What comes to mind when you think of the word touch? Do you think of healing and well-being?
When most people think of physical touch, they may not connect it to words such as immune support, stress- reduction, or overall mind-and-body wellness. I’ve been a Massage Therapist for nearly 12 years and a Vocational Nurse for five. I’ve been blessed to experience, firsthand, how truly powerful touch can be; It is one of our senses that we often take for granted.
“There’s a spiritual connection to good health; it’s not just physical.” – Nancy Evans
I share this quote with you because it’s the simple truth. Our health is so much more than just our physical form. When I began my massage therapy program back in 2008, I had no idea that it was going to change my life.
Beforehand, I wasn’t exactly the type of person who enjoyed being touched or even touching others for that matter. The first time I placed my hands on one of my classmates and began to practice massage, I was overwhelmed with a sense of purpose. It’s as though I knew in that very moment I was meant to be there; in that massage therapy classroom, giving therapeutic touch. Not a day has gone by since the first time I massaged someone where I haven’t felt that I’m fulfilling my spiritual core through touch and compassion.
I am helping those who need aid in recovery whether it be emotional and/or physical. Spiritual wellness is more than just taking care of ourselves in a superficial way, it’s caring for ourselves on a deeper level; a spiritual level.
There are many ways to explore our spiritual wellness. I have found mine through both giving and receiving therapeutic touch. It is my whole being, my purpose. In what ways will you explore your own journey to spiritual wellness? Whether it be in massage therapy, practicing yoga, going on a hike, traveling, or helping others; we’re all capable of gaining a deeper connection to ourselves. Discover what feeds your soul, and run with it!
I’d like to share a memory that I hold very close to my heart. Three years ago I had a home-health patient in his mid-fifties who suffered from a severe brain injury caused by a motorcycle accident. Due to the trauma, he was left quadriplegic, epileptic, and aphasic. He was bedridden, developing severe muscle atrophy all throughout his body, the swelling was noticeable throughout his legs and feet, and his joints had become very stiff due to immobility.
After establishing a treatment plan with his family that was approved by his physician, I began massaging him on a regular basis(between 2-3 times a week). I combined a light effleurage technique with lymphatic drainage, and passive range-of-motion stretches. After just a few weeks, there was a noticeable improvement in his physical health. The swelling in his lower limbs and feet was significantly reduced and with passive ROM stretches his flexibility increased. After nearly 3 months of regular massage therapy sessions, my patient’s health continued to improve. He may not have been able to verbalize how he was feeling, but his kind facial expressions and physical improvements showed that they had. During my sessions with him, he had this overall sense of calm; his breathing would slow down and his heart rate would decrease. I was making a difference in my patient’s health, emotional state, and overall well-being through touch….yes, that’s right…touch!
Touch, especially through massage, triggers an increased release of natural oxytocin in the body. Oxytocin, also known as the “bonding” hormone is responsible for stimulating other hormones; such as dopamine and serotonin. These hormones make us happy, reduce stress, relieve pain, lower blood pressure, and can even lessen anxiety and depression. You’re probably familiar with the mind-body connection. Our physical health is deeply connected to our mental health. We’ve all been there…moody and impatient because we have a headache, or perhaps we’re hungry or didn’t get enough sleep. Our brains and emotions are a direct link to our physical selves. When our body is relieved of aches and pain, our mind adopts a sense of tranquility. We can think more clearly and our mood can improve. Our mind and body connection can be whole again.
Touch is such an important aspect throughout our entire lifespan. Premature babies gain weight and can obtain a regular heartbeat when they receive a gentle touch from head to toe.
Light back rubs help to improve growth and cognitive development in toddlers and young children. During adolescence, massage therapy can help to regulate hormones and reduce stress. In adulthood, routine massages can lower blood pressure and reduce chronic pain. During the senior years, hugs and therapeutic touch can boost immune function and increase flexibility. People with dementia who are hugged frequently and given light massage show an improvement in mood and are often less anxious. I’ve had clients benefit from therapeutic touch at every stage of life. Truly, every person at any age can benefit from touch!
It’s almost hard to believe that something as simple as touch can make such an impact on a person’s health and happiness. Let’s think back to last year for a moment. 2020 brought a global pandemic due to the coronavirus. A stay-at-home order took place, we learned to practice social distancing, and wearing a face mask became the norm. No one person’s experience during this pandemic has been the same, yet we can all agree that we missed visiting our loved ones, hugging one another, or even simply shaking hands with coworkers. We are social creatures and are wired to be touched. It’s an integral part of all human interaction.
I came across a new term recently -touch starvation. When physical contact becomes limited or even eliminated, people can develop a condition called touch starvation or touch deprivation. This condition can trigger negative physiological and psychological effects. Our bodies release the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for our “fight-or-flight” response. Our heart rate and blood pressure increase, our muscles become very tense, our natural energy is depleted, and our immune system becomes suppressed which can increase the risk of infection. Now that we’re moving forward in 2022, families and friends are coming together again and hugs and handshaking aren’t as taboo.
Let’s all appreciate the power of touch! It is absolutely essential for our overall well-being.