Cold hands with wooden, immobile fingers are a real nightmare for most pianists.
Besides affecting the quality of our performance, this unpleasant ‘syndrome’ is also a warning sign. It tells us that there’s something we should change about our habits and our lifestyle.
When I was studying, I had a chronic case of ‘freezing hands’. No matter how warm it was outside, no matter how hard I was rubbing my hands together before a concert or exam, they were still cold!
If you’re a ‘cold-handed’ pianist too, you should never accept this situation! I know many pianists who think that their cold hands are simply an aspect of their individuality. This is not true!
Yes, it’s normal for your hands to get cold during winter, when it’s freezing outside and you’re not wearing gloves. However, if your hands get (and remain) cold at room temperature, you should definitely do something about it!
First of all, let’s talk about causes. After all, isn’t it paradoxical to have cold hands while playing piano? How can our fingers get cold while being so mobile and ‘exercised’?
The answer is usually less complicated than we think:
1. Tension. Tension stops our blood and our energy from flowing freely.
Tension is the main cause of cold hands and this is what every pianist needs to understand in order to cope with this frustrating problem.
Have you noticed that your hands get especially cold before important events such as exams and concerts?
This happens because anxiety creates mental tension. Our body always mirrors our mental state. A tensed mind – anxiety, fear, anger, worry, even shyness – equals a tensed body.
In a tensed body, the energy cannot flow and the blood circulation is weak (especially the peripheral circulation that has to reach our hands and feet). If the blood and the energy cannot reach your hands and feet, how on Earth can they get warm?
If you practice piano in a state of constant tension (you have a negative attitude, you’re in a constant hurry and your arms and wrists are immobile), guess what happens? Yes – your hands will get (and stay!) cold no matter how many scales, Hanons and Etudes you play as a ‘warm up’! A tensed practice is also extremely dangerous – this way you can easily develop a hand injury!
2. Lack of physical movement.
Another cause that leads to cold extremities is the static lifestyle characteristic to most pianists. It is less destructive than tension, but it can still lead to a weak overall tonus, low levels of energy and a poor blood circulation.
3. Shallow breathing.
If your breathing is fast and shallow, your blood does not receive enough oxygen, thus being unable to transfer heat throughout the body. At the same time, shallow breathing is simultaneously a cause and an effect of tension.
4. Incorrect nutrition and detrimental habits (drinking, smoking etc.).
Incorrect nutrition is a ‘clever’ enemy. It has patience and it works unnoticed. Eating a burger or having a cup of coffee will not ‘freeze’ your hands – we all know that. On the long run, however, unhealthy foods and beverages (junk-food, white bread, fried meat, sugar, coffee, black tea, sodas etc.) will slowly deteriorate your body’s natural defenses. Causing a gradual accumulation of toxins, incorrect nutrition makes you weaker and full of blockages on different levels. What happens if you throw waste materials into a river? The same happens to your body when you eat chemically-processed foods in incompatible combinations. A poor blood flow (and resulting cold hands) is only a minor consequence of our modern eating habits.
There may be other physiological causes of ‘cold hands’ (for example, the side-effects of a certain disease). I am not a doctor and I cannot dive into complex medical subjects, but I can tell you one important thing: with only a few minor exceptions, all the diseases that we acquire are a direct consequence of our lifestyle.
This does not mean that we have to blame ourselves for getting sick. It only means that we have to be informed: we have to understand (at least to a certain degree) how our body really functions and how to create a healthy balance between our mind, our body, our surroundings and our daily habits.
From here, another important cause:
5. Lack of information.
Lack of information is a mega-cause. It is responsible not only for a pianist’s cold hands. It creates 99% of our problems, no matter if we talk about health, professional achievements or our personal life. How can you be healthy and successful if you don’t know HOW to do it? This can be the subject of another article, though :). Now, let’s get back to our ‘cold pianistic hands’ and let’s see what we can do about it!
Getting rid of ‘cold hands’ – the solutions:
First, don’t fall into the trap of ‘treating’ the symptoms of your problem instead of eliminating its causes. This approach is used by the modern medical science and we can see every day that it cannot give us real health, balance and happiness.
Avoid the ‘symptomatic’ approach: wearing gloves, drinking coffee or putting your hands in hot water can work for the moment, but these methods cannot make your problem go away on the long run. Even worse – once you take off the gloves or remove your hands from the hot water, they will freeze even faster than before. This kind of ‘treatment’ is not a solution – it’s only a way to deceive ourselves. Yes, we have to protect our hands from cold during winter by wearing gloves. However, if we want to get rid of ‘chronic’ cold hands, we have to attack the cause of this condition – our inner tension, our incorrect lifestyle and the resulting poor blood circulation.
A holistic approach takes more time, patience and dedication. It requires being informed and thinking for yourself. But it is worth every second!
Most of the time we think, feel and act without understanding why we’re doing it. When was the last time you checked if you’re tensed or not?
Mental and physical tension can be a consequence of anxiety, but also an unconscious habit (which, if allowed to develop, can become a ‘second nature’). Most people (especially musicians!) are tensed ‘by default’, without even being aware of it. Can you imagine the devastating consequences of this unconscious tension that’s present in everything we do, as a stable background?
