Touch: For Your Health

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn  life around.”               ~Leo Buscaglia

Mom with baby

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Biology classes were my favorite growing up. The body is a fascinating tenement and I am always amazed at its responsiveness when we give it what it needs. Taking care of ourselves can make a world of difference when it comes to our health, and a holistic approach includes a daily dose of touch.

In the early 80s I worked at The Grove Gym as a personal trainer and aerobic dance instructor. It was the beginning of my life-long love affair with holistic health. In the mornings before the gym opened I trained with the owner, a professional body builder. During those early morning workouts I learned the names and movements of muscles, the importance of focus, and the benefits of a daily commitment to my health. Today my interests in the body and in health psychology have me conversing with colleagues from the various UCLA Labs, and reading the latest research papers on integrative medicine. However, when I started my journey, my research subjects were my family and clients.

I was younger than most of my students when I started at the gym and even though I was their instructor, they taught me so much. There were many success stories from my training days, but one woman will always stand out. Andrea came faithfully to every aerobic class and enjoyed complaining about how hard I worked her at the end of each session.  Yet, despite her grumbling, she would often tell me how her arthritic condition had improved as a result of the class, and how thankful she was for it. Knowing that something inside her was changing from her commitment to the routine, made all of her whining worth listening to. Andrea and others like her were my motivation to pursue my passion for holistic health practices.

On the same note, my husband at the time was a carpenter who had muscle and back problems due to improper use. Out of curiosity I picked up a book called Sports-Massage, by Jack Meager, a masseur for one of the U.S. Olympic Teams and I began to test his methods on my husband. When my mom heard of my interest she introduced me to her friend who had worked at the Chicago Health Club for 20 years. With my mom now as my subject, I practiced and improved my technique with the guidance of her friend. Then I brought my knowledge to my students…I won’t elaborate on how things went with Andrea!

Looking back on this time of my life brings real joy to my heart. It was one of the best times of my life, to have found the thing I loved to share and immerse myself in it wholeheartedly, without reservations.  Even more fun, was that as weird as some of my experiments were, I always found a willing participant!

Incidentally, what I was learning was not something new. Massage has a long history. It was included in the Ayurveda, India’s earliest known medical text dating around 1800 B.C., and was listed as one of the principal healing practices of that time. I still share my love of touch with my family and those I care for. To this day my adult children do not hesitate to ask for a massage from mom when a headache or body ache irrupts. I believe it is one of the most loving gifts you can give to another, and as it turns out, touch is very good for our health.

Our skin is the largest organ on our body and sadly in many cases neglected. Besides its protective and physiological properties, we can all relate to the different ways that we have experienced touch throughout our lives. For example, the pleasure of someone touching us in a loving way, or the negative response we feel when touched with discord. Our skin has a memory of it’s own and we are continually admitting information through it. As Tiffany Field states, “Because skin cannot shut its eyes or cover its ears, it is in a constant state of readiness to receive messages – it is always on.” Touch is our first form of communication, as sensory input takes place while in the womb. Touch is a primary means of experiencing the world at all ages, from the cradle to the grave.

Why you may ask, the concern of something as basic as touch? It is because we have become a society that seems to be doing less of it and the significance it has on our state of health is profound. The benefits of touch and massage are many on our physical, mental, and emotional health. Children, especially babies, need skin-to-skin contact. Touch is critical for growth and development, learning communication, and self-esteem. Not surprisingly, it has even been found that in cultures that touch more, aggression is less.

On the other hand, touch deprivation causes emotional disturbances in children which can result in depression, sleep disruption, suppression of the immune system, and growth delays.  Several researchers have even attributed allergies and asthma to the lack of touch. Certainly everyone’s sense of touch is different and in some cases not welcomed, so we need to be sensitive. Yet, for children it lays the foundation for healthy emotional and intellectual development.

We can all give a daily dose of  “touch” to the ones we love. Young or old, our skin is begging for nourishment!

© 2013 Cathi Curen, Holistic Children Radio


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