You Won’t Believe What Touch Can Do..

According to the Dictionary of the Russian Language, “All five senses can be reduced to one- the sense of touch.  The tongue and palate sense the food; the ear, sound waves; the nose, emanation; the eyes, rays of light.” ( Field, 3003, pg. 76)  Though touch could be considered our most important sense, many of us take it for granted.  The book Touch by Tiffany Field is about  the many benefits of touch to both humans and animals.  In he book, Field discusses many studies, research, and practices that relate to the various benefits of contact and touch.  Field discusses the benefits of touch throughout all stages of human life as well as similarities and parallels that can be seen in the touching practices of animals.  Some studies that I found very interesting and would like to highlight are listed below.

  1. Premature babies who were given infant massage gained 47% more weight over a 5-10 day period than those who did not receive massages.
  2. Due to the lack of human contact experienced in orphanages, children in the 19th and early 20th centuries had a 50-50 chance of surviving to puberty. German orphanages had a 70% mortality rate, and though American orphanages had a 32-75% mortality rate, New York City and Baltimore orphanages averaged a 90-100% mortality rate.
  3. Touch is important throughout life. Many of our senior citizens experience difficulties and declines not only due to age, but also touch deprivation.  Studies done on senior citizens who are given massages or who are taught to give massages show that those who receive this type of tactile input showed fewer signs of senility.  This includes: being more alert, better humored, physically vital, better sleeping, less depression, and greater self-esteem.  One such study was on “grandparent” volunteers massaging infants.  These volunteers were taught infant massage techniques.  This program provided benefits to both the babies and the senior citizens involved.
  4. Touch also affects animals. For example: rat pups cannot survive without their mother’s touch.  Typically mother rats will lick their young for grooming purpose, however, this touch helps to strengthen the pups circulatory, digestive, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, immunological, neuroendocrine, reproductive, and respiratory systems.  Researchers suggest that this is due to lower stress levels which allow greater cell development.
  5. Another famous study on the importance of touch is Harlow’s study of monkeys. In this study, baby monkeys were separated from their mothers and placed in an inclosure with a terry cloth “surrogate mother” and a wire “mother” that provided milk.  The study showed that contact with the terry cloth mother was more important to the babies than the wire mother with their food. Steve Suomi followed this study with another on monkeys in which he separated mothers from their babies in a way that the two could still see, hear, and smell one another, but not touch.  The study showed that without contact, the babies immune systems began to break down.  Fortunately, this was remediated when the babies were placed again with other monkeys.

I think that the most important take away from this book is the importance of touch to all beings wellness and state of mind.  It is important to help people move from a society that finds touch taboo, to a society who can appreciate and practice positive and appropriate touch.  We find examples of this in yoga when we do partner activities or when the instructor guides us into a deeper or more beneficial pose.  Though I enjoy touch and massage, I often find it startling to be touched during “unusual” situations.  Typically, we experience very minimal teacher-student touching when growing up, due to lawsuits.  When I began yoga, I will admit that it was different to have a teacher move my hips, shoulders, or head.  Once I got over that initial discomfort, I realized how beneficial it is to have the instructor move your body in a way that would be difficult to explain.  In addition, this helps to create connections and bonds between the teacher and student.

Similarly, partner yoga may feel uncomfortable at the beginning, and possibly with each new partner.  However, the contact made during partner yoga may be the only human contact some have all day.  It not only helps partners feel supported and accomplishes poses that they are unable to do individually, it also helps people form connections and gain that beneficial human contact that they may otherwise be lacking.

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