It’s time to develop a new habit! It will not only make your hands warmer – it will also change your life for the better: as often as you can, perform a ‘tension-check’ and immediately relax your mind and your muscles!
Being aware of your tension will instantly relieve it, even if only for a few moments. If you perform this ‘tension-check’ more often, you’ll slowly teach your mind and your body to be relaxed ‘by default’!
2. Mental relaxation.
As I already mentioned, everything originates in our mind. If you learn to relax your mind, your body will obediently follow.
Until a few years ago, I used to have ice-cold hands even during summer. I thought that there’s nothing I can do about it, that this is ‘how I am’… until I accidentally made a discovery! This is how it happened:
At one point in my life, I started to look for natural ways of dealing with performance-related anxiety. I wasn’t thinking about my cold hands back then – I simply wanted to become calmer and to cope with exams better.
I began to learn how to meditate. Meditation was the first big revelation that irremediably changed my view on life, music and piano playing.
When your mind is still, amazing things start to happen. The most fascinating thing, however, is the fact that you FINALLY understand what relaxation is! When you empty your mind of worries, when you stop, even for a few minutes, your continual ‘inner dialogue’, you finally find a little peace, allowing your blood and your energy to flow freely!
I am not an ‘advanced’ meditation practitioner. I only learned, on a basic level, how to focus on my breath, at the same time trying to empty my mind of any thoughts. Fortunately, it’s enough for reviving our blood circulation and for finally allowing our energy to move. It is not hard at all and you can certainly learn to do it as well.
A still mind equals a relaxed body! It’s as inevitable as the flowing of a river into the sea! When you relax, you can literally feel the warmth reaching your hands – it is an amazing sensation!
So, during my 3rd or 4th ‘clumsy’ meditation, I had another revelation: my hands (for the first time in my life) got really, really warm! It was a fantastic (and unexpected) surprise!
The ironic thing is that it doesn’t have to be a surprise! We don’t have to learn such things the hard way, as I did. My ‘discovery’ is something that ancient healers have known for thousands of years. The problem is that students are too busy nowadays with their endless homeworks and they rarely have time to search for health-related information and holistic solutions. However, this is – again – the subject of another article.
When we’re tensed, our breathing becomes shallow automatically. However, we can reverse the situation: we can learn how to breathe deeply, by using the full capacity of our lungs. Our body will inevitably relax as a consequence. More about correct breathing and its importance for any musician in my future articles!
4. Physical training.
In order to have a fulfilled life, we need to be strong, flexible and self-confident. Physical training is important for everyone, regardless of sex, age and physical condition. For musicians, however, it is mandatory! Only an active lifestyle can help us compensate the long hours of static piano practice.
For example, I began with yoga (which improves our mental and physical strength and flexibility simultaneously, not to mention all its other benefits – including the art of relaxation) and I continued with running and other forms of training. Presently, I combine running with a form of training inspired from martial arts. You can start with whatever form of training you like – team sports, biking, aerobics – as long as you enjoy it and you work out regularly!
There are also specific exercises for your spine, shoulders, arms and hands that can improve your blood circulation by strengthening your blood vessels and removing energy blockages (I have a dream of making some video recordings and showing you these exercises in the near future – as soon as I will be able to buy a good video camera).
Physical training has countless benefits, and it also boosts our blood circulation and our energy flow. It is also a natural way to relieve tension. The result? Gradually, your hands will become warmer!
5. Correct nutrition.
A clean body functions well with minimum energy loses. A strong blood circulation (and the resulting warm extremities) is only one of the countless benefits of eating healthy.
Unfortunately, piano professors are usually not teaching their students how to be healthy and have an enjoyable, balanced lifestyle – all they care about are piano achievements. However, it’s impossible to have a fulfilled musical career if you don’t understand your own body and you have no idea why your hands are cold! What’s the point of playing brilliantly a difficult piece if you’re stressed, unhappy and ill?
I know that all the solutions which I just described are not easy to follow – especially at the beginning. However, don’t forget that these changes – correct information, a positive attitude, a relaxed body, deep breathing, correct nutrition, correct piano practice and physical training – will simultaneously solve many other piano-related problems: performance anxiety, various health issues, low productivity and that dreadful feeling of being lost, sad and unbalanced.
Once you get ‘into the rhythm’ of changing your life for the better, you’ll enjoy it so much that you won’t be able to live otherwise. Besides solving your ‘cold hands’ dilemma, you’ll also become calmer, stronger, healthier and happier!
The important thing is to never give up! Don’t become disappointed if your hands will not become warmer overnight. My hands are still getting cold from time to time – but at least I know what to do to improve the situation! Nobody is perfect and we all deal with countless failures and frustrations on our way towards a certain goal. However, there is one thing we should remember, especially when it becomes really hard: Success usually lies just beyond failure. It is not only a wise quote (signed by Cortes), it is a simple law of the universe.
It’s time for a change of habits and a change of temperature!
P.S. Feel free to share your thoughts and your experience in the comments below!
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