Updated: Mar 18
It has been a year now where our social contact had to be drastically reduced! I personally miss hugs, kisses and socialising so much and I am so looking forward to being able to touch, kiss, hug, meet friends over lunch, go on holiday, laugh, listen to live music, jive etc., again.
I also miss the simple act of being close to somebody else. Although blessed with having a loving partner, I miss the benefits of being close to other humans.
What are the physiological effects of touching? This part is taken from my Sundara yoga teacher training manual 2021. There are still places available this year. We start in June, and this self-development course entails 10 weekends spent together in Hove and one weekend away now at a luxury retreat centre close to Lewes (all for the same price) and in a small group.
In the meantime, the right communication skills are important in our current times. For Buddhists, there are four communication principles: truthfulness, kindness, usefulness, and peace. Those not only make a conversation more valuable but also help each other's nervous systems! To be truthful does not mean just speaking your mind but sticking to reality when speaking. Kind words with a gentle touch soothe our nervous system!
“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” - Buddha Quote
Anyway, what are the physiological effects of touching?
The Physiological Effects of Touching
(taken from Sundara Yoga Teacher Training Manual)
We are endowed with the ability to send and receive emotional signals solely by touching or being touched. We seem to perceive anger, disgust, fear, love, gratitude etc., through touch. This can be measured by brain activity. Touch is a language, and if we learn this language well enough, it serves us to communicate positively. We can use touch to heal ourselves and others.
We feel more connected to someone if they touch us. This is intrinsic in us and started in our mother's womb receiving tactile signals from our mother's (heartbeat. All our feeling of security depended on this form of communication. Later, cultural differences lead to different skills in touching. Some people have a higher need for being cuddled or embrace touching as something more culturally normal. For example, it's completely normal for two strangers in some cultures to kiss each other when they get introduced, whereas other cultures shake hands.
Some studies indicate that a touched person (they may not have even noticed it) left a tip or bought more items. At our core, we are "social animals", and that human touch gives us a sense of connection. We all know the expression "this person touched my heart".
Pressure receptors in the skin get stimulated, and this is said to lower stress hormones. A warm touch can release the hormone oxytocin, which enhances a sense of trust and attachment. It is also sometimes called the cuddle or love hormone. A massage or even a self-massage can slow down our heart rate and decrease the stress hormone cortisol level when we feel stressed.
The nice thing is that it is mutually beneficial. We all know how calming stroking a cat can be. It seems the same physiological benefits happen to the one who is doing the caressing. Studies say that people who give hugs receive the same benefits as those being hugged. We can sense muscle tightness and resistance, and this kind of information tells us our behaviour towards the person; it influences how we perceive the person and how we may react to the person.
Furthermore, studies prove that infants who have been stroked regularly are less prone to illness and have a better immune system. The skin is our first medium of communicating and protection. Skin is the mother of all other senses and is the largest sensory organ in our body. Along with the brain, the skin is the most important organ.
We say that people have a "human touch", "a delicate touch", or they have a personal touch, soft-touch, we describe people as "touchy", "tough- skinned" some "get under the skin" or are "skin deep", "tactless" or "tactful", or somebody being "callous". There are so many ways we use touch to describe our emotions and feelings.
Our perception as a baby depended on the sense of touch, and our perceptions ultimately influenced our behaviours. As mentioned above, the skin has a large representation in our brains, so our hands have a huge proportion. We can see this in a diagram, or a cortical homunculus, which is a "distorted representation of the human body that is based on a neurological "map" of the areas and proportions of the human brain dedicated to processing motor functions or sensory functions, for different parts of the body."
So, after one year of a pandemic with social distancing, we all may feel in need of more touching to calm our nervous system down!
As mentioned before, in the meantime, we have one more powerful tool, that is kind words.
We are the architects of wellness in society
Our brain manages the bodily resources we use. We receive or give bodily deposits every time we are with people. This shapes how we function. After each experience, our brain rewires.
If you are with somebody you care about, synchronisation takes place (breathing, heartbeat). Therefore, yoga is so pleasant to be practised in a group. There is a physical connection (that can penetrate a computer screen or travel miles - your heartbeat slows down when somebody far away sends you a nice message). The teacher's role is to give you a calm environment using voice and body language. This alone affects what may go on inside your body afterwards.
Our actions and words affect the body reservoir in other people. Supportive relationships are important and even helps us to stay healthy or get better.
If we know people well enough, we can perceive their inner struggles. It is easier to emphasise with them.
It is metabolically costly for our brains to deal with hard to predict situations, and if the environment is hostile, we squander resources from our body budget.
Words have power!
Our brain can rewire. Those areas in our brain that process language also control some organs and systems that manage our body budget. Levels of glucose are adjusted in our bloodstream that fuels our cells. Words can change the flow of chemicals that support our immune system.
We can tweak each other's nervous systems with kind words. Words are tools for regulating human bodies.
Therefore, other humans can be either the best or the worst thing for your nervous system. We pay the price for what our government and society do and says. That's why kindness is such an important aspect of yoga. Be kind in words and actions!
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This is a picture of my sister holding my hand.
I invite you to my yoga classes on zoom at present every Wednesday at 6 pm, where you often hear me speaking about kindness, but I also hope that it is possible to meet again face to face to see your smiling faces in real life. I will offer outdoor classes again starting in April. Get in touch if you want to come to any classes.