Stay in touch

Rome, Georgia, is the somewhat unlikely center of a very relaxed population. The small town of less than 40,000 in the northwest corner of the state is home to more than its share of massage therapists, thanks in part to a neuromuscular therapy program at the local technical college.
That’s where Terri Barton trained, and now atrons of her Heart & Hands Therapeutic Massage studio, who come from as far away as Alaska, visit to promote healing, reduce blood pressure, release stress or just maintain homeostasis. Some receive massages every week; others, every two. The popularity of the program is a sign of the times—how do we find relaxation and an opportunity to be touched?
“Massage is safe touch. Every human being needs to be touched. And a lot of us, we don’t always receive that,” says Barton. “If you can get a person on a massage table and have them feel good, and for that one hour—or even 10 minutes—not think about what’s bothering them, you have really made headway. You have made their life that much better.”
As busy jobs and solitary lifestyles give us less and less opportunity to touch each other, massage—like other forms of touch—can alleviate our lack of physical contact and facilitate relaxation. Scientists have a growing understanding of why touch has such a positive impact on health. Oxytocin, the “hug hormone,” plays a key role here, but it’s not the only factor. Physical contact, from massage to caressing, mobilizes a small army of hormones and neurotransmitters. It activates the nervous system and the immune system, improves circulation and helps remove waste materials from the muscles. And a healing touch is intrinsically connected to mindfulness—it improves the connection between mind and body.
Physical contact starts before we’re even born. During a full-term pregnancy, a baby has direct physical contact with his mother in the womb 24 hours a day. After the baby is born, mother and child are in physical contact for hours every day while the baby is nursed. These early experiences may explain the need for the relaxation that comes from touch, a need that persists for a lifetime. Even so, almost all of us suffer from touch deprivation. The desire for independence, computers and unstable family relationships lead to physical isolation that occurs more frequently and for increasingly extended time periods—periods without physical warmth, without intimacy, without touch or caress.

Gertrud
Haptotherapist Gertrud Van Beekveld wants to make her clients feel “welcome in their own body”.

Every form of physical and rhythmic touch causes oxytocin to be released. This hormone puts us into a calm, relaxed state and creates a sense of comfort, trust and mutual connection. Oxytocin is the interpersonal “lubricant” produced when we touch each other. Research shows that rats feel more at ease in a group when they have extra oxytocin circulating through their bodies. It makes them calmer and friendlier; they become less ­aggressive. They also seek each other out more often and touch each other more…which stimulates the production of even more oxytocin, generating a positive spiral.
It works the same way in people. Oxytocin is released when you touch a person’s hand, feel a soft caress or walk down the street holding hands. During sex—through arousal to orgasm and afterward—the body produces the calming substance in significant quantities. The release of oxytocin reinforces feelings of trust and intimacy that can ensure people stay together even through difficult times. Relationship therapists are well aware that relationships can often be salvaged if a couple going through a hard period is still cuddling and having sex.
In her book, The Oxytocin Factor, Swedish researcher Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg writes that the calm, relaxed feeling after sex can be attributed to the effect oxytocin has on the body and brain. Uvnäs-Moberg believes massage is important in our culture because it promotes oxytocin production, as do meditation and rhythmic dance.
Schools of massage abound, from Chinese massage, pressure point massage (shiatsu) and baby massage to classical sports massage. One thing has become increasingly clear in recent years: Massage is not a luxury or a superfluous treat for the wealthy. Massage and touch boost oxytocin production and give us a sense of well-being and comfort. It may well be one of the oldest and most natural healing methods. What traditional medicine has always claimed has been confirmed by scientists in recent years: Massage is beneficial and possibly even necessary for a healthy mind and body. In 2010, Taiwanese researcher Wen-Hsuan Hou from I-Shou University in Kaohsiung City compiled an overview of 17 studies in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showing that massage can mitigate feelings of depression. Numerous studies also show that massage alleviates back, neck and knee pain.
Cramped muscles, knotted from stress and long hours working in the same position can lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI)—but regular massages can prevent it. Health researcher Frank de Bresser, of Maastricht University, researched the impact of chair massages in the workplace. In a group of 76 office employees, half received a pressure point massage on their head, neck, shoulders and arms once a week for 16 weeks; the other half did not. The participating employees took a survey on how healthy they felt before and after the series of treatments. Mental fatigue and pain in arms, back and neck were significantly reduced in the employees who received the massages.
