Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Please Do Touch

If you’re an American (or know one), you may already know how little affectionate touch we receive or give on an average day. Somewhere along the line, we decided, as a culture, that touch is meant to be romantic or sexual, and that was that. Touch became taboo.

I’m here to say fie on all that, and to encourage you to do the same.

When my son was nine weeks old, I took an infant massage class. With a small bottle of sweet almond oil and some basic instructions, I began figuring out how to give this tiny, wiggly human gentle, caring touch.

Now, a year later, not only does he ask for massage—carrying the little bottle of oil to me and signing “massage”—but I gladly give it. It is one of the most calming, sweet and peace-filled moments in my day.

I relax. He relaxes. He breathes more slowly, more deeply, and so do I. I feel boundless love and warmth for him, and he smiles the serene smile of a baby Buddha. It is divine and beautiful.

Of course, I feel good around my baby most of the time, but I know that this daily, affectionate touch is good for anyone, even (and maybe especially) those you are having difficulty with. (No, I’m not suggesting you offer your boss a massage, though if touch weren’t so proscribed in our society, we’d all probably get along better!)

What I am suggesting is that you begin with people you feel safest and closest with, and explain why. (So, don’t start hugging or massaging someone without letting them know your intent behind this new behavior.)

I think touch builds trust, strong bonds, and understanding, not to mention kindness and empathy and love. It is a form of nuanced communication that we hardly ever use, which is a damn shame.

This is a big button pusher for some people, because we’re so uncomfortable with it. But why should we be? I think exploring this is very worthwhile precisely because we’re so uncomfortable with it. My yoga class often does partner work, and it is always awkward at first. To help get around this, my teacher recommends touching someone with the idea that they can read your thoughts. So, if you’re thinking something lewd, or just being distracted or careless, that will come across. Good touch is open and honest and selfless and kind. It is given freely without expectation. By the end of partner work, usually everyone is much happier and relaxed and just grateful.

My son loves to give hugs. He just runs up to people, the dog (to her eternal annoyance), his stuffed animals, and hugs. It is innate. It is only through social conditioning that we squelch that need for human contact.

So, if you have a friend or partner you trust, start with more hugs. Play with the person’s hair. Massage tired hands and arms, or simply sit closely, head on the other’s shoulder.

Touch more. Be not afraid to utilize this great sensory gift. You will benefit. Your close relationships will benefit. You will be happier and more at peace when you meet this intrinsic human need.

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