What may seem like a simple action is a powerful form of communication, conversation and even healing, which is probably one of the many reasons so many of us love a massage, and why nothing beats a really good cuddle after a long, hard day.
While it’s still taking time to bed in, as a society in the UK we’re getting pretty good about talking about our worries. Or at least, thanks to organisations like CALM and The Self Esteem Team, we’re getting better at talking about talking about our problems, and we can keep fingers and toes crossed that eventually translates into lots of problems shared and therefore halved.
However, it was Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, who worked with Freud, and noted that talking about problems alone doesn’t clear them. Speaking to fertility massage expert Clare