Massage can be far from gentle. A ­therapist often kneads, rolls or applies firm pressure to muscles. These techniques promote blood circulation in the treated areas, explains Kees Stevens, a sports ­masseur. “The extra blood that flows into the massaged muscles brings in nutrients and speeds up the removal of waste materials and inflammatory substances,” Stevens says. “That’s why it’s important to drink water after a massage. It can reduce pain due to accumulated inflammatory ­substances and acidification, and massage after intense exertion reduces the risk of sore muscles.”
The skin is also packed with nerve endings. Even the slightest contact sends an electromagnetic signal to the brain, letting us know we’ve been touched. If contact is painful, the brain immediately sends a message back to the muscles to pull away from the pain stimulus. If contact is pleasurable, the brain starts producing additional oxytocin and serotonin, causing a sense of well-being and general relaxation. When the body relaxes, it also experiences less pain.
Finger Lotion
The relaxation response from the release of extra oxytocin was discovered in the 1970s by Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson. As the natural opposite of the stress response, the relaxation response is accompanied by the activation of certain areas in the brain. As a result, muscles relax, heart rate drops, breathing calms and blood pressure goes down. You can induce the relaxation response in various ways, including yoga, meditation and mindful breathing as well as loving and attentive touch and massage.
In turn, relaxation has a positive impact on the immune system: Touch improves your resistance to viruses and bacteria. A 2011 study at UCLA showed that massage has a quantifiable effect on the immune system. Researcher Mark Rapaport treated two groups of people. One group received Swedish massage, while the control group received a much lighter form of touch—comparable to a caress—for the same period of time and on the same part of the body. Rapaport took blood samples before and after the massages and tested them for stress indicators, including blood levels of vasopressin and cortisol. Although the response to the two treatments differed in intensity—massage had a stronger effect—blood values improved in both groups. All the participants’ blood contained more white blood cells, more activated T-cells and fewer inflammatory factors. “That shows that disease resistance improves significantly in response to touch—whether that touch is a caress or a massage,” says Rapaport. “It also shows that allergic reactions may be reduced.”
If massage has such a major impact, we should use it more often, and we should be open to forms of treatment beyond medication or psychotherapy, Rapaport believes. “Our research shows that massage can be a powerful instrument with a positive influence on the body.” He does note, however, that we need a better understanding of how much is needed and which disorders respond best.
Touch and massage focus our conscious attention on the part of the body being touched. They create a sense of “deep relaxation and concentration” similar to mindfulness. In essence, they put you into a light trance, which some believe may even lead to spiritual transformation. Last year, when Canadian researchers at Carleton University used functional magnetic resonance imaging to see what happens in the brain during a massage, they found increased activity in the areas of the brain involved in “consciousness.” A similar study, conducted at at Umeå University in Sweden, compared massage with bare hands to massage while wearing rubber gloves. The study showed that people preferred massage involving direct contact with the hands. Compared to gloved massage, bare-handed massage produced a much stronger response in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex—the area where we perceive enjoyable stimulus. In other words, part of what makes a massage effective is the physical contact.
The extraordinary thing about this effect is that it does not require firm pressure at all. Haptotherapy relies on light, affective touch intended to make the client more aware of emotions and pain stored in the body, allowing her to communicate with her body and understand the physical signals it sends out. The theory is that touch makes a stronger impression than words. “Imagine a limp handshake after a good conversation; that’s what stays with you,” says haptotherapist Gertrud van Beekveld. People visit her practice in Amsterdam to be treated for issues like pain that does not respond well to physical therapy due to an emotional component that complicates the situation. Sometimes they tell her they’re not comfortable in their own skin. Van Beekveld’s touch is “affirmative” and “respectful” but never pushy. “I let them feel that they are welcome in their own body and that they can be exactly who they are. That they’re living in the whole ‘house’ again, not just the attic.”
Sometimes a client responds quickly, but it can take a lot of time for others. “When a person has learned to reason everything through, to keep it all under control, it can take a while for him to find his way to his body,” Van Beekveld says.
