The Necessity of Touch

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Posted by Gwyn MacDonald

As a massage therapist I use touch to relax stressed out bodies and minds, ease muscle tension and guide my clients to a more grounded, centered and calm state of being.

As an infant massage instructor I teach parents how to massage their babies. We learn specific strokes for easing tummy discomforts and colic, general strokes to relax or stimulate the skin and why touch is so crucial to the process of growth and development, bonding and communication.

This last word, communication, is not always the first thing that comes to mind when we think of touch. But touch is communication and an important form of communicating at that.

When we touch someone, whether a simple gesture of a hand on a shoulder, a hug, or a full massage, we are stimulating a physiological response in our and their bodies and in turn both expressing and eliciting emotion.

Our touch expresses our concern or empathy, our love and joy, our support, strength and a sense of security.

When our skin is touched, pressure receptors under the skin send signals to the brain, specifically to the vagus nerve, which has branches that traverse the body. It’s connection to the heart is one place where we see the power of touch in action. Research studies have shown that people asked to perform a stressful task( taking a difficult test or giving a speech) had lower heart rates and blood pressure (both governed by the heart) resulting in overall lower levels of stress, when they had a partner there to provide a hug or hold their hands.

Touch also stimulates the release of oxytocin, that essential hormone that increases feelings of trust, bonding and deep connection to others. The connection/communication between the physical and the emotional bodies runs deep and the skin plays a fascinating and powerful role.

In my work I see clients who have lost a spouse and talk about the connection they feel through massage and how it helps them to deal with missing that everyday touch. I see parents connecting deeply to their new babies as they gaze into their eyes and massage a tiny foot or leg. I am grateful for these experiences.

Sometimes we forget that just the simple gesture of placing our hand on someone’s arm, shoulder or hand can change the way they go about their day. It can remind them and us to take a deep breath, to smile or cry and to touch the next person they see in the same gentle way.

To communicate, with our hearts and our hands.

P.S. To read more about the essential role of touch in our lives (and some of the inspiration for my work and this blog post), check out ‘Touching” by Ashley Montegue. Also the incredible work of Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami.

And a brief but informative article from NPR that I give as a handout in my infant massage classes: Human Connections Start With A Friendly Touch by Michelle Trudeau 


Massage Therapist Insider Series: How Can I Make the Most of Each Massage Treatment?

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This post is a continuation to my previous post about making massage a more affordable practice. Making the most of your massage can be as easy as, practicing stillness immediately following your treatment. Combining massage with other forms of bodywork can accelerate the healing process even further.

My personal model for health includes chiropractic care, acupuncture, yoga, running, and of course massage. That might seem like a long list of healing modalities, but hey, I’m also “in the biz” and that amount of self care makes the most sense to me as an individual. Pairing one of those activities with massage can open up a world of possibilities. As a practitioner, I love collaborating with other healers. It’s a fun way to gain useful information that I try to implement with each person I encounter.

Having a chiropractic adjustment, an acupuncture treatment, or practicing yoga before a massage can allow the body to be more open and supple to receive that extra level of healing. I try to encourage clients to try everything when it comes to caring for their bodies, minds and spirits.

Do The Hustle and Other Good Medicine.

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Posted by Judy Moon

Merriam Webster defines medicine as – noun \ˈme-də-sən, British usually ˈmed-sən\
:a substance that is used in treating disease or relieving pain and that is usually in the form of a pill or a liquid
:the science that deals with preventing, curing, and treating diseases Native Americans have a different definition for medicine. Native American medicine is an all encompassing way of life. “Medicine means the presence and power embodied in or demonstrated by a person, a place, an event, an object, or a natural phenomenon. Medicine may be good or bad according to the intent with which we use it or how it affects people.  A kind word is good medicine, and an insulting or a discouraging word is bad medicine.” Medicine is all around you, for example, “the sun is shining today- that’s good medicine.” I really love this concept of medicine.

I recently read a way cool book also addressing medicine that goes on to my list of “life changers.”

Mind Over Medicine, Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin M.D.  was one of those “I can’t put it down” books for me. Lissa is a mind-body medicine physician. Her story is similar to a lot of others who have written these types of books, where the physician is sicker than the patients they are treating. She chose to figure out why.

She shows us the connection between our emotions and our health. clearly proving we store issues in our tissues. “She shows how thoughts, feelings and beliefs can alter the body’s physiology.  This is not your typical positive thinking “woo woo” kind of book. The book sites scientific studies, the end notes in the back show where all of the studies are found. She doesn’t suggest that you ditch your doctor. She encourages you though to listen to your “your inner pilot light – the radiant, sparkly spirit of you … It’s that part of you that is a little piece of divinity fueling your life in human form. It’s that 100 percent authentic, never extinguished, always-shining-though-sometimes-dimmed part that lights the way back to wholeness, happiness, and health.”

My favorite part of the book was writing my own prescription – how cool is that???!!!! I went to her website and downloaded the free Whole Health Self Healing Kit. I answered all of the questions in each section – belief, support, inner pilot light, relationships, work/life purpose,creativity, spirituality, sexuality, money, environment, mental health, physical health. Some of them I must admit were hard to answer. I literally had to take a mental break about half way through. For example, she asks questions like – “what truth am I unwilling to face in my life right now?”, “am I clear on what my soul wants to create?”  – Yikes! Those are not things I usually think about, but I did and then based on your answers you come up with your prescription. Genious!

I carry mine around in my purse and do my best to look at it daily. There are things you might expect to see – eat more plant based foods, go to bed earlier, meditate daily, but there’s also fun things like knit more frequently, start composting and my favorite one of all – dance daily. Which is where ” the hustle” comes in. Sometimes after I work out, I will do the hustle, yes, I am admitting this publicly. It makes me happy – for no other reason –  and THAT is good medicine.

Just in case you need a refresher –

See you on the dance floor!

International Journal for Healing and CaringMind Over Medicine by Lissa Rankin, Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson