In Defense of Touch
We all need touch, it is essential for human health. It is the first sense to develop in the womb and it is the last of the senses to leave us at the end of life. It is more important than food for a newborn, without it they suffer from failure to thrive. Being held in our mother’s arms, it’s how we feel secure in the world, and is essential to our survival as a social species. Neuroscience has found that oxytocin, the feel good caring hormone, is released when we are touched and that helps regulate the amygdala, the area of the brain that lights up when we are angry.
Some of us have a license to touch others. Doctors, dentists, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists. We are the professionals. We have the training and ability to provide a skilled touch. We can palpate the body, to feel what’s wrong. Touch can even help ta patient prepare for a future painful intervention, such as a dentist using a light touch or vibration on the cheek, before giving a shot. We can soothe pain. We can stimulate circulation of blood and lymph. We can coax a tense muscle to let go. We can encourage an unused muscle back to life. We can calm the nervous system, so a sick child can get some rest.
But everyone can benefit from touch, it’s how we communicate. When words fail us, there is a hug. Touch can be an encouragement of a job well done, a pat on the back. Touch can remind your body of its capacity to heal. It can quiet the voices of anxiety, and let peace develop from a deeper place, and deeper breathing to emerge. Touch allows us to shift gears from fight or flight into a state of rest and digest. To allow our bodies to do the work of healing.
This is such a confusing time for touch in this society. Women are tired of the experience of unwanted touching, and men are scared and unsure of how to behave. This speaks to the unequal power dynamic of what men need and what women want. Touch parameters vary in different cultures, and even within different families. Some families are more comfortable hugging, and being in close physical contact. Also, personal space may be defined differently depending on the situation. Being on a crowded elevator, or in a social situation, the rules are different. And the work environment has its own stated or unstated rules.
The increased use of computers and screens has further transported us out of the physical realm and into cyber reality, but we are still physical beings who need to be touched. And to be touched with respect and skill. We need to be in charge of our own bodies and boundaries. Skilled touch can help us align our life force to flow freely from our core to our fingertips. We need to encourage healthy safe touch. Our health and happiness depends upon it.