As babies, we are held close and this makes us feel safe. Comfort often comes through hugs and touch. As adults, we tend to receive less of this tactile soothing, although it is not a luxury, it is a human need. There have been multiple studies on the effects of touch on premature babies, with consistent findings: babies develop more quickly, gain weight faster, and have increased immune responses, if they are massaged repeatedly while in neonatal incubation. One scientific explanation is that the massage increases vagal tone, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, the vagus nerve triggers the “rest and digest” branch of the nervous system, which promotes homeostasis in the body’s internal organs. I believe that the true pathway to healing during massage is the nervous system; I work on muscle systems and trigger points to provide pain relief for my clients, but the true work comes from calming the nervous system so the body can continue to do its own healing. The work is gentle, so the body never feels attacked.
On a more basic level, massage promotes well-being because touch provides a sense of security and wholeness within the body. In a beautifully written article, “Touch as Language,” Amrit Rai writes that skilled touch has a compassionate quality to it, which allows the body to feel secure and safe to exist. The trust that is established between therapist and client allows access to deeper healing. As a massage therapist, I understand anatomical structures and how to bring the body out of pathological states, but the skill lies in getting the body to allow me passage. It can be forced, but it will eventually revert back to armoring patterns if the healing work is not a cooperative effort. Rai writes: “Skillful touch can encourage trust and softening. It can get into armored places in us and open doors, which may be closed or locked.” This is always how the therapeutic touch process begins for me. Rai also references the importance of the nervous system, stating that “in the most basic way, skillful, loving touch repatterns our nervous systems and encourages our wholeness.” Bodies cannot heal themselves when they are in a heightened state of anxiety, and informed touch must address this first.
We generally do not receive enough touch on a daily basis, which makes regular massage (even self-massage) that much more important. In today’s digital age, human interactions have largely become removed from the physical plane. We communicate via text or email and we follow one another’s lives on Facebook. Face to face meetings are increasingly rare (FaceTime doesn’t count!). There are many conveniences that come along with this internet-based life, but a basic touch-connection with our own humanity is in danger of being lost. We could all probably use more hugs, more hand-holding, more cat-petting. As Rai states, “Touch is innately healing to us as human beings. It is a primal way that we know we belong.”
A link to the full article: https://www.abmp.com/textonlymags/article.php?article=1625