How Physical Touch Can Heal From the Outside In
It’s fairly common knowledge physical touch is an important part of our development and overall well-being. Science has found that as infants, we need physical touch from our parents for optimal development of the mind and body as we grow.
But physical touch remains an important part of how we communicate with, relate to, and form relationships with others (and with ourselves). Today, we’ll discuss the different ways we can incorporate physical touch into our daily lives for the purpose of boosting mental health, happiness, and healing.
Why & How Does Physical Touch Affect Humans?
Here are some common and uncommon ways we can use physical touch in our daily lives for increased happiness and healing.
Hugs & Hand-Holding
Psychology Today reports we get a boost of oxytocin when we hug someone. Giving and receiving hugs helps balance our hormones and reduce stress chemicals in our bodies. With babies, new parents are advised to use skin-to-skin contact and hugs in order to encourage the baby’s healthy development and to deepen the parent-child bond.
“Hug culture” is in full bloom in many places all over the world; you might remember the Free Hugs Campaign that began in Australia in 2006. Still, most of us come from cultures where children are taught ‘stranger danger’ to the point where they develop debilitating social anxiety. Homophobia too is still gripping most cultures, reducing the level of hugging and physical closeness that people have with their friends (this is an especially large problem for men in particular). That said, hugging, friendly touch, and personal space is not as stigmatized in many cultures - in India, men often hold hands affectionately and unabashedly in public.
The next time you meet someone new, try saying, “I’m a hugger,” instead of going for that instinctual handshake (but only if you’re comfortable doing so!). Just remember not to cross anyone’s personal boundaries without getting their verbal consent first. For many people, touch is a touchy thing.
Harvard released an article about a series of studies that revealed the many benefits of massage, such as significant reduction in muscle soreness, improved healing after surgery, and lowered chronic pain levels. It’s possible that adding a massage to your weekly or monthly to-do list could greatly improve your overall quality of life.
Cortisol leads to inflammation because it is an acidic compound that creates free radical damage (oxidative stress) that ages our body. Massages release oxytocin, which can combat these effects as well. Oxytocin also improves circulation, spreading of lymphatic fluid, and drainage of the lymphatic system which collects and removes bacteria from our bodies. Oh, and did we mention it activates the parasympathetic nervous system that helps you feel safe and recover your energy?
Massages also reduce feelings of mental burnout that can come all-too-easily in the technology age. They can be pricey, yes, but there are memberships, Groupons, massage schools that offer lowered rates, and even friends who may be interested in learning and trading massages with you!
Reiki is a combination of hands-on and hands-off energy healing, and wow does it make a huge difference in your emotional and physical health! Reiki allows you to receive clean, high-vibe energy that will cleanse and clear your body’s chakra system. Reiki healing can reduce fatigue, mental exhaustion, confusion, feelings of depression, and even chronic pain.
If you are an anxious person, the loving and healing energy from a reiki treatment helps bring harmony to your mind and body. It’s a subtle effect that allows people to release emotional pain they don’t realize is still stored in their body that is causing pain or emotional disturbances. Reiki is a non-invasive and safe form of physical touch that will help you find thoughts that are good for you and release thoughts and habits that don’t serve you. Reiki is also being used in hospitals to speed up recovery time and improve patients’ overall well-being.
Yoga & Acroyoga
Physical activity that involves an active awareness of one’s physical body can be an incredibly healing experience. Yoga allows us to become fully present in our bodies and work with them to experience new physical sensations.
To take this a step further, consider trying acroyoga, a form of acrobatic yoga that often involves partner work, which can help you get used to being in close proximity to other people. While not everyone is able to do acrobatics, acroyoga doesn’t have to involve any special skills, is closer to the ground, and involves a combination of therapeutic massage techniques, yoga, and circus skills. It’s a fun and safe way for people to connect in a healthy way through physical touch, and it builds trust and communication skills. When I was going through a healing phase I did acrobatics and acroyoga with strangers and it helped me start to open up to people and trust myself again.
Professional, platonic cuddling is a new industry that offers a G-rated cuddling experience to those who lack that sort of therapeutic touch in their lives. To some, this may sound rather extreme, but are services like this really so surprising? Consider how you feel about physical touch, its myriad forms, and why you feel the way you do. That being said, if you’re particularly sensitive to physical touch, you never have to force yourself into it, just like you should never force someone else into it, either.
Physical touch doesn’t have to always come from humans, either! Animals and pets can provide emotional support largely through physical touch. There are so many ways to use touch and activities involving touch to increase your happiness and promote both internal and external healing. Does physical touch have therapeutic effects for you? Let us know!