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The Power of Touch

Do you love touch? How do you feel about it? Are you open to hug a stranger, or even your closest family member? Do you love receiving a massage but feel uncomfortable holding hands with your best friend? I’d love to hear!

When I asked my friends, relating to my own experiences, and observing people’s interactions, there’s a lot of inconsistency between people’s response to touch! I do a LOT of research on the breath and anatomy, but I was pleasantly surprised how much research has been done on touch. Studies have shown that touch is crucial in our lifetime, all the way from infant to childhood to teen, to adult until old age. There are multitude of studies, books, films and documentaries that show how significant touch can be for:

• childhood development, including neurological, behavioural and psychological development

• social development, communication, bonding and interaction in families, friends, and society

We are social creatures, and have co-existed together in tribes, where our very survival depended on touch, communication and interactions with other humans. Some extreme experiments have shown that infants (animals in this case) deprived of touch, experienced a major decline in physical, emotional and psychological health, to the point where touch was more important for survival than food. One study observed that premature infants that were given timed touch-sessions gained significantly more weight than pre-term infants that just received the standard medical treatment. A study by D. Francis and M. Meaney on rats found infants grew up more resilient to stress, calmer and had a stronger immune system when the mother spent more time grooming them.

“I’m an adult though! Not a baby! So, can I still benefit from touch?” I hear you ask. Touch is so, SO important as humans, and that doesn’t go away in our lifetime. We have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years as social creatures that have spend a significant amount of their day grooming, holding, and playing with each other. And despite the Western world’s best efforts to create nuclear families and dissolve past the ‘primitive tribe mentality’, our brain and body is hardwired to receive and give touch. Despite what your mind and conditioning may say about your incredible level of independence and resilience, there is a part of you that constantly craves touch.

I’m sure you’ve seen the videos or know a hardened stoic masculine man in your life, a real tough nut who you’ve never seen cry and is always there, ready to take on any burden like a ROCK. Give him a baby, or a puppy and watch him melt into cradling that child or puppy and using baby-talk like no tomorrow!

Touch communicates that “You’re safe, I’m safe, we can relax”, it lowers blood pressure and activates the parasympathetic nervous system where our physical, mental and emotional body can rejuvenate and relax. When we are safe, touch can further deepen our social connection with each other, release oxytocin and other ‘happy’ chemicals to reduce stress levels.

In our life, we continue to develop and expand through neuroplasticity of our nervous system and brain functions. We all have had such a massively different upbringing as adults, and the way we were brought up, especially the way we were provided physical contact, has a significant effect in how we receive touch now, our resilience and our psychological imprint of touch. Some people who have had less-than-happy childhoods, absence of touch, may see touch as a threat, as a sign of weakness and thus may feel dangerous to express the desire for touch. Or perhaps we received too much molly-codding from an overbearing mother, and touch feels smothering, or the touch was more about their experience than ours.

How do we access healthy touch? If you feel you fall in a category where touch may not have been healthy expressed, perhaps traumatically or even subtly, then there is an opportunity to explore where we can reintroduce touch in a healthy way, now! Touch can bring more aliveness into our body, and open up neural pathways, i.e., energy, into our skin, muscles and bones.

If touch is a scary experience, then start exploring with your own self. Self-touch can be just as good as touch from another in terms of neural stimulation and experiencing. An amazing self-practice that brings in calmness, self-love, pleasure, releases ‘happy’ chemicals and wakes up dormant senses is to mix a massage oil with one of your favourite essential oils. Massage yourself slowly and lovingly from head-to-toe just before bed. Use different levels of pressure and touch: firm, or soft, light pinching or feathery glances. There are so many benefits just from this simple practices.

If you want, you and your beloved could take turns to massage each other, or even at the same time. Take it slow. Feel your nervous system. Remember, the trick is to push your comfort zone but don’t ignore how you feel. You can do it safely.

In social situations, be the innovative one, and suggest a cuddle-puddle or a massage train with your friends, or just even hold hands when you walk. Or even just level-up the touch upon first greeting. If you don’t hug your friends hello, try it. I started hugging my friend at my old office job, and while he was initially shocked, we hugged hello a lot more often, and I noticed more hugging in my office after that!

If you already do that, try and hug for more than a second. If you kiss them on the cheeks hello, maybe hold hands as you talk. Just say ‘Hey I heard about all these amazing benefits of touch, and I read on the internet that touch can release higher levels of oxytocin as we talk! Can we put down our phones and hold hands?’.

Whatever it is, touch is healing, it promotes health, it creates deeper levels of love and safety. I could go on and on, and I hope that at least there’s one part here that makes you think and feel into bringing more touch into your life.

Touch, through massage and bodywork, makes up the foundations of everything Nina and I do at Flow Breath and Bodywork. In our own experiences, in Tantra, embodiment, Reiki, in relating with others and ourselves, touch has allowed us to drop our protective armour and allowed ourselves to be liberated from fear, guilt and shame of what we truly desire.

By bringing our experience of conscious touch and therapeutic techniques into our offerings of massage and bodywork, we have found our clients relax into the experience, bringing about a deeper sense of healing and integration. That's why Nina and I constantly research and practice new techniques of massage and bodywork on each other, so we can deliver a more powerful experience to our clients.

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