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Technology & toys

Modern people use their hands continuously. Technology requires us to tap buttons, slide our fingers across screens and repeat the same movements again and again.
But how much of this technology was designed with health in mind? Any of it?
The future will no doubt see a massive increase in arthritis from using a computer mouse, mobile phone or a videogame controller.


When it comes to technology, high repetition is the norm. People hammer away at keyboards all day long. They manipulate touch screens, swipe and push buttons.
Many of the movements are very limited; using only a few muscles. The problem lies in over-use and strain.

We are checking our smartphones on average 221 times a day. Recent research found that 80 percent of millennials look at their phones upon waking; this addiction is a strong one. As a result, our cognitive processing has become shallower and we have become so distracted that we play directly into the hands of the autopilot. Digital devices are the modern day equivalent of tranquillisers. They instil a trance-like state almost immediately as they are anchors for our subconscious to take over. 

(Chris Barez-Brown)

Think small...

It is easy for most people to perform large, extended movements that rotate the shoulder joint or bend the elbow. No particular skill is involved.
Whilst large movements may indeed exercise some of the muscles and the joints, they fail to address the full range of potential movement.
The real skill lies in the small, in the subtle. Your hands in particular need to be good with small movements.


Making very small movements is difficult initially. In modern society, our bodies are not encouraged to make small, smooth, controlled movement. Everything is jerky and abrupt.
Jerky movement agitates the nervous system and this in turn leads to anxiety and a lack of calm.
e.g. if you simply flick the wrist, the joint is not exercised properly but if you move the wrist extremely slowly, you feel a very notable stretch throughout the entire movement.


A keyboard, mouse and monitor are interfaces that enable you to use the computer. The same is true of a mobile phone or videogame controller. They were not designed with health in mind.
Be aware that your health must be your own concern. Continual use of a restricted number of muscles leads to muscular tension in the arms, wrists and hands.

Refined movement

Modern technology is re-shaping how we use our bodies. Jerky, sharp movement is coarse and unrefined; clumsy. The joints of the body are capable of a wide range of movement.
Excessive use of toys is limiting those movements; emphasising the same actions repeatedly.
e.g. if you watch an Asian dancer, the hands perform intricate shapes and minute movements which look simple but are very hard to replicate.


Most adults lose flexibility in their hands as they grow older. This is often the result of neglect and misuse
. In our tai chi school we often ask new people to try and use baoding balls.
This is usually quite telling.  Baoding balls are 2 metal spheres held in the palm of the hand and rotated using the movement of the hand and thumb. Most people are exceedingly inept.
Their hands simply will not move adequately to perform the exercise.

Baoding balls?

Heavy, large baoding balls are best for training dexterity. These are not usually found in the shops.
Most shops stock cheap, gaudy imitation baoding balls that look nice but do not adequately exercise the hands. Look on-line. Read the description. Large. Heavy.
Within reason you want the largest balls that you can fit into the palm of your hand.


We cannot afford to lose our manual dexterity. We need it because our hands are employed continually throughout our lives.
Rather than reduce and impede dexterity through excess use of technology, we need to exercise our hands more mindfully; more completely. This requires conscious, deliberate training.
In our school we teach people how to massage their hands and gain an increased degree of dexterity. Both left and right hands are employed equally


If your fingertips become dull and desensitised from tapping a keyboard then your nervous system is impeded.
Rather than experience physical contact, pressure and sensation in a heightened, rich, tactile manner... your fingers become dull sticks that poke at things.


The first step in improving your hands is to observe what you do with them. Just how often do you use a keyboard, a mouse, your mobile phone or tablet? Be honest and sensible.
You will probably notice that your hands only perform a very limited range of movements on a daily basis. Most likely you do no conscious hand exercises or massage.


Once you are aware of how infrequently you vary the range of hand movements being performed, you can implement change. Form new habits.
An easy starting place is to reduce the frequency that you use certain technologies. Impose limits. Switch things off.
e.g. nobody needs their mobile phone to be on all day and all night. It uses up power and encourages over-use
. Switch it off as early in the evening as you can manage.
Remember - night time is for sleeping.

Tai chi

When performed correctly, tai chi extensively works the hands. The joints are moved comprehensively. Both left and right hands.
Some styles of tai chi do not flex the hands whilst others seem to move only the hands and not the entire body...
Be cautious. Not all styles and classes are the same.

Tools, of course, can be the subtlest of traps.

(Neil Gaiman)

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Page created 18 April 2005
Last updated 16 June 2023