Touch is a subject that I have been interested through my work as a dance artist and as a therapist. Touch is powerful. It is considered the deepest form of communication and has a profound influence on us. Violent and abusive touch leaves the victim deeply effected – often with life-long traumas – especially if it has happened in childhood. Gentle and caring touch, on the other hand, has many emotional and physical health benefits and there is no wonder why warm and non-sexual touching is a very important part of many ancient and current healing and therapy practices.
According to Finnish child psychologist, Jukka Mäkelä in this interview, gentle touch is as vital for a child’s development as is good sleep, food and exercise. Touch has a profound influence on our brains and our development as people. It is commonly known that skin-to-skin contact helps babies to calm down, reassures them and supports their immune system. It is also commonly known that a parents’ loving touch enables premature babies to gain weight quicker and to regulate their bodily functions better.
During gentle touch our brains secrete a hormone called oxytocin. It makes us feel good, improves our ability to deal with stress, as well as reduces blood pressure and pain. It also promotes trust in other people. Swedish research found that gentle massage amongst young children in pre-school reduced aggressive behaviour in them.
Touch is important to an adult’s health and wellbeing too. Our Western cultures, however, can be touch-deprived as Dacher Keltner, professor in psychology, says in his article: Hands On Research: The Science of Touch. Warm touch signals safety and trust, which calms down cardiovascular stress and activates our vagus nerve that is linked with compassionate responses. According to Keltner, people who are more tactile can even succeed better economically.
There are many reasons to give a hug to someone!