Anna (who prefers not to share her full name) was beaten in the street by her former partner. Even after her external injuries healed, her neck continued to hurt where the blows had fallen. The pain increased every time she thought about what had happened. When it became apparent that the pain wasn’t going away on its own, she went to a haptotherapist. She learned to relax and focus her thoughts on the place where her neck hurt, while the haptotherapist touched her. “The physical pain is gone, but that also meant that I was able to accept what had happened,” Anna says. “The pain and the memory of how it was inflicted have left my body now.”
Even business relationships can flourish thanks to a warm handshake or a pat on the back. Swiss neurologist Paul Zak had 128 male students take part in a game in which it was possible to earn a significant sum of money from an investment if the investor had the courage to trust his business partner. The alternative was to invest the money in an anonymous project. The profit would be equally high in either case. The men had to decide for themselves how much money they wanted to invest. Before the experiment, Zak gave half of the men extra oxytocin in a nasal spray, while the other half received a placebo. The men who received oxytocin were not only willing to invest larger amounts, but also invested their money in a human partner more often. Could that be why business deals are often sealed with a firm handshake? What’s certain is that these forms of physical contact reinforce the sense of connection and strengthen mutual trust.
Pets can also play a role, helping people get a daily dose of touch. Stroking a cat or dog stimulates oxytocin production and has a relaxing effect, which is why a pet can be a crucial lifeline for a child in a broken home or an elderly person living in relative isolation in a nursing home. Experiments in U.S. prisons with detainees training dogs have shown astounding results. Aggression and violence go down, and the relaxation that results from physical contact with an animal gives even the most hardened criminals the confidence to face the world again.
Finger lotion2
Although touch can have a powerful physical effect, contact without touch can also be a healing experience. We see this in therapeutic forms of “energetic touch,” like reiki and therapeutic touch, which doesn’t, in fact, feature any touching at all. These approaches are more spiritually oriented, based on the concept that the intention of the therapist is an important factor. Therapeutic touch was developed in the 1970s by Dolores Krieger, an American professor of nursing. A number of scientific studies have shown that therapeutic touch is effective in treating pain, fear and anxiety—emotions that people living in nursing homes often feel.
Jody Falconer is a therapeutic touch practitioner in Sonoma, a small town in northern California. For 18 years, she’s been treating patients in a small, low-key office, shared with a chiropractor. During the course of her work, she treats a number of patients with therapeutic touch on a daily basis, holding her hand just above the skin of a painful body part—knees, neck or back—and moving along it without actually touching it, focusing her “energy” on that body part. She often incorporates massage as well, noting that the muscles are easier to work on once they’ve been relaxed by therapeutic touch. “What we’re working toward is to create greater balance in the whole system—mind, body, spirit—so that our natural ability to live is optimized,” she says.
Falconer recalls a cancer patient, tired and constipated from chemotherapy. She sought out therapeutic touch and found Falconer. After a session, the patient would wake and say, “I’m not able to relax this deeply when I’m not here.” The pain receded, the constipation was eased and the swelling went down. “When you’re faced with your potential death, it’s quite startling and quite scary and very emotional,” says Falconer. “And she would often say that also the therapeutic touch helped her to have a sense of peace so that she could better sort out her emotions.”
Another patient, Molly Curley O’Brien, has been visiting Falconer for more than 15 years. When she was 12, O’Brien underwent spinal fusion surgery. An athlete then and now, she refused to let it stop her from competing, but she was unfamiliar with therapeutic touch. “Here was Jody doing these weird touches on me, or kind of coming close to my body but not, and then moving her hand away,” she says. “I didn’t understand it, but I just let her do it because in some way I knew it was helping me. But I couldn’t really articulate how.”
The research is in: To achieve a happier, more peaceful co-existence, we should do everything we can to keep our oxytocin levels up by dancing, hugging and cuddling each other more often and by touching and massaging each other as much as possible. It’s healthier than salad and more fun than Facebook. Or, as O’Brien puts it: “I…feel different, because the nerve damage that I have kind of makes half my body a lot colder than the other half. And I feel a lot more balanced after. I don’t really remember what normal feels like, but if I were to name it, I would say that.”
