Our culture is not very affectionate, and we are losing out on the benefits of regular physical interaction with others. The healing power of touch is so necessary for life that babies not touched regularly don’t grow and develop normally, and children who are not lovingly touched enough are more likely to be violent as adults.
It’s very common these days to live most of our lives in our heads. Are you experiencing the constant chatter of to-do lists, errands, worries, decisions and criticisms? You are not alone. This mental chatter disconnects you from your body and depletes your energy. In fact, it is just another form of stress that over time pulls the energy from your body and keeps it stuck in your head.
When the time comes for rest and relaxation, you may find that your mind cannot stop. Even sleep can become more difficult, further depleting your energy. Regular touch establishes your mind-body connection and has been proven to:
• Decrease anxiety
• Increase the number of white blood cells
• Lower blood pressure
• Increase endorphin levels (your feel-good hormones)
• Help you sleep better
I recently learned that the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City—one of the nation’s largest teaching hospitals—is the site of two research studies on the potential benefits of Healing Touch for cancer patients. One is funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, the other by the National Cancer Institute.
We have all heard about the ancient healing traditions of Christianity. Healing the sick was a central part of Jesus’ ministry and of the early Christian church. The gospels are full of stories about Jesus healing the sick, and Jesus commanded his followers to go and do likewise. But this emphasis was gradually lost over the centuries as illness became solely the domain of physicians and hospitals.
Healing Touch is a modern version of this time-honored practice. Many traditional cultures have recognized that a gentle touch is soothing to those who are ill. More recently, studies conducted at the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute have proven that touch is an essential part of human health. Skin is the human body’s largest organ, containing millions of receptors that send messages through nerve fibers to the brain. A simple touch has been shown to reduce a person’s heart rate, lower
blood pressure, and reduce stress levels.
The Touch Research Institute was formally established in 1992 by Director Tiffany Field, Ph.D. at the University of Miami School of Medicine via a start-up grant from Johnson & Johnson. The TRI was the first center in the world devoted solely to the study of touch and its application in science and medicine. The TRI distinguished team of researchers, representing Duke, Harvard, Maryland, and other universities, strive to better define touch as it promotes health and contributes to the treatment of disease. Research efforts that began in 1982 and continue today have shown that touch therapy has numerous beneficial effects on health and well-being.
The Touch Research Institute is dedicated to studying the effects of touch therapy. The TRIs have researched the effects of massage therapy at all stages of life, from newborns to senior citizens. In these studies the TRIs have shown that touch therapy has many positive effects. For example, massage therapy:
1. Facilitates weight gain in preterm infants
2. Enhances attentiveness
3. Alleviates depressive symptoms
4. Reduces pain
5. Reduces stress hormones
6. Improves immune function
The Touch Research Institute has conducted over 100 studies on the positive effects of massage therapy on many functions and medical conditions in many different age groups. Among the significant research findings are enhanced growth (e.g. in preterm infants), diminished pain (e.g. fibromyalgia), decreased autoimmune problems (e.g., increased pulmonary function in asthma and decreased glucose levels in diabetes), enhanced immune function (e.g., increased natural killer cells in HIV and cancer) and enhanced alertness and performance (e.g., EEG pattern of alertness and better performance on math computations). Many of these effects appear to be mediated by decreased stress hormones.
Here are some easy ways to incorporate healing touch into your daily routine:
• Offer to give a friend a back rub – then switch.
• Borrow a custom from Europe and kiss people hello. If that is too intimate, give hugs instead.
• Pat people on the back or arm as gentle reassurance.
• Schedule regular therapeutic full-body massage. Something is better than nothing, so even 15 or 30 minutes makes a difference.
• Get foot massages or foot reflexology – these forms of healing touch allow your energy to move from your head into your abdomen, which is your “energy powerhouse.”
• Don’t be afraid to ask for a hug – your body and your mind both need it!
You probably know that the sun’s rays are therapeutic. Why else would we vacation in warm, sunny climates? You may also know that decreased sunlight is linked to seasonal depression, especially in the winter months.
While we’ve recently become more and more fearful of the sun’s rays, safe exposure to sunlight is actually very beneficial. It provides a healing touch that affects the chemistry of your brain and the functioning of your body. Especially in winter, make sure you expose at least 80% of your bare body to 30 minutes of sunlight regularly so that you benefit from the sun’s healing power. If your immune system is compromised this may mean that you schedule a vacation in the sun each winter. Sunlight is an important healing tool and it is free. Of course, the vacation might not be.
A Commitment to Physical Touch
This year, make a commitment (to yourself and those around you)
to touch more. From a kiss on the cheek to a quick massage, small changes can yield big health dividends. So take your health into your own hands and feel the power of healing touch.