening your connection to physical sensations is something you’d like try, the hands are a great place to start. The only areas of the body with more nerve endings than the hands are the genitals and lips. For lots of people, they don’t come with much of a sexual story attached to them. This can help to quieten any “shoulds” that your brain might offer about how you ought to be responding.

This exercise is one that you do alone with an object so there aren’t any “shoulds” in relation to other people either. If our hands are touching another person, we are usually focussed on what they want rather than being focussed on our pleasure. Practising on an object removes this relational complexity so that we can focus on the inflow of information through our hands rather than the outflow of touch intended to please someone else. 

Following the exercise is very simple, but you may need to stick with it for a while before you notice much in your hands:

  1. Take any object in your hands and lean back into a chair or against a wall so that you are fully supported. If your trunk muscles are holding you upright, this may distract you from being able to relax enough to experience pleasure. 

  2. Move your hands over the object with the intention of noticing its features such as shape, texture, temperature. Let your hands explore. 

  3. It’s likely that your mind will wander - if it does, gently bring your attention back to noticing how the object feels in your hands. As Betty says, tuning into sensation is about consciously choosing to put our attention there - most of us will need to keep choosing over and over again. 

  4. Continue to move your hands, then slow their pace by half. Repeat this movement. You will likely notice that the slower you move the move you feel. 

  5. Gradually your physiology may become calmer and as it does, you may feel less distracted and begin to notice more pleasure in your hands. 

  6. Allow your hands to follow whatever motion and pace brings them the most pleasure. 

  7. Notice (and try not to judge!) any emotions that come up. 

This is most useful if practised frequently over a period of time. If you can find a way to weave it into your routine so it doesn’t feel like a chore, that’s likely to enable you to stick with it regularly. For example, you might want to try doing it first thing in the morning for 3 minutes, particularly if you have soft bedding that feels good to stroke. Some people can experience slight numbness in their hands in the morning so be aware of this and give yourself a moment to wake up.

As Betty says, “Your hands are a source of pleasure to you and not just implements by which you accomplish things.” This is true of our whole bodies. But it often requires conscious choice  to move them out of the capitalist mode of industrious productivity and into the realm of pleasure.


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