Photograph: Marsbars/istockphoto.com

Solution News Source

Stay in touch

Rome, Georgia, is the somewhat unlikely center of a very relaxed population. The small town of less than 40,000 in the northwest corner of the state is home to more than its share of massage therapists, thanks in part to a neuromuscular therapy program at the local technical college.
That’s where Terri Barton trained, and now atrons of her Heart & Hands Therapeutic Massage studio, who come from as far away as Alaska, visit to promote healing, reduce blood pressure, release stress or just maintain homeostasis. Some receive massages every week; others, every two. The popularity of the program is a sign of the times—how do we find relaxation and an opportunity to be touched?
“Massage is safe touch. Every human being needs to be touched. And a lot of us, we don’t always receive that,” says Barton. “If you can get a person on a massage table and have them feel good, and for that one hour—or even 10 minutes—not think about what’s bothering them, you have really made headway. You have made their life that much better.”
As busy jobs and solitary lifestyles give us less and less opportunity to touch each other, massage—like other forms of touch—can alleviate our lack of physical contact and facilitate relaxation. Scientists have a growing understanding of why touch has such a positive impact on health. Oxytocin, the “hug hormone,” plays a key role here, but it’s not the only factor. Physical contact, from massage to caressing, mobilizes a small army of hormones and neurotransmitters. It activates the nervous system and the immune system, improves circulation and helps remove waste materials from the muscles. And a healing touch is intrinsically connected to mindfulness—it improves the connection between mind and body.
Physical contact starts before we’re even born. During a full-term pregnancy, a baby has direct physical contact with his mother in the womb 24 hours a day. After the baby is born, mother and child are in physical contact for hours every day while the baby is nursed. These early experiences may explain the need for the relaxation that comes from touch, a need that persists for a lifetime. Even so, almost all of us suffer from touch deprivation. The desire for independence, computers and unstable family relationships lead to physical isolation that occurs more frequently and for increasingly extended time periods—periods without physical warmth, without intimacy, without touch or caress.

Gertrud
Haptotherapist Gertrud Van Beekveld wants to make her clients feel “welcome in their own body”.

Every form of physical and rhythmic touch causes oxytocin to be released. This hormone puts us into a calm, relaxed state and creates a sense of comfort, trust and mutual connection. Oxytocin is the interpersonal “lubricant” produced when we touch each other. Research shows that rats feel more at ease in a group when they have extra oxytocin circulating through their bodies. It makes them calmer and friendlier; they become less ­aggressive. They also seek each other out more often and touch each other more…which stimulates the production of even more oxytocin, generating a positive spiral.
It works the same way in people. Oxytocin is released when you touch a person’s hand, feel a soft caress or walk down the street holding hands. During sex—through arousal to orgasm and afterward—the body produces the calming substance in significant quantities. The release of oxytocin reinforces feelings of trust and intimacy that can ensure people stay together even through difficult times. Relationship therapists are well aware that relationships can often be salvaged if a couple going through a hard period is still cuddling and having sex.
In her book, The Oxytocin Factor, Swedish researcher Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg writes that the calm, relaxed feeling after sex can be attributed to the effect oxytocin has on the body and brain. Uvnäs-Moberg believes massage is important in our culture because it promotes oxytocin production, as do meditation and rhythmic dance.
Schools of massage abound, from Chinese massage, pressure point massage (shiatsu) and baby massage to classical sports massage. One thing has become increasingly clear in recent years: Massage is not a luxury or a superfluous treat for the wealthy. Massage and touch boost oxytocin production and give us a sense of well-being and comfort. It may well be one of the oldest and most natural healing methods. What traditional medicine has always claimed has been confirmed by scientists in recent years: Massage is beneficial and possibly even necessary for a healthy mind and body. In 2010, Taiwanese researcher Wen-Hsuan Hou from I-Shou University in Kaohsiung City compiled an overview of 17 studies in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showing that massage can mitigate feelings of depression. Numerous studies also show that massage alleviates back, neck and knee pain.
Cramped muscles, knotted from stress and long hours working in the same position can lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI)—but regular massages can prevent it. Health researcher Frank de Bresser, of Maastricht University, researched the impact of chair massages in the workplace. In a group of 76 office employees, half received a pressure point massage on their head, neck, shoulders and arms once a week for 16 weeks; the other half did not. The participating employees took a survey on how healthy they felt before and after the series of treatments. Mental fatigue and pain in arms, back and neck were significantly reduced in the employees who received the massages.
