Positive Impact of Healthy Touch

By Stephanie Maziejka

I have been discussing health and wellness as it relates to the individual and I would like to branch out and focus on why healthy touch can have a much larger positive impact on not only the family unit but the community as well.

My previous articles discuss the physiological benefits of massage; relief from musculoskeletal aches and pains, stimulation of body systems, and a decrease in stress/increase in relaxation via accessing the parasympathetic nervous system and kicking our bodies out of the fight or flight stress stage, where many of us spend our daily lives.  In a world where individuals sustain heightened stress levels, more and more preventable pathologies are popping up (a discussion for a different day) and the emotional and psychological connectedness that used to be prominent among families and communities has suffered.  Physiologically, touch improves health. When individuals are healthier they tend to be happier and psychological studies* have shown this to have a tremendous affect on the happy individual’s interpersonal relationships, work ethic and productivity, and their connectedness to the world around them.

In addition to the physiological benefits and the increased levels of happy that massage and healthy touch can provide, its strongest attribute is to promote and establish trust.  One reason that touch has become such a taboo subject in our society is because of the horrendous stories told on the media about physical and sexual abuse among adults.  Even more atrocious are the stories of physical or sexual abuse of children by adults.  As a new mother, I am affected by these stories more so than before I had my son. Now upon hearing these stories I get a visceral reaction of panic, disgust, and overwhelming sadness. I realize that upon hearing these stories there is an almost instinctual response to want to protect our children by putting them in a protective bubble lined with barbed wire. However, I think this is the wrong approach.

I believe that we as a community need to have a discussion concerning personal awareness, relationships, and safety but I think the tone of this conversation should be positive, not negative.  The foundation should be based on education and not fear.  I believe learning about touch in a positive way promotes a healthy sense of trust, which is essential to developing healthy relationships throughout all aspects of life. Not all touch is negative. Touch conveys the emotional intent of the individual. It can be a sign of support, encouragement, and it can provide comfort when sometimes words fail. Rather than tell ourselves all touch is bad and avoid touching and being touched, we should be promoting healthy touch and discuss respecting individual’s boundaries and emotions so that we avoid unintentional isolation.  Isolation is one of the worst forms of punishment be it in the form of time out for toddlers or solitary confinement in a prison. If we introduce touch early on in a familial setting (i.e. infant massage!) our children will grow up with a stronger emotional bond to family members. Healthier relationships among family members promote empathy and respect; characteristics that children then bring into the classrooms and extracurricular activities aka: the community! Children that are involved in the community in a positive way tend to develop and grow into healthy adults who continue to contribute in a positive way to society, perhaps even diminishing the number of individuals who might otherwise find themselves in a prison’s solitary confinement!

I am not saying massage is the answer to all of life’s problems. There are many factors that contribute to success and happiness in life. I most certainly think that massage and the discussions around healthy touch can help individuals achieve an awareness that can contribute towards the kind of mind, body, and emotional balance that promote peace and happiness.

*There are numerous studies that have been done concerning the affects of touch on individuals of various demographics. One of the most popular early studies concerning the importance of touch on bonding and development is Harry Harlow’s rhesus monkey experiment. In this experiment infant rhesus monkeys were separated from their mothers and were provided with two surrogates; one wire providing heat and nourishment and one terry cloth covered absent of nourishment.  The infant monkeys spent more time with the terry covered “mother” indicating the importance of closeness and attachment. In the second stage of the trial Harlow observed these “motherless monkeys” as they developed and eventually became mothers themselves, these monkeys had more difficulty socializing with other monkeys and exhibited signs of either neglect or aggression, again showing the importance of touch on healthy development. In current times the Touch Institute of Miami is the leading research institute concerning touch.  For more evidence based research on the topic of touch please contact me directly as I am more than happy to discuss or answer any questions on this and any other subject related to massage and wellness.

Stephanie Maziejka is a massage enthusiast. She provides clinical massage at a gym during the week and teaches the art and science of massage therapy on the weekend at the National Massage Therapy Institute in Falls Church, VA. Believing it is never too early to begin a healthy lifestyle, she teaches infant massage and enjoys helping families to bond and benefit from nurturing healthy touch. Stephanie has recently become a mother herself and is getting to experience firsthand the joys and benefits of motherhood and massage.

Contact Stephanie directly via Email . If you live in Northern Virginia, you can also stop by Lifetime Fitness in Sterling, VA where Stephanie works Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 9-4.

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