The Healing and Strengthening Power of Touch

The power of touch is displayed perhaps no more poignantly than during the first few months of life. Babies who are not hugged and held during these first months will not thrive and grow like their cuddled peers. In fact, a study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that infants who were held, snuggled and touched had better mental and motor skills than those who were not.

HoldingHands (87K)Physical touch is so important that the Medical Center actively recruits volunteer “cuddlers” to help give the nearly 700 critically ill newborns in their care each year regular hugs and snuggles.

"We know the importance of tactile stimulation to an infant's overall health and well-being," Dr. Robert Kimura, chair of neonatology, told the Los Angeles Times. "These folks are invaluable members of the healthcare team."

But we need physical touch not only as babies; we also need it as adults. Studies have shown that therapeutic touch benefits adults in the following ways:

  • Reduces stress (touching releases two feel- good brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine)
  • Lessens pain
  • Reduces symptoms of Alzheimer's disease such as restlessness, pacing, vocalization, searching and tapping

One study even found that women’s anxiety about potentially receiving a mild electric shock diminished significantly when they touched their husband’s hand, and also lessened to some degree by touching a stranger’s hand.

Touch is a Powerful Form of Communication, Stress Relief

A pat on the arm or a high-five can sometimes express far more than words. According to Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, touch is actually “our richest means of emotional expression.”

As the New York Times recently reported, even brief episodes of touch can communicate a wide variety of powerful emotions, emotions that have a significant impact on other people. For instance:

  • Students whose teacher gave them a supportive touch on the back or arm were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class.
  • A sympathetic touch from a doctor gives patients the impression that their appointment lasted twice as long.
  • A massage from a loved one can ease pain and depression while strengthening your relationship.

Research by psychologist Dr. Karen Grewen also found that hugging and handholding reduces the effects of stress. Two groups of couples were asked to talk about an angry event, but one group had previously held hands and hugged, while the others sat alone. It was found that:

  • Blood pressure increased significantly more among the no-contact group as compared to the huggers.
  • Heart rate among those without contact increased 10 beats a minute, compared to five beats a minute for huggers.

What's more, Grewen suggests that warm contact such as hugs and handholding before the start of a rough day "could carry over and protect you throughout the day."

What are Some Ways to Benefit from Touch?

RegularMassages (27K)One of the simplest ways is to hold hands with your spouse, hug your friend or neighbor, and be generous with pats on the back, high-fives, fist bumps and other forms of physical communication.

You can also get a massage, from either a loved one or a professional massage therapist. Massage therapy decreases stress hormones in your body and, according to the Touch Research Institute:

  • Facilitates weight gain in preterm infants
  • Enhances attentiveness
  • Alleviates depressive symptoms
  • Reduces pain
  • Reduces stress hormones
  • Improves immune function

If you're giving or getting a massage at home, use a non-greasy massage oil that is completely natural (i.e. containing only beeswax, lanolin and light mineral oil).

Another great way to experience the profound benefits of touch is with Reiki, a gentle, hands-on healing technique that originated in Japan. This ancient form of energy healing is based on the idea that we all have an invisible "life force energy" (or Ki) that flows through our bodies and causes us to be alive.

This energy, however, is often disrupted by our own negative thoughts and feelings (both conscious and unconscious ones). If your Ki becomes too low, you are at an increased risk of becoming stressed out, sick, tired and unhappy.

During Reiki, a practitioner channels the healing energy through their hands and into the client.

The energy naturally flows where the negative thoughts and feelings are attached, thereby clearing any blockages and restoring a normal flow of energy. In other words, Reiki clears and heals the clouded energy pathways and allows the life force to flow through again.

Staying “in Touch” Mentally is Important Too

Physical touch is incredibly important, but it’s also beneficial to stay mentally in touch with those around you as well. So often we remain isolated, even as we’re surrounded by countless people each day. Reaching out with a smile, friendly hello and deeper, meaningful conversations will add much fulfillment to your life.

If you find it difficult to stay in touch with those around you, including your friends and family, don’t be hesitant to take advantage of technology. You can use Skype to reconnect with loved ones all over the world, for instance, or send photos back and forth to share even while you’re apart.

And while you’re together, engage in meaningful activities such as taking walks and exercising together that can strengthen your emotional bond while enhancing your health. Spend time together with your loved ones while getting in a workout.

Also take advantage of meal times, rides in the car, even trips to the grocery store to catch up and share the little details of your day with one another. You may also benefit immensely by setting aside time each week specifically to chat with your significant other.

As Dr. Peter Reznik, a mind/body integrative therapist stated:

“One of the ways to help your romantic relationship thrive is to have regular "state of the union" dialogues. That is, once a week create a special time (it may be only 10-15 minutes), during which you sit in front of each other and ask questions like "Where are we as a couple?" and "Has there been anything that we must discuss?"

If one or both of the partners has grievances the other is not to explain why they did what they did, unless they are specifically asked, but to say, "I am sorry this {whatever the problem is} made you feel uncomfortable, what can I do to make things better for you?"

A "state of the union" discussion will be most fruitful when sharing statements are used, as opposed to accusations.”

You can adjust this exercise to use with your children, parents, siblings and close friends as well, and use it regularly to stay in touch with those around you.

Ideally, you’ll embrace a combination of physical touch and mental closeness with those in your life. This will lead to more fulfilling relationships and closeness in your personal ties that makes life worth living!

French couples touch three times more time touching than American couples. So what are we waiting for? Grab your partner, friend or family member and give them a big hug today ... tomorrow ... and even twice or more a day!

Of course we are also advocates of holding hands in public, known by many as PDA (Public Display of Affection) -- especially those married for 10 years or more.

Go for it... and Enjoy Life that Much More ... Every Day!


Los Angeles Times
Touch Research Institute

Dr. Soram Singh Khalsa, M.D.

Dr. Soram Singh Khalsa, M.D.

Dr. Soram Khalsa is an internist in Beverly Hills, California and is affiliated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He received his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He specializes in Internal Medicine and Integrative Medicine combining diet, nutrition, acupuncture, herbs and nutrition.

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