The importance of physical touch is both instinctive, and a scientific fact. As infants we reached out to care givers and objects, wanting to feel the things we were interested in. When a comment or a gift is really meaningful, we say 'I'm touched', which lets the other person know we've felt something deeply. This article is going to explore the power of touch in a little more detail.
You may have heard of the cruel experiment with rat pups who were separated from their mother and despite having all their other needs met (food and shelter) they went into shock and stopped producing an enzyme crucial for their development. These rats lived shorter and less healthy lives. All baby creatures need touch for bonding as well as stress reduction. But what you may not appreciate is our need for touch and physical contact does not diminish as we age.
In a recent teacher training weekend we were discussing our approach to hugging, and how we've felt having physical contact limited during lockdown. To say that touch is deeply personal is stating the obvious, but it's worth reiterating. Some people are very tactile, others are less keen on physical contact. Following on from the discussion, I turned to my books for additional information and read that 'you need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance and twelve for growth.'
I'm not convinced we all have the same "hug prescription" or; that all hugs are the same. I feel like the first hug from a partner you've missed is worth 20 of those slightly awkward ones you give someone you don't know very well. And the one you were told to give a mouldy old relative when you were a child..? Well that's worth -5. So let's not concern ourselves with the quantity, but the quality of the connection.
Stress and trauma make us lose our sense of self. Anything that helps us feel the edges; where our internal landscape meets our external, creates a very palpable sense of safety that ripples back through the nervous system. Pause. Take that in for a second...
It might be that you have people in your life who you can cosy up with, but it's not essential. We need practices that bring awareness to the place where our inner world, meets the outer world to feel safe and thrive.
Nyasa is a Sanskrit word which refers to placing and touch. It's a really welcome addition to asana practice. When we offer ourselves a compassionate touch the hormone oxytocin is released. Oxytocin has been found to reduce levels of fear by reducing activity in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for feeling fear and reacting to emergency situations. It's so important to give and receive compassionate touch, and who better than to practice on yourself?
Wrapping your arms around your body offers us a palpable gesture of loving kindness. You'll experience these movements in my classes and... the classes of the next generation of yoga teachers in training!