The POWER of Touch

Monday, July 04, 2011 Posted by Matt

Touch comes in many forms on a daily basis, shaking hands when meeting someone, the full on hug goodbye or just the small pat on the back;  it is also emphasised within the words we speak: ‘Keep in touch’, ‘How are you feeling?’, ‘I feel so touched’.
Touch is an international language that every human being can use to communicate with each other, but why is this process so significant to us?

Let’s first look towards the animal kingdom; as we are indeed derivatives of our primate counterparts.  Primates groom each other socially to build relationships by cleaning the parts they cannot reach, male and female, old and young have their place within their social network and show this by touching and giving each other physical contact. 
Their babies cling fearlessly to their mother’s backs, not just to be transported, but to maintain that feeling of security and bond.

Household pets are also a great example, cats and dogs when young are carried by the scruff of their necks by their mothers, they are also licked clean and groomed.

Cats and dogs crave the feeling to be stroked and petted; one example is of my family cat Jasper who would sit at the side of you and gently tap your leg twice with his front paw, and wait patiently. If you didn’t respond, he would repeat the process until you stroked him. If a small stroke wasn’t enough for him, he would again repeat the leg tap until you allowed him onto your lap and gave him his sufficient amount of stroking.  If you had to let him down you were met with a look of disappointment and dissatisfaction. And he would then look for his next point of contact.

On a scientific level, when we receive touch in a positive way the brain is flooded with a tsunami of chemicals including Endorphins and oxytocin.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters which are released from the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in the brain. The word endorphin is derived from two words:  ‘endo’ – endogenous (within the body) and ‘orphine’ – morphine, a powerful pain relief drug.  Just like morphine, endorphins have an opiate like effect on the body and the ability to relieve pain.  But unlike the synthetic version given intravenously, this is created within the body naturally.
Endorphins are renowned and well documented to show many benefits on the human body, reducing stress, anxiety, depression, easing physical pain, and lowering blood pressure.
Oxytocin, a neuromodulator is a hugely powerful chemical created within the brain and is renowned for counterbalancing Cortisol - widely known as the ‘stress hormone’, this is responsible for the horrible uncomfortable nasty feelings we get during fight or flight moments, where high levels are secreted. 
Oxytocin is released during childbirth and in breast feeding mothers; babies recognise this chemical which is secreted from the mother’s breast.  There is much evidence to show that a stronger bond is developed between breast fed babies and their mothers than bottle fed babies.
Oxytocin gives many positive loving feelings creating a host of happy emotions and giving a strong sense of attachment and bond between two people.

I first became aware of how powerful the power of touch was whilst at college training to become a massage therapist.  I’d had the inclination that person to person contact was something special but wasn’t aware of how much.
A very good friend of mine came into college for one of my Indian head massage assessments, learning the correct way it involved not only the head but the face neck shoulders and back so there was plenty of hand on skin contact.  My friend is a sufferer of fibromyalgia and chronic muscle fatigue and so is in constant pain 24 hours a day; so I thought that this may well give her a little bit of relaxation.
The assessment went amazingly well and I felt a real sense of connection with her during the massage, it didn’t feel at all like just performing a massage, it was more personal as I did it with meaning. 
Proceeding the massage I took her upstairs in the lift and was astounded to see her burst into floods of tears, I honestly thought that I had caused some pain and was momentarily mortified until she revealed to me that I have given her such relief with the massage, it had not only given her relief to the pain that she was suffering but had also given her a sense of wellbeing and being nurtured which had resonated in this burst of happy emotion.                 

It was at this point that I realised that touch was one of the most powerful things imaginable.

A question that I ask myself is this: would the effect of touch on her body and mind have been the same without my positive intention?

As a skin and massage therapist, I (as many therapists out there do) get to touch my clients all the time, but I believe it’s the intention that I give towards the treatment and my clients on a personal human to human basis that makes the difference.  I believe in what I am doing and do it in a positive way; I don’t see it as just a job or a chore but a way of connecting with people and providing them with both the physical effects that they come for and the psychological effects from being in contact with another human.
The amount of times I have heard of people talking about having a massage which either wasn’t relaxing because the therapist was unskilled at their trade, or that it just lacked ‘something’ and it’s the ‘something’ that makes all the difference, that something is the intention in which its done with.

I have read many stories about killers, mass murderers and generally nasty people that inflict pain upon others and they all have one common denominator, they are all ‘loners’, people unconnected from people, disjointed from family and friends or often in extremely unhappy relationships. These are the people that do not get to feel touch from others, they don’t feel sincere intention from other human beings or even feel love from anyone.
Now some of these people are just evil and have psychotic tendencies, but others have been classed as ‘normal’ people that have gone over the edge and committed heinous acts. It’s a very sad thought to think that if they had been in a position where they had received touch would this have come about?  Could these terrible things have been avoided if contact was made with others, releasing endorphins and oxytocin.   I’m not saying that anyone that doesn’t get touched will quickly turn into an axe murderer, but its food for thought in the reasons that people have gone over the edge.
I challenge you to think about the intention in which you touch others, your family friends or partner; do you do it with meaning or just because you feel you need to?
For the latter answer, from now on do it with meaning and sincerity and see the amazing effect the power of touch has.

Matthew Taylor.  2011.
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