Most of us are familiar with the warm embrace of family, friends or lovers, but did you know that we are naturally designed to comfort and heal through touch? It connects us together and actually heals us – strengthening our immune system and releasing the love chemical oxytocin, which not only feels good, but also reduces stress.
As we grow up, touch often becomes less prevalent in our lives. As an added component, we live in a technology-centered world and have replaced human connection with emails, Facebook and other forms of social media. With so much of our human contact being outside of physical contact, non-sexual touch continues to become even more difficult to experience. We are losing touch, so to speak.
Adding to our touch-deprived culture, it is a handshake or brief hug that constitutes most of our direct human contact. These interactions can leave us longing for more. Some hugs go like this: one arm, pat-pat, done. Not exactly satisfying!
Many men are especially reluctant to touch each other. It may be okay to engage in sports and touch competitively, but affection is another thing altogether. Watching contact sports together and giving a high five when teams score is usually about it for the average American male.
However, the science is clear, and we now know that we all need touch as an essential part of our well-being. Without it a baby will, quite literally, shrivel up and die. As adults it may not be as outwardly apparent, but it is true that touch is essential. The good news is that it’s available in many forms and flavors and certainly doesn’t need to be sexual.
Pets can provide a much needed source of love and contact. Receiving a massage is another great way to receive touch and soothe our aching bodies.
Contact Improvisation and other kinds of dance take the form of direct connection in a non-competitive exploration, and “snuggle parties” are starting here in Ashland where people can experience non-sexual cuddling. And of course, kissing and other forms of sexual expression support deeper connection.
Try this the next time you get to hug someone: don’t be the first to let go. Instead, feel your body, then relax and soften to let the hug in. Research has shown that a 20-second hug will release that oxytocin. So if your hugging mate is willing, see if you can feel the difference.
However you find it, touch is essential to our well-being. Our current culture can make it more challenging, but we can still get our touch needs met when we approach it with mindfulness and conscious intention.
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