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The Power of Human Touch

There is something unquestionably powerful about the human touch. It’s not just about feeling skin against skin. The healing and comforting powers of the human touch have been known to humans for a long time.

Many cultures have explored and used these mysterious powers to treat, heal and soothe for generations. Today the powers and benefits of the human touch are acknowledged by advocates of modern science as well.

We don’t usually think of physical touch as a form of therapy, but studies have shown that being touched can actually help lessen pain, improve immune system functionality, improve pulmonary function, increase growth and development, and lower blood glucose.

With more discoveries being made every day, the healing power of human touch is definitely something to consider essential in self care. Touch is fundamental to everything we think and feel, how we communicate and bond. Touch can have powerful psychological effects on both the giver and the recipient. It conveys a lot of unsaid information; and can affect people’s decisions without them even being aware of it happening.

“A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward center in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy,” explains neurologist Shekar Raman, MD, based in Richmond, Virginia. ”

“To touch can be to give life,” Michelangelo

Human Touch Translates Into Feeling Security
The need for human touch is backed by modern science. When you are touched, the many nerve endings in your skin send messages back to your brain. This is the way we feel things like pain or heat. When you are touched by another person, the signals sent to your brain translate into feelings of security, happiness and comfort. These feelings are supported by a decrease in stress hormones and an increase oxytocin, a hormone thought to calm and counter stress.

Healing Touch through Massage :
Massage is a very healing modality for many reasons.
Sometimes, your body wants more than a light, casual touch; it wants someone to dig deep. By “touching” not only your skin, but also your muscles and connective tissues, massage is able to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It also improves sleep quality and eases pain. Research from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that massage strengthens the immune system by increasing the body’s number of lymphocytes (white blood cells that help defend the body from disease).
Massage sesions for post workout’s can reduce post-workout muscle inflammation, which can help your muscles recover and boost your fitness results.

 

Touch through Hugging
Hugging is something we are able to give naturally as children when we are very young, but if hugs aren’t modeled to us frequently as children we can be left a bit uncertain about how to hug,. We may even feel unhuggable. Hugs have the power to heal, if we open ourselves up to giving and receiving them. Offering a hug to someone requires the strength to be vulnerable, because of the risk that the hug may be rebuffed or misinterpreted. But it is a risk well worth taking as Juan Mann, founder of the Free Hugs Campaign discovered when he first set out to offer hugs to strangers.

When hugs are given authentically, they have the power to really make you feel good!

Hugging benefits:
Dispel loneliness
Overcome fears
Open doors to feelings
Build self esteem
Slow down aging; huggers stay younger longer
Ease tension
Fight insomnia
Offer a healthy alternative to alcohol and drugs
Affirm physical being
Make happy days happier

Touch for communicating emotions
Touching someone by simply placing your hand on their knee an elbow or a shoulder, has the ability to  communicate various ways of connection and making the other person feel good.

In one tender touch, squeeze or hug there are so many things that can be said. ‘You’ll be okay.’ ‘I’m proud of you.’ ‘Yeah, I’m worried about it too.’ ‘It’s scary isn’t it.’ ‘You’re  amazing.’ ‘Come on. Talk to me.’ ‘I get it, I know it hurts’ ‘I love you.’ When it’s from the right person in the right context, we rarely have to guess the words – the words become irrelevant anyway. Instantly we can feel closer, calmer and more understood.

Professor Matt Hertenstein at DePauw University has researched the use of touch as a language and has found that we can communicate through touch, not just with those we are familiar with, but also with strangers. Hertenstein put two strangers in front of each other and separated them with a physical barrier. One person had to put their arm through a hole in the barrier. The other person had to communicate an emotion to the stranger on the other side using only a one-second touch to the stranger’s forearm. With so many emotions on the list, the chances of guessing the right emotion just by chance were about 8%. The results left no doubt about our ability to communicate emotion through touch. Compassion was correctly interpreted almost 60% of the time, Gratitude, anger, love and fear were correctly interpreted more than 50% of the time.

Sometimes there are no words, but there is  touch. Touch activates the body’s vagus nerve which is intimately connected with our compassionate response. The vagus nerve is the pair of nerves that extends from the brain to the belly and passes the heart along the way.

 When it is done  appropriately, touch is a vital part of the human experience. The touch doesn’t have to be intimate and it doesn’t have to be big to have an effect. A pat on the back, a rub on the shoulder, a handshake, a professional massage – all stimulate the reward centres in the brain. We feel happier, safer, more confident, more soothed and more connected.

Let us not forget we  need to be careful not to deny ourselves of the nurturing, healing and connectedness that comes through basic human touch. Through the simple act of human touch we have the ability to nourish our health, our relationships and our spirit.

 

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