Why do we need touch?
Before I go into answering this question, here is another question: What would life be like without the touch from another human being? We know from studies in orphanages that newborns do not thrive without touch. Our own observation and experience with children can speak to how much our young ones need the comfort and safety of compassionate touch from caregivers. As we get older and especially in North American culture, there seems to be a scarcity of touch. The new Covid world has separated us from our loved ones and a healthy resource of genuine touch. We also know that traumatic experiences can shift our perception of healthy touch. So, in my opinion what does the world need? Love. Love felt through a big old handful of compassionate touch. Let’s take a deeper look…
How do we process touch?
The skin is the largest organ in the body full of receptors wired to our nervous system. It is the gateway for sensing the physicality of our environment including pressure, stretch, temperature, pain, vibration, and hair movement. The sense of touch does not act alone in perceiving our environment. “There is, in fact, no pure touch sensation, for by the time we have perceived a touch, it has been blended with other sensory input, plans for action, expectations, and a healthy dose of emotion” (Linden 2015). Our brains are innately wired to constantly scan our environment for cues of safety. Experience mixed with incoming information from all the senses produce a physiological response in the body to cue our reaction or inaction. As one can imagine, there is a lot more going on with social touch than the simple pull your hand away from a hot object reflex. I think the key here is to tap into your own awareness of what cues safety for you in your own body.
Linden D (2015) Touch. The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind. London: Penguin.
The Benefits of a Healthy Dose of Touch
Tiffany Field is the Director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. Her research has highlighted the following benefits:
· Regular massage on preterm babies promotes growth and emotional development
· Touch supports early brain development, communication, personal relationships and fighting disease
· Touch helps decrease cortisol levels and can help increase serotonin levels
Dacher Kelter, a researcher from the Greater Good Science Center has found 5 main social functions of touch:
· Provides feelings of reward
· Reinforces reciprocity
· Signals safety
· Promotes cooperation
“To touch is to give life.” – Michelangelo
“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last. It always tells the truth.” – Margaret Atwood
“Touch is the primary language of compassion.” – Dacher Keltner
“Nothing is so healing as the human touch.” – Bobby Fischer
“The loving touch, like music, often utters the things that cannot be spoken.” – Ashley Montagu
How does touch therapy help?
No matter what therapy one chooses, it’s important to recognize the feeling of safety and comfort in the presence of the practitioner. The more a person can let go and let the feeling of the touch soothe the whole self, the more healing that can occur in all dimensions of health. I realize that this level of safety cannot always happen right away. The body and mind take time to unwind and release to the touch. In studying Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, the foundation of the work is to learn to hold a neutral, non-judgemental, present, and compassionate space for the client. It is similar to building a relationship with a talk therapist except the Craniosacral Therapist is listening through touch. Holding this space allows the subconscious layers of protection to loosen. The physiology of the body can then go into ‘rest and digest’ mode and lead the journey to health. As a client continues sessions on a regular basis, the touch resonates faster and often accesses deeper change within stuck patterns ( physical and/or emotional). The therapy also helps one to feel more connected to their own body generating feelings of wellness and vibrancy. For more information please see the rest of the website.
Another good resource for understanding touch is called Touch is Really Strange by Steve Haines