Massage can be far from gentle. A ­therapist often kneads, rolls or applies firm pressure to muscles. These techniques promote blood circulation in the treated areas, explains Kees Stevens, a sports ­masseur. “The extra blood that flows into the massaged muscles brings in nutrients and speeds up the removal of waste materials and inflammatory substances,” Stevens says. “That’s why it’s important to drink water after a massage. It can reduce pain due to accumulated inflammatory ­substances and acidification, and massage after intense exertion reduces the risk of sore muscles.”
The skin is also packed with nerve endings. Even the slightest contact sends an electromagnetic signal to the brain, letting us know we’ve been touched. If contact is painful, the brain immediately sends a message back to the muscles to pull away from the pain stimulus. If contact is pleasurable, the brain starts producing additional oxytocin and serotonin, causing a sense of well-being and general relaxation. When the body relaxes, it also experiences less pain.
Finger Lotion
The relaxation response from the release of extra oxytocin was discovered in the 1970s by Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson. As the natural opposite of the stress response, the relaxation response is accompanied by the activation of certain areas in the brain. As a result, muscles relax, heart rate drops, breathing calms and blood pressure goes down. You can induce the relaxation response in various ways, including yoga, meditation and mindful breathing as well as loving and attentive touch and massage.
In turn, relaxation has a positive impact on the immune system: Touch improves your resistance to viruses and bacteria. A 2011 study at UCLA showed that massage has a quantifiable effect on the immune system. Researcher Mark Rapaport treated two groups of people. One group received Swedish massage, while the control group received a much lighter form of touch—comparable to a caress—for the same period of time and on the same part of the body. Rapaport took blood samples before and after the massages and tested them for stress indicators, including blood levels of vasopressin and cortisol. Although the response to the two treatments differed in intensity—massage had a stronger effect—blood values improved in both groups. All the participants’ blood contained more white blood cells, more activated T-cells and fewer inflammatory factors. “That shows that disease resistance improves significantly in response to touch—whether that touch is a caress or a massage,” says Rapaport. “It also shows that allergic reactions may be reduced.”
If massage has such a major impact, we should use it more often, and we should be open to forms of treatment beyond medication or psychotherapy, Rapaport believes. “Our research shows that massage can be a powerful instrument with a positive influence on the body.” He does note, however, that we need a better understanding of how much is needed and which disorders respond best.
Touch and massage focus our conscious attention on the part of the body being touched. They create a sense of “deep relaxation and concentration” similar to mindfulness. In essence, they put you into a light trance, which some believe may even lead to spiritual transformation. Last year, when Canadian researchers at Carleton University used functional magnetic resonance imaging to see what happens in the brain during a massage, they found increased activity in the areas of the brain involved in “consciousness.” A similar study, conducted at at Umeå University in Sweden, compared massage with bare hands to massage while wearing rubber gloves. The study showed that people preferred massage involving direct contact with the hands. Compared to gloved massage, bare-handed massage produced a much stronger response in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex—the area where we perceive enjoyable stimulus. In other words, part of what makes a massage effective is the physical contact.
The extraordinary thing about this effect is that it does not require firm pressure at all. Haptotherapy relies on light, affective touch intended to make the client more aware of emotions and pain stored in the body, allowing her to communicate with her body and understand the physical signals it sends out. The theory is that touch makes a stronger impression than words. “Imagine a limp handshake after a good conversation; that’s what stays with you,” says haptotherapist Gertrud van Beekveld. People visit her practice in Amsterdam to be treated for issues like pain that does not respond well to physical therapy due to an emotional component that complicates the situation. Sometimes they tell her they’re not comfortable in their own skin. Van Beekveld’s touch is “affirmative” and “respectful” but never pushy. “I let them feel that they are welcome in their own body and that they can be exactly who they are. That they’re living in the whole ‘house’ again, not just the attic.”
Sometimes a client responds quickly, but it can take a lot of time for others. “When a person has learned to reason everything through, to keep it all under control, it can take a while for him to find his way to his body,” Van Beekveld says.
