The missed art of touch.
I am a very tactile person and I love to hug my friends and family so the last year has been a very challenging year of not touching people. It’s strange that two of the most normal things in our lives; breathing and touch now has an element or risk. Watch TV from pre-covid days and you realise how people used to touch, how close we used to stand next to each other and now our face-to-face everyday interactions are almost non-existent. We have never been so conscious of these and as Joni Mitchel said ‘..you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.’
Touch is one of the most primitive forms of communication, we used touch before the introduction of words. There has been significant documentation dating back to cave paintings of cavemen, to the animalistic rituals of grooming and significant effects of touch for babies. Many studies to prove that touch improves all of the physiological systems, brain development and social skills. A baby can’t understand your words but it can interpret your touch.
‘The new baby craves touch, its survival depends on contact.’ Steve Haines & Ged Sumner
David Linden in his TED Talk Science of Touching and feeling states that the first two years of life are the most important in development and creating the neural connections that will guide and shape their future, reflected in our childhood years and adult experiences, our ability to connect physically and emotionally with others, the types of relationships we enter and how tactile we become.
As an adult touch is our social glue, from interactions with partners family, colleagues, teams and instils trust, empathy, cooperation, reduces stress and often leads to more positive outcomes. One of the most obvious is the celebratory touch during sports teams. Research on a group of basketball teams measured the physical interactions of players in the first 1\4 of their season and predicted that the teams with higher physical interaction would be ranked higher at the end of the season and this was found to be true.
I take you to back to awareness and feeling which is at the heart of every yoga session and Craniosacral Therapy treatment. What does touch feel like? What words would you use? What does a hug feel like? It’s almost impossible to describe it you just feel it, it envelops your whole physicality and there is no touch without emotion.
Our skin is the sensory gate to the central nervous system and different types of nerve endings and different concentrations are found at different parts of your body. This is why you’re able to feel more at certain parts of the body or feeling only particular sensations at certain parts. It is also interesting to know that our body has evolved to suppress the sensations that we create when we’re moving. For example, we rarely notice our clothes on our skin, we rarely feel the hairs on our arms and legs. That’s why it’s difficult but not impossible to make yourself laugh. This evolution meant that we could focus on the outside world, looking for danger, hunting for food and enjoying physical interactions with others.
For the past month it has been great being back at the clinic and there has definitely been a sense of a need to be touched.
Touch is the foundation of Craniosacral Therapy, I am, even now astounded at how such a light hands-on therapy can have such profound effects. I experience this receiving my monthly session as well as sharing Craniosacral Therapy with others. I work with relational touch; listening with my hands providing a safe place for your body to express, release and resolve embodied trauma. It doesn’t require talking as there is a conversation and discussion of our systems. The touch is not asking, forcing or imposing but listening, with an open mind, an open heart and ready to hold the space and support whatever arises. With trust and familiarity over a number of sessions the power of the touch and the work only gets stronger.
Dr James Coan in his TED Talk Why we hold hands explains a very interesting experiment he carried out. As a therapist his client was reluctant to attend a session without his wife. During the session the man refused to talk, his wife took his hand and the man started to open up. This led Coan through brain scanning, shock therapy and many interviews to conclude that familiar people can integrate into our neural maps. A helpful analogy is that we’re a jigsaw puzzle and we entrust a person with a part of that puzzle. When we connect with that person their contribution completes the puzzle in us and gives us what we need. We give certain trusted people certain parts. Like when I hug my mum, I know that everything’s going to be ok. You are lending your strength and commitment to that person. Coan says ‘I am with you, I am you, you are me and we are here.’
But with the vaccine being distributed that fear may subside but many are left with the trauma of a year of isolation, the unknown, losing family members and friends, and lack of physical and emotional interaction and touch. With this new risk placed upon society, the ever-increasing virtual work world and more people than ever are living alone we may experience tactile deprivation.
Without touch we risk our physical and emotional health. Touch boosts our immune system and all of the essential physiological systems which keeps us in balance and functioning efficiently, it releases the stress busting hormones, it allows us to connect and belong.
Let’s remember that touch may not have been a positive experience for some people so always ask and don’t be offended by rejection…I mean it’s always worth doing a breath and deodorant check just in case. Always think What would Micheal Bolton say?...'Can I touch you...there?'
When it’s safe to do so, with permission make physical contact with people again. Don’t underestimate the power of holding someone’s hand, touching their shoulder or offer a hug.
‘A hug says more than a thousand words.’ Judith Ashton.