Power of Touch

A single touch can say so much. It can perfectly convey an emotion that words simply cannot. It connects you on the deepest of levels. It’s the first form of communication we learn, the mother of all senses, the way we navigate the world before you we can speak. It’s primary function is to promote trust and cooperation. A warm touch releases a rush of Oxycontin, the “bonding hormone” and a boost of endorphins while lowering levels of cortisol. Sounds lovely.

Did you know?

⁃ Touch makes you smarter! It has been found to enhance learning, memory, language acquisition and to improve IQ and reading skills.

⁃ There is a different standard between a superior and subordinate. Superiors, those in power, are more likely to touch a subordinate but the subordinate is not free to touch back.

⁃ Insignificant touches yield bigger tips for waitresses, patients who receive a touch from their doctors are more likely to come to follow-up appointments, and strangers will likely help someone if a touch accompanies the request.

⁃ Athletes who make physical contact with teammates more often and for longer periods tend to rate higher on measures of performance. A high five sends the signal of trust and the willingness to “share the load”. Go team!

⁃ The norms differ depending on the culture and its people. For example, in Turkey you may see men holding each other’s hands, a sign of friendship. In the US, that would be considered more intimate. Sadly, we’re not a very touch friendly country.

⁃ Touch plays a vital role in the advancement of relationships. Public displays of affection are “tie signs” to show that your partner is spoken for.

⁃ A loving touch from your partner can keep you in better health by lowering stress levels. Without touch, a relationship would slowly drift away…

When babies are born premature or of low birth weight, the benefits of skin-to-skin contact (kangaroo care) with parents is crucial. It helps regulate their temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate while increasing their weight and giving their immune system a much needed boost. For mama, it helps to improve her confidence, promote successful breastfeeding, and insures bonding. In the United States today 82% of neonatal intensive care units use kangaroo care in the United States today. Touch is a fundamental and important source of security for a child.

My son is 2 1/2 and every morning he wakes me up at the crack of dawn for a cuddle session. These are some of my favorite moments of the day. I find myself craving his affectionate touch. Basic physical (non sexual) affection such as holding hands, getting a massage or being caressed makes you feel appreciated and cared for. Some people go days, weeks, even months without a loving touch. I’ve seen it firsthand and it saddens me. Lack of touch can lead to resentment, anger, violence and a feeling of not being wanted. It can also increase dependency on drugs and alcohol. By the time a child reaches age 10 the amount of touch they receive decreases by half. Adults receive even less. Think of grandma and grandpa. There are a few things that can temporarily ease “touch hunger” like petting an animal or wearing soft cotton, valor, or satin but it’s no substitute for a caring touch. A simple hug can give someone the encouragement they need to complete a difficult task or get through a gloomy hour.

Tim Burkett, the guiding teacher at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center, told a story in one of the Saturday morning dharma talks that has stuck with me. Years ago he traveled to India to meet his future in-laws. He recalled the intense culture shock from the moment he got off of the plane. In the streets he was bombard by beggars. The malnourished children and badly deformed seared into his brain. His soon-to-be-family told him not to give out any money because it would likely go to some low life and just prompt more aggressive begging. The first few days he wanted nothing more than to hide away in his hotel room and watch t.v., escape it all. The suffering he witnessed was all too overwhelming. What was a “good” zen master to do?

One of the few things Tim wanted to do while in India was to meet Mata Amritanandamayi, better known as Amma or the Hugging Saint. It is said that throughout her life she’s embraced more than 32 million people. She’s devoted her life to alleviating the pain of the poor and those suffering physically and emotionally. Her followers have described her embraces as “divine experiences”. Tim stood in line with the thousands of other people in hope of receiving a hug. Deep into the evening he waited with others, who all had come to Amma for relief from suffering. Amma showed no signs of weariness. She remained energetic and radiant without so much as a bathroom break or a stretch of her legs. She hugged everyone, without judgement. Some beamed as they walked away from her embrace, others fell to their knees weeping. Twelve hours he waited. “Well worth it”, he said. The experience changed his life. Amma had shown him selfless love and compassion towards all beings in a single embrace. After returning home to the states, we was inspired to help the homeless and those with mental health issues. He is now the CEO of a major non-profit organization that serves thousands of mentally ill people throughout the Twin Cities every year.

With so much to be gained, I hope you’ll be inspired to go out of your way to give someone a genuine, heart felt touch. Get a massage! Hug a friend! Hold a baby! Put some love behind it. It makes a difference.

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