What is it about touch that is so fundamentally important to humans?
Touch connects us to each other. And when we connect with each other, we are re-connecting with ourselves. Of the five senses, touch is the most neglected one. We live in an increasingly fragmented and isolationist society where we pay more attention to our iphones and computers than to ourselves, let alone each other. We know that babies who are not touched will have issues with development. Children who receive love and affection make better-adjusted, happier adults. Rescue dogs and cats become different animals when they receive attention and love through touch. Studies with primates have shown that animals that aren’t touched will become withdrawn and exhibit disassociative behavior patterns. In short, all humans and animals benefit and thrive on touch. Expressions of affection or warmth often carry sexual connotations, and people become wary of interacting with others in any way that could be misinterpreted.
The elders in our society are especially at risk when it comes to touch deprivation. The kids have grown up and left, and family members may be living thousands of miles away. A spouse or life partner may have died, and the intimacy of a familiar partner is no longer an option. An elder who is not able to get out much or interact with friends or family on a regular basis becomes isolated. Numerous studies indicate that isolation and depression is a growing problem with the elders in our society. With over 10,000 people a day in the USA turning 65, there is a growing risk of increasing alienation in our society.
There is a descriptive term for touch deprivation known as ‘skin hunger’ – your skin literally hungers for the touch of another human being, to feel connected, accepted and whole. Many people are scared to reach out, but just remember how good it feels when someone reaches out to you in this way. When last have you given your friend, parent or child a good, generous hug? How about a friend who is in need? Could you show your compassion and care through a two-minute hand or foot massage or a neck and shoulder rub?
There is a reason that massage has become so popular in our modern world. In addition to some of the many benefits I have outlined here, massage is a safe way to enjoy the warmth and love of another person’s touch. It immediately releases powerful endorphins, and promotes a deep relaxation response. Another wonderful thing about massage is that you are giving yourself permission to receive. Women in particular are taught to give unconditionally, and receiving is somehow perceived as being selfish or just not needed. I know many wonderful people who give and give all day long, but who never allow themselves the time to connect with their own need to receive. Yes, it’s true that ‘in giving we receive’ but couldn’t it also be said that ‘in receiving we give’?
There are lots of ways to allow yourself the time and space to receive; yoga, meditation, self-massage, walking in nature, sharing affection with cats and dogs are but a few. But there is an art to allowing yourself to do absolutely nothing, to simply receive the unconditional loving support that the universe can provide to us if we allow it. And receiving via touch is an easy way to let go into this state of being.
Next time you get a massage, think about how good you feel. All that amazing positive energy in your body has an incredible power to heal and transform! Reach out to someone today and share the healing power of touch. Even a warm, generous hug can go a long way to help reconnect us to each other and to ourselves.