Sunday, January 24, 2010

Our Need For Touch

There are many ways to change a negative pattern. Start looking critically at how you do all the things in your life; listen and watch your day as if you were an outside observer experiencing it all for the first time. You may be surprised at what you witness.

We have need of touch, to feel welcome and human and whole. Whether or not we have loved ones present who provide us with daily tactile stimulation, it is important to love our own bodies. To feel connected to and comfortable with our own bodies is a major hurdle for many of us, but that simply highlights the importance and necessity of starting work.

(NOTE: Even though these acts are not sexual or invasive in nature, if you have serious traumatic issues of rape or physical abuse, these sorts of exercises should not be done without supervision, therapist input, controlled environment, or much study and preparation.)

Researchers have proven consistently that touch can make the difference in a multitude of issues, including;
* Regular touch helps decrease depression
* Constant touch stimulates senses and brain responses
* Prolonged touch can 'anchor' people to more calm, less stressful states
* Touch improves circulation
* Massage releases toxins from the body
* Muscles and tendons manage better with deliberate healthful touch
* Nurturing touch creates more elevated moods and promotes better overall health

In relation, a lack of regular touch has been found to increase problems including:
* Lack of connectedness, feelings of security, sense of being loved
* Increased depression, frustration, suicidal tendencies
* Increased difficulties with health
* Greater chance of heart and bowel problems
* Social dis-ease and antisocial behavior
* Anger


maintaining boundaries!)

It will take some doing for some of us to learn to be more sociable. Don't beat yourself up if it feels unnatural; you aren't a demon seed! It takes time to get accustomed to something that isn't a normal part of your world. Keep at it. Hang in there! Not every hug happens gracefully. Not every handshake feels super. Don't over think it. Try not to get discouraged.

Also, some of these more personal aspects of touch are not for making a show of yourself. They are for quiet moments to yourself where you feel safe and secure; not public places. (If you feel fine hugging yourself in public, more power to you! Just know that's not the expectation!)

If you are very self-conscious and don't live alone, I suggest making time to be alone in a bathroom to yourself so there is no fear of someone walking in and embarrassing you. If you don't have space to be alone at home, go into a bathroom stall or storage room at work. If you can't do it at work, park your car somewhere deserted on the way home and do it. There's always a way.


Some ideas:

Touch can take place as simply as clasping your hands together and praying.

You can give yourself temple massages on your head while waiting in lines, sitting at red lights, or watching a movie.

When you shower or bathe, explore your body with your hands. Put your mind into a loving and accepting spirit to do this. If that seems difficult at first, vow simply to not be critical of yourself. Feel and experience as a casual, detached observer. Know yourself.

When you take off your shoes, rub your feet. Separate your toes, massage and 'play' with them.

Take up yoga. You can find beginner tapes that are for every type of novice (I could only do about 4 minutes worth of yoga --on a beginner's tape!--when I began. Now, with time and practice, I can do over an hour. This is the perfect way to learn relaxation, connection to body, discipline, and flexibility no matter your physical limitations. It can even help with weight loss and other health matters.)

Hug your friends when you see them, as you are comfortable. (Not everyone hugs; you have to respect that. If you are one of those people, at least consider opening yourself up to it.)

Shake hands whenever possible. Even during flu season.

Place a hand on the shoulder of someone going through a rough time, if that feels natural. It could be the connection to the world that changes a day. It's a simple, supportive gesture that is not too forward in most situations. Bold and risky, yes. But giving touch is as important as receiving it.

Give yourself a hug. A pat on the head. A pat on the back. A playful slap on the face. Your opinion of you counts more than anyone else's; learn to be the giver of things you need. It may feel awkward at first, since we are conditioned to be self-conscious and not stand out, but it will make a world of difference.

Instead of obsessing about not being the recipient of another human's love, get a pet. They crave attention and love, and respond to it beautifully. (Did I mention not getting a cat?) Doctors have shown that those who have an animal companion and take part in petting, being close, receiving licks, etc. are more vibrant and light-hearted. If you cannot care for a pet, walk dogs for a neighbor. Volunteer at the Humane Society. Help at a local vet. There's always a way.

Get a professional massage.

Have a friend (with whom you feel comfortable) give a shoulder rub. Many people have a taboo associated with any sort of massage because of sexual connotations. That's unfortunate, because a light, gentle working of shoulder muscles can release a lot of tensions. (Do not let someone play doctor and try and do deep tissue rubs or anything that doesn't feel good! If they are not trained, stick to gentle fingertip work or flats of hands! As always, if it doesn't feel good or right, you have the right to say 'No!' or "Stop!") And for all touch exercises involving another person, you should have a 'safe' word that definitively tells them to stop.

Visit kids. Kids are not yet trained to be scared of expressing affection. They touch your face and inspect the hairs on your arms and ask questions and acknowledge you. They hug without hesitation (well, on a good day!) and show warmth and interest. They kiss you on the cheek and playfully slap and hit you. It is a welcome change from grown folks calculating how close to sit/not sit, whether or not to hug, worrying about your weight, withholding affections, hesitating to look directly at you, recoiling, etc.

Volunteer at the nursing homes in your area. Touring these facilities is hard, sure; think how hard it would be to stay there without a visitor. Going through the lineup of people sitting outside their rooms, you will find an inordinate amount of willing souls to grab hold of your hand.

Go to clubs, meetings, events, church, and other gatherings where--at least during the services--people are very welcoming and friendly. Perhaps a group where hand-shaking or hugs are a part of the regular mix. Everyone deserves the chance to be made secure and loved.

Work out with a partner, or hire a trainer. Exercise is another great stress reliever, especially for people dealing with depression.

Join an activity that involves physical contact. Even softball and running (with a group or team) involve coming into contact with other people. Increasing your involvement around other people opens up the possibilities for more hugs, handshakes, pats on the back than sitting at home.

If you are homebound, look into getting a physical therapist, caregiver, masseur, etc. who will do foot massage and other light activities. Ask a doctor to help you with this.

Join a group therapy program with people who are involved in the same issues. There are support groups and training programs in some larger cities to help people overcome shyness and other blocks from getting physical needs met. They work on such things as trust-building exercises, feeling the energy exchange between hands held, and more.

Feel free to offer your ideas on how to incorporate healing touch into a day!

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