Recently I was reunited with two friends. We met many years ago when we each were going through deep crises. We spent days together in a kind of sweet innocence. We touched, hugged, played and breathed together. Like children, we would lie beside each other looking up at the sky, reflecting on the state of our lives and wondering how we would put them back together again. All these years later, as we hugged, I felt us melt into each other. Experiencing this particular sensation of human companionship, it awoke in me a kind of longing and a curiosity about whether connection is felt deepest when times are rough.
Though one could say that as a Feldenkrais practitioner I touch people for a living, I was raised without much in the way of hugging. It probably wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I came to enjoy almost every opportunity to connect with a person in this way. My family wasn’t unique. Parents of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s were schooled to keep some physical distance from their kids once they were past the toddler stage. The New Yorker recently published an article on touch in which one of the original behavioral psychologists, John B Watson, is quoted as saying, “Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job on a difficult task.” How spartan that seems to us now.
Yet even today, I believe we remain a touch-deprived society. Social grooming is almost non-existent. Couples fall into habits over time where they do very little touching. Single people may have even less opportunity to feel the warmth of a hand or sit close to someone watching TV. But as primates, we were likely designed to touch those in our close tribe and gaze into each other’s eyes.
GOING TO THE DOGS
My friend, Carol Hauser, visits people in hospice with her therapy dog duo. She has many profound stories on the power of her dogs’ touch. She recently told me of Jan, a woman in her mid-forties with only 25% lung function for whom talking and breathing is difficult. Carol, along with miniature poodle Gus, enter the room. Immediately Carol notices that Jan has particularly labored breathing. After exchanging greetings, Jan manages to say she does not want a visit. Carol understands and offers to sit in the corner with Gus. “Gus?” she pants slowly and heavily. “Bring him over here.” As Gus settles in beside her on the bed and she reaches out to touch him, her breath settles. It becomes easier for the next 30 minutes. The touch of a warm poodle does something medications can’t.
Back in the day when I taught 2- and 3-year-olds in Sunday school, I actually wore a dress and hosiery. One of the most delectable things was when a wee one would sit down right next to me and rub a tiny hand along my leg. They loved the feel of the silky pantyhose, much like we enjoy the feel of babies’ silky skin. And I dare say that if someone was measuring my immune response after one of those impromptu touching gifts, it would have been favorable. Studies show that massage therapy or intentional touch has positive effects on elderly, newborns and adults, the healthy and not so healthy.
IMPROVING TOUCH IN YOUR LIFE
When you touch in order to help people heal, you become very away of the different qualities of touch and how they build or destroy relationships. We know that not all touch is created equal. There is creepy, pushy, loving, greedy, warm and detached. There is light, hard, stroking, tickling and poking. How much touch do you give and receive? Is there a way to improve the quality of your touch as well as the quantity? Just today a client shared how pleasant she found to glide her hands along her torso and face as I have taught for a particular exercise. Always there are options to explore.along my leg. They loved the feel of the silky pantyhose, much like we enjoy the feel of babies’ silky skin. And I dare say that if someone was measuring my immune response after one of those impromptu touching gifts, it would have been favorable. Studies show that massage therapy or intentional touch has positive effects on elderly, newborns and adults, the healthy and not so healthy.