• Lelia

The Health Benefits of Nurturing Touch

Updated: Mar 20, 2019


“The more we learn about touch, the more we realize just how central it is in all aspects of our lives—cognitive, emotional, developmental, behavioral—from womb into old age. It’s no surprise that a single touch can affect us in multiple, powerful, ways.” Maria Konnikova, “The Power of Touch,” The New Yorker, March 4, 2015*


One of the ways Healing Touch supports physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being is through the extraordinary power of nurturing touch. Most of us know how important nurturing touch is in raising children. We've heard the stories of babies neglected in Romanian institutions who suffered emotionally and cognitively from sensory deprivation. But nurturing touch does more than support healthy development in children. It’s an important part of whole-person wellness in people of all ages.


The Healing Power of Touch


“Touching facilitates and communicates healing, especially when grounded within a psychospiritual approach that respects the human story and the human spirit.” Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD, PhD, Coyote Healing: Miracles in Native Medicine

Studies of touch – sometimes of Healing Touch specifically and sometimes of massage or other forms of nurturing touch – demonstrate repeatedly that touch is fundamental to health and well-being.

Benefits of nurturing touch include:


· Lowered blood pressure and heart-rate

· Lowered levels of cortisol, the stress hormone

· Increased levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin which help regulate mood and relieve stress and anxiety

· Immune system support

· Increased levels of oxytocin, also called the feel-good hormone, which supports happiness and optimism


Significantly, these benefits seem to arise from nurturing touch itself and not simply the social interactions that create opportunities for touch. A study of cancer patients shows that patients who received touch therapy had more positive results (in improved mood and decreased fatigue) than those who simply were in the presence of a caring practitioner.** Similarly, a study of elderly patients showed that those who received regular conversation-filled social visit which included massage experienced greater emotional and cognitive benefits than those participants who received only regular social visits.*


Emotion Matters


Studies also demonstrate that the emotion driving touch is very important. A study published by the National Institutes of Health found that the benefits of touch are confined to instances when it is socioculturally appropriate and the individual who is offering touch is well-intentioned and friendly.***

A 2010 study demonstrated just how adept we are at identifying which emotions are motivating touch. Each study participant placed his or her arm through a barrier while someone unseen on the other side of the barrier would try to convey an emotion through a one-second touch to the forearm. Although the odds of guessing correctly by chance were only 8 percent, participants correctly identified compassionate touch almost 60 percent of the time, while gratitude, anger, love and fear were correctly identified over 50 percent of the time.****


Grounded in Compassion


As a heart-centered, holistic wellness practice, Healing Touch is rooted in the heart attributes of compassion, love, healing presence and innate harmony. Gentle hands-on Healing Touch techniques employ what Ann Marie Chiasson, MD refers to as Sacred Touch, which she describes in her book Energy Healing, as “a means of moving the energy of the heart center via the hands,” sending compassion, gratitude and reverence to the client’s body.


Sacred Touch as Daily Practice


Sacred Touch does not need to be limited to Healing Touch sessions. Chiasson recommends making a daily practice of Sacred Touch. “I suggest that you use Sacred Touch with everything you touch – even with animals, plants, and objects. Everything is sacred, and when we practice Sacred Touch, we experience a body-full awareness of the sacred aspect of life.” To activate Sacred Touch, Chiasson recommends the following practice:


“Find a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes. Place your right hand over your heart area, above your sternum, between the breasts. Place your left hand over your right hand, thumbs touching… Place your awareness into your hands. Touch your chest as if it were the most sacred object you’ve ever had the experience of touching. Send compassion, gratitude, and reverence into your body. This is Sacred Touch.”


Yours in compassion, gratitude and reverence,

Lelia


Further Reading


Chiasson, Ann Marie, MD. Energy Healing: The Essentials of Self-Care

Mehl-Madrona, Lewis, MD, PhD. Coyote Healing: Miracles in Native Medicine


*Source: Konnikova, Maria. “The Power of Touch,” The New Yorker, March 4, 2015. https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/power-touch

**Source: Healing Beyond Borders, Current Research Condition Studies, https://www.healingbeyondborders.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=171:current-research-condition-studies&catid=92:research-integrative-health&Itemid=690#Anxiety

***Source: Ellingsen, Dan-Mikael, et. al. “The Neurobiology Shaping Effective Touch: Expectation, Motivation, and Meaning in the Multisensory Context,” Fronteirs in Psychology. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, January 6, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4701942/Source:

****Source: Keltner, Dacher, “Hands On Research: The Science of Touch.” September 29, 2010. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research


Additional sources:

Menges, Sarah. “The Three Biggest Advantages of Human Touch May Surprise You,” Plush Care. September 20, 2017. https://www.plushcare.com/blog/advantages-of-human-touch-hugs/

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