The Importance of Touch
by Guest Blogger Beatrice Carlson Bumbacher, LMT, MLD-C
“Nothing is as healing as human touch”. - Bobby Fischer
I have been following Jackie Allen's posts on social media with great interest since one of the topics she picked was to talk about the understanding and improvement of our shoulder functions. In my daily life as licensed Massage Therapist, I encounter many clients with tense and painful areas around the shoulders. Besides providing massage therapy to my clients, I do like to talk about the functions of the area with issues as well as to suggest stretches that help to reduce tension. I have also been admiring the great illustrations done by her husband.
Jackie asked me to write an article for her blog. There are so many subjects I could write about since massage therapy touches many areas, for example, in the alternative and holistic medicine, fitness, health and wellness fields. I decided to start to talk about why touch is so important. Especially now since Covid-19 descended on our world and we are asked to maintain social distance. How can we continue to give and receive touch, and why is touch important? In the following, I try to give some answers to this important question.
Why is touch important?
1. Touch can lead to emotional, physical, and cognitive improvements
It could be, in short, that the benefits of touch are really social benefits. In fact, though, researchers have discovered that touch need not be social to be effective. In her more than thirty years of research on touch, Tiffany Field, the head of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, has sought repeatedly to disentangle the two. In one series of studies, one group of elderly participants received regular, conversation-filled social visits while another received social visits that also included massage; the second group saw emotional and cognitive benefits over and above those of the first. Field has found similar gains in both premature and full-term infants, pregnant women, children and adults with chronic pain conditions or emotional problems, and healthy adults. Even short bursts of touch—as little as fifteen minutes in the evening, in one of her studies—not only enhance growth and weight gain in children but also lead to emotional, physical, and cognitive improvements in adults. Touch itself appears to stimulate our bodies to react in very specific ways. The right kind can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels, stimulate the hippocampus (an area of the brain that is central to memory), and drive the release of a host of hormones and neuropeptides (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuropeptide) that have been linked to positive and uplifting emotions. The physical effects of touch are far-reaching.
2. Touch can lead to more success in sports
Finding ways to introduce more subtle touch into our daily lives can have a profoundly positive impact, and there's some surprising evidence to back this up. Would you believe greater physical contact within sports teams is actually associated with more victories? This was the conclusion of sociologists Michael Kraus (Yale) and Dacher Keltner (University of California, Berkeley).
3. Touch can lead to more trust building
Aaron Alexander Sprinkle writes in his book “The Align Method” that touch can lead to more trust building. In more touch-based congratulations and acknowledgment of coworkers, friends, and family by offering hugs, handshakes, and high fives or a simple touch of your arm or shoulder in conversation is a key indication of rapport and trust being built.
4. Touch can be healing
When someone experiences trauma, they can become hyper-sensitized to certain physical sensations, including touch. While we need more scientific investigation, initial studies suggest that massage therapy can help reduce sensitivity to pain and also re-normalize pain outside the context of the initial trauma by providing a safe environment to experience appropriate and soothing touch again. Here is an article outlining the benefits of hugs.
How can we continue to give and receive touch?
The above listed benefits of touch clearly show how important touch is, but how do we continue to do this in our current situation where we are faced with the threat of Covid-19? My personal situation is that I live with my husband, my two children and my two cats. I enjoy that we can be close to each other and to give each other daily hugs and kisses. Our cats love petting and they stay close to us humans. If you are living with loved ones, I highly recommend to embrace frequent touch. Pets are great too and if you do not have one, you may consider getting one or two. I found this interesting article from the North Carolina radio on how to deal with the lack of touch (article link here).
It is totally understandable that we might otherwise avoid getting close to anyone in order not to be infected with (or potentially spreading) SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Personally, I follow the CDC guidelines and I'm always wearing masks when I visit stores and my hair stylist and while at work. It remains very important to wash and disinfect hands frequently. However, I also love to support local businesses such as my Yoga studio and restaurants which may not necessarily mean that I dine in, but that I order to-go.
Thankfully, our world also allows us to stay connected with business acquaintances, clubs, fitness and yoga studios, networking groups, friends, family and more through online applications such as Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom, which I believe is very important to do. I joined the book club of my Yoga studio Breathe Yoga Atlanta in Cumming, GA and participated in regular Zoom book club meetings. I'm also a member of the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and attend some of their Zoom meetings, and I am participating regularly in a Zoom business women meeting from a group called LEAP in Cumming, GA.
There are creative ways how we can touch without hugging. I recently saw a friend and we did the elbow bumping. It's unusual, buy hey, why not. I found an article on NPR about creative ways to greet besides hugging (article link here). You may want to embrace self massage. Why not spend a little bit more time when applying your body lotion and do a massage or work with a body brush prior to taking the shower? Being a Massage therapist, I do recommend seeing a licensed Massage therapist on a regular basis, and I am happy to give self-massage tips to my clients. It helps to reduce stress, tension and pain in your mind and in your body. How do I get massages? I love to exchange massages with a fellow Massage therapist on a regular basis. I also love the healing benefits of Aromatherapy oils which I apply to my clients, my family and myself. This could be a whole subject by itself for another blog ...
Beatrice Carlson Bumbacher, LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist), MLD-C (Certified Manual Lymphatic Drainage Therapist), Certified ® Nurturing the Mother Massage Therapist, Certified Aromatherapist is the Owner and Founder Be Aware Health Massage Therapy, Cumming/GA. If you are interested in learning more about Beatrice's services, check out her website at https://www.beawarehealth.com