Lay on your back and relax. You are invited to breathe gently while you listen to a soundtrack of waves rolling onto a beach. Soft hands start to massage your tense muscles and for the first time this week you start to unwind from all the stress….
A massage is often considered a luxury and an example of being pampered to the max. New research into the effects of human touch shows, however, that being touched belongs more in the area of essential human needs.
People who spend longer time alone in a prison cell report that the lack of touch is one of the worst effects of the isolation. One person who had been isolated for a long time described it as “…a feeling of going crazy and questioning if I really exist…”.
One famous anecdote on the effects of human touch is from early 20 century USA. Orphanages at the time had a very high infant mortality rate from no known physical cause. The children received both food and clothing, but many still died. There was one exception from the rule. In one ward in one hospital the children thrived. Trying to figure out this anomaly, they found out that the lady who came every evening to clean the ward, was also taking time to cuddle with each of the toddlers. It was the touching that was the missing clue.
Today, touch is being used as a therapeutic intervention with babies born from drug addicted mothers. In America the number of babies being born with NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) has tripled in 15 years. At Boston Medical Center cuddling has replaced medication the primary treatment. Having to go through withdrawal symptoms right after birth is traumatic and babies whose parents are absent are actively cuddled by volunteers to ease symptoms and increase their chance of survival.
Massage even has been shown to improve the symptoms of autism. Louisa Silva, an American medical doctor, has completed more than a dozen research studies with Qi Gong massage showing that massage treatment effectively decreases the severity of autism in pre-school children, regardless of how severe the autism is. After 5 months of receiving a daily 15 minute massage the children improved 30%. Through the process of touching, the stress level of the parent also goes down and the bond between parent and child improves.
A curious fact is that after the Brexit vote in the UK, the number of people booking for massage in London City, the city’s financial district, went drastically up. Worrying about the effects of Brexit on their financial future, bankers and clerks alike intuitively went for touch as a remedy.
Healing touch in the form of massage has been proven to help with digestive disorders, chronic pain disorders, headaches, joint pain and insomnia related to stress. Even just one massage session provides measurable changes: increase in white blood cells that help defend the body from disease, lower levels of cytokines which play a role in inflammation, decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, and a decrease in vasopressin, a hormone that plays a role in aggressive behaviour. Research has shown that children who are starved of touch become more aggressive and violent than kids who are touched and hugged.
Touch and massage is being used successfully to help treat mental disorders such as GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) and depression. Increasing delta brainwaves, reducing muscle tension and helping to release endorphins, it has a similar effect as that of meditation and exercise. A massage will literally cheer you up and help you interpret thoughts and behaviour in a more positive light, something which is notoriously difficult if you are in a depression.
Mind and body influence each other mutually and a holistic approach to health is no longer the domain of alternative therapies only. Mainstream medicine is becoming more and more aware of the importance of attitude and emotion in healing physical ailments and psychiatry is increasingly including movement and touch as part of the treatment of disorders.
Mothers all over the world (as well as English bankers!) intuitively know that touch is healing. Research and science is starting to catch up with this fact, but for now, let’s put hard facts and statistics aside; making your own experience is always better than believing someone else. Get a deep massage from a good practitioner. The chance is big you will walk out of there feeling good, with a relaxed smile on your face.