Touch is the very first sense humans acquire. It develops in simple form in the womb, well before birth. Newborns are born with sight, but initially focus at 8-12 inches from their face. Newborns can hear, even in the womb, and initially respond mostly to high-pitched exaggerated sounds and voices. Newborns can taste and smell at birth, with a preference toward sweetness and pleasant smells.
Newborns love skin-to-skin contact. Newborns who share bare-chested snuggles with their moms (sometimes called “kangaroo care”) may breathe better, cry less, and breastfeed longer.
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, 2012
As it is with newborns, our sense of touch remains very important as we grow. We learn about our surroundings and learn to associate touch with sense memory–things like the warmth of a blanket, a cool breeze, comforting hugs, and loving caresses. With almost every touch you learn more about life.
Western cultures, sadly, are pretty touch-deprived and this is especially true of the US. Psychologist Sidney Jourard (1960s) studied conversations between friends in a cafe in different parts of the world. He watched conversations for an hour and noted touch interactions. In England, the two friends touched zero times. In the US, twice–mostly associated with an emphatic or enthusiastic moment in the conversation. But in France, the number dramatically increased to 110 times per hour. In Puerto Rico, friends touched each other 180 times. Cultural norms dictate public touch behavior along with each individual’s sense of personal space. In general, though, people feel more connected (“closer”) when nonverbal communication, like touch, is involved in a conversation.
Given these findings, it makes sense that we’ve developed ways to incorporate touch into a form of therapy. “Touch therapy” or “massage therapy” may sound like some weird idea, but there’s significant hard science confirming the benefits. Turns out, touch is good for our muscles and our overall physical and mental health.
There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust. It soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which triggers a compassion response and the release of the “bonding” hormone oxytocin. Other studies show that touching patients with Alzheimer’s disease can get them to relax, make emotional connections with others, and reduce their symptoms of depression. Massage therapy reduces pain in pregnant women and alleviates prenatal depression—in the women and their spouses alike. Children with autism, widely believed to hate being touched, actually love being massaged by a parent or therapist. Athletes feel more confident and empowered, and gain faster recovery after therapeutic touch (massage), too.
As trained and certified massage therapists, we know the power of touch. We know that the quality of touch can be just as important as the technical skill involved in each massage technique. We’re trained to sense how your body responds to our work and adjust–whether your goal is pain relief, increasing range of motion, or blissful relaxation.
Book a session with us today and experience the power of grounded and purposeful touch for yourself. Your body, and the people around you, will thank you.