Anna (who prefers not to share her full name) was beaten in the street by her former partner. Even after her external injuries healed, her neck continued to hurt where the blows had fallen. The pain increased every time she thought about what had happened. When it became apparent that the pain wasn’t going away on its own, she went to a haptotherapist. She learned to relax and focus her thoughts on the place where her neck hurt, while the haptotherapist touched her. “The physical pain is gone, but that also meant that I was able to accept what had happened,” Anna says. “The pain and the memory of how it was inflicted have left my body now.”
Even business relationships can flourish thanks to a warm handshake or a pat on the back. Swiss neurologist Paul Zak had 128 male students take part in a game in which it was possible to earn a significant sum of money from an investment if the investor had the courage to trust his business partner. The alternative was to invest the money in an anonymous project. The profit would be equally high in either case. The men had to decide for themselves how much money they wanted to invest. Before the experiment, Zak gave half of the men extra oxytocin in a nasal spray, while the other half received a placebo. The men who received oxytocin were not only willing to invest larger amounts, but also invested their money in a human partner more often. Could that be why business deals are often sealed with a firm handshake? What’s certain is that these forms of physical contact reinforce the sense of connection and strengthen mutual trust.
Pets can also play a role, helping people get a daily dose of touch. Stroking a cat or dog stimulates oxytocin production and has a relaxing effect, which is why a pet can be a crucial lifeline for a child in a broken home or an elderly person living in relative isolation in a nursing home. Experiments in U.S. prisons with detainees training dogs have shown astounding results. Aggression and violence go down, and the relaxation that results from physical contact with an animal gives even the most hardened criminals the confidence to face the world again.
Finger lotion2
Although touch can have a powerful physical effect, contact without touch can also be a healing experience. We see this in therapeutic forms of “energetic touch,” like reiki and therapeutic touch, which doesn’t, in fact, feature any touching at all. These approaches are more spiritually oriented, based on the concept that the intention of the therapist is an important factor. Therapeutic touch was developed in the 1970s by Dolores Krieger, an American professor of nursing. A number of scientific studies have shown that therapeutic touch is effective in treating pain, fear and anxiety—emotions that people living in nursing homes often feel.
Jody Falconer is a therapeutic touch practitioner in Sonoma, a small town in northern California. For 18 years, she’s been treating patients in a small, low-key office, shared with a chiropractor. During the course of her work, she treats a number of patients with therapeutic touch on a daily basis, holding her hand just above the skin of a painful body part—knees, neck or back—and moving along it without actually touching it, focusing her “energy” on that body part. She often incorporates massage as well, noting that the muscles are easier to work on once they’ve been relaxed by therapeutic touch. “What we’re working toward is to create greater balance in the whole system—mind, body, spirit—so that our natural ability to live is optimized,” she says.
Falconer recalls a cancer patient, tired and constipated from chemotherapy. She sought out therapeutic touch and found Falconer. After a session, the patient would wake and say, “I’m not able to relax this deeply when I’m not here.” The pain receded, the constipation was eased and the swelling went down. “When you’re faced with your potential death, it’s quite startling and quite scary and very emotional,” says Falconer. “And she would often say that also the therapeutic touch helped her to have a sense of peace so that she could better sort out her emotions.”
Another patient, Molly Curley O’Brien, has been visiting Falconer for more than 15 years. When she was 12, O’Brien underwent spinal fusion surgery. An athlete then and now, she refused to let it stop her from competing, but she was unfamiliar with therapeutic touch. “Here was Jody doing these weird touches on me, or kind of coming close to my body but not, and then moving her hand away,” she says. “I didn’t understand it, but I just let her do it because in some way I knew it was helping me. But I couldn’t really articulate how.”
The research is in: To achieve a happier, more peaceful co-existence, we should do everything we can to keep our oxytocin levels up by dancing, hugging and cuddling each other more often and by touching and massaging each other as much as possible. It’s healthier than salad and more fun than Facebook. Or, as O’Brien puts it: “I…feel different, because the nerve damage that I have kind of makes half my body a lot colder than the other half. And I feel a lot more balanced after. I don’t really remember what normal feels like, but if I were to name it, I would say that.”
Photograph: Marsbars/istockphoto.com

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