Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Miraculous Power of Touch



"To touch is to give life" ~ Michelangelo

As my year old daughter surprises me with her wary and weary demands, it is one thing that amazes me the most - her wish and attempts to touch me. Every few minutes, she would hop on to the bed to simply lie in my lap or be in my physical proximity. And for the entire night, she puts her arm across my neck and sleeps peacefully. If she is not feeling sleepy, all I have to do is switch off the lights, hold her tight, hum a lullaby and she dozes off. Such is the magic of touch!

In a research on the brains of married women in pain by Dr. Jim Coan, it was found that as soon as the women touched the hands of their husbands, there was an instant drop in activity in the areas of the brains involved in fear, danger, and threat.

It has nothing to do with the sensations of being touched, it is the expectation and the context of the intervention that matters.

The benefits of touch start from the moment we’re born. A review of research, conducted by Tiffany Field, a leader in the field of touch, found that preterm newborns who received just three 15-minute sessions of touch therapy each day for 5-10 days gained 47 percent more weight than premature infants who’d received standard medical treatment.

For the same reason children who are brought with more physical love, cuddling and embrace tend to have a more positive view of the world than the children who get less hugs and less physical love from parents.

A pat on the back, a gentle hand shake and a warm hug - these are everyday gestures that we take for granted but these accidental acts can become our source of some of life's greatest joys and deepest comforts.

Speaking in the language of science, this is what a hug from a person you love can do:

a) Oxytocin is released during social contact and that it is associated with social bonding, while a study at Ohio State University shows that when it is put into wounds in animals, the injuries heal much more quickly.

b) Work at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences suggests that oxytocin can induce anti-stress-like effects, including reduction in blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol: "It increases pain thresholds and stimulates various types of positive social interaction, and it promotes growth and healing. Oxytocin can be released by various types of non-noxious sensory stimulation, for example by touch and warmth," they say.

Regrettably, though, some Western cultures are pretty touch-deprived, and this is especially true of the United States and United Kingdom. I wonder what all these societies are missing where people actually take offence on being touched.

This does not mean, we invade the personal space of everyone around us. But to me, very convincingly, it conveys that we are wired to - and we need to - connect with people, atleast people who love us, whom we love and our inspirations, on a basic physical level.

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