Have We Forgotten the Power of Touch?
Jean was in her 80s when she first came to see me for massage therapy. She suffered with severe pain in her hip where age and arthritis had conspired to cripple her, but had only succeeded in making her walker-dependant.
From the moment I touched Jean, I could feel the loneliness that plagued her. A widow who lived alone, she had grace and humor, but also emotional hurt. "I wish my friends could feel this," Jean said to me in a whisper one afternoon. "I don't think they'd be afraid of dying anymore. Getting a rub down would help them, whoop!, just float away to the Big Guy."
Sasha and Martin were brother and sister living in a foster home. Their foster parents loved them and were doing everything they knew to help the two children heal from their abusive childhood. But the children were unable to bond and the family was struggling.
One day the mother brought them to our healthy touch program for kids where we give children mini-massages on their shoulders as well as hands and scalp while telling familiar songs and stories. At first, they didn't want to participate, but by the end of the class when I asked if they had any questions, Martin raised his hand and with a sheepish grin said "When are you coming back to give us more hugs?"
In over ten years working as a massage therapist in private practice and facilitating community programs for children and adults, I have witnessed the power of healthy touch to heal, deliver, redeem, and restore people in mind, body, and spirit. Loving touch has the power to draw out the introverted autistic child, make an outcast teenager feel accepted, or communicate safety to a battered woman. Healthy, loving touch reminds us of our God-given worth and identity.
Research affirms the many benefits of touch. Studies conducted by the Touch Institute in Miami indicate the improvements in sleep and digestion among infants who are massaged regularly. Healthy touch releases endorphins such as the bonding hormone oxytocin and can calm the aggressive behavior of adolescents. Holding hands or giving and receiving hugs on a regular basis can lower blood pressure and calm a racing heartbeat.
"Touch is without a doubt one of the most, if not the most powerful means of communication we have available to us as human beings" says James Smith, counselor at Willow Tree Christian Counseling in Northern Ireland. "We may speak, express ourselves through words, tone and the volume of our voice, or body language, however nothing comes close to touch."
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