The Therapy of Touch for All Living Things
As a domestic animal, you would be dependent on others for nearly all of your needs: food, fresh drinking water, safe shelter and affection. Pretty much like human babies are dependent. Every morning one of our cats, Muffin, rolls over next to me as I sit on the couch and luxuriates in the deep-tissue massage and extravagent stroking I give her. She purrs so loudly you can hear it in the next room, and I am convinced that it increases her immune system strength and overall well-being. She’s very lucky: not all animals have caretakers who lavish such attention on them but cats can still thrive without extensive human contact, as long as they have another being who will lick and groom them, and they are capable of grooming themselves. Humans are not so self-sufficient in this area. We need (safe) touch, regular and caring, in order to survive, to grow, to remain healthy, to thrive. Studies done in the 50s and 60s established that infants in orphanages who were hardly touched or not at all, except for changing diapers and feeding, withered and some of them even died! The research has continued (albeit quite slowly in my opinion) and investigators are now finding out more and more about the function and importance of touch in animals and humans. See this article for some of the newer results: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/02/02/science/the-experience-of-touch-research-points-to-a-critical-role.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
What does this mean to most of us? I would say it’s a call to accept, no, embrace the valuable and necessary practices of therapeutic massage, contact improvisation teachings, and all other related disciplines within our medical, educational, sociological and psychological frameworks. Touch promotes feelings of well-being, peacefulness, safety, pleasure and connectedness. It can help ‘hyperactive’ people to calm down and focus, premature babies thrive, those with sensory integration issues to become more integrated, heal trauma and lower the perception of pain… I’ve always wondered why massage is not covered under most health insurance plans as it has been shown to help prevent some kinds of injuries and illness and to reduce hospital staying time; thus saving lots of money in our over-burdened health care system. Happy, secure people are less of a drain on ALL of our support systems.
And what about touch on a daily basis, in our personal lives? It’s sad that my cat gets more stroking than I do, or even than I give my children now that they are in their teens. As we grow older, we experience fewer and fewer opportunities to receive safe, non-sexual touching. What a pity! I’ve seen myself the powerful effects of a hug, a squeeze of hands, a brief moment of warmth as someone lays their hand of support on your tensed and tired shoulders or the middle of your back. When I was giving body awareness/yogilates classes at the cultural center for a univsersity I observed dozens of people experiencing the profound power of someone laying their warm, caring hands on them in a way that promotes trust and healing. At nearly every beginning of semester, someone would lie on a mat on the floor and be literally moved to tears by human touch, or their own breath. Tears of relief, tears of comfort and being alive; not tears of fear or pain. I invite you to consciously decide to practice the art of touching more often in your everyday existence. Revel in the changes it will undoubtedly mean for you, and spread the good feelings.
Namasté (and virtual hugs).