Balance Blog

Jan 24th

Learning to Touch

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We all know that touch is good medicine. The benefits of positive touch have been well-documented for decades. When we hold and caress our babies, we are providing them with an irreplaceable building block in their proper development. What we’re less likely to acknowledge is that we need touch throughout our lives – that during all life stages, touch is absolutely vital to well-being and maintenance of life. Cutaneous deprivation, or lack of touch, leads to serious mental, emotional and physical health problems in people of all ages.

In Western societies, we’ve deprived ourselves of healthy, loving touch for generations upon generations. Imagine what havoc a century of cutaneous deprivation has wreaked on our families, communities and cultures! When I went to college for my BA, I spent a lot of time studying the effects of touch (and lack of touch), from many viewpoints – through research into the psychology of touch, through movement analysis and experiments in group dance, through study of anatomy and physiology. As a result of that eye-opening experience, I committed myself to helping bring touch back to people.

You don’t have to take classes and become a touch therapist to help heal the societal disease of touch deprivation. Here are a few simple ways to make a difference, for yourself and others:

Hug somebody.
Yes, they’ve researched hugging. I’ll leave out the clinical details, but suffice to say that hugging does some amazing things to you physiologically. Opinions vary as to how many hugs you actually need in a day to stay healthy. Personally, I like about a hundred. My recipe: start with one, and keep going til you feel good. As with any touch, make sure your hug-receiver is open to the experience.

Hold hands.
With your sweetheart, your kids, your parents and friends (yes, grown-up people can hold hands too!). Obviously this requires a certain level of intimacy and ease with someone. Among other effects, simple hand-holding has been shown to reduce pain and fear.

Love on your pets.
Petting your cat or dog (or parrot? or ferret?) can reduce loneliness, depression, anxiety, unhappiness, emotional disorders, the list goes on … and it works is positive effects on both you and your pet.

Give a massage.
Wait, give a massage? Yes, learning and sharing massage is a gift to both the people you touch, and to yourself. You may not be a massage therapist, but you can still share the benefits of massage with others – your spouse or sweetie, your kids, your friends, your pets, even your co-workers – who would turn down a shoulder rub in the middle of hunching over the computer? Non-credit, starter massage classes are available in Louisville, and elsewhere.

You don’t have to have the perfect technique or learn the most cutting-edge modalities. The most important aspect of massage to learn is the right quality of touch. For example, when you just grab hold and start digging in, your receiver’s nervous system will probably immediately go into “lockdown” – tensing the muscles, on an instinctive level preparing for physical attack. This is a wall that goes up between many a massage therapist and client, if the therapist is not aware of (or is disregarding) the nervous system response, and being insensitive to the client’s state of vulnerability. Using simple centering techniques – standing still, closing the eyes, taking some deep breaths, connecting in with the sensations in your own body – you can practice an approach that calms both you and your receiver, and allows for a good-feeling and beneficial massage experience.

With massage, you have the opportunity to place your consciousness into your hands. Massage allows you to tap into your innate physical awareness, and to share this awareness with another (through touch) is a very primal means of communication. What a great way to bring positive touch to someone you care about. And take it from me – it’s fun!

What better time than now to help bring back the healing gift of touch – to give a hug, hold a hand, pet your dog, rub some tired shoulders? Whatever your approach, lets get out there and spread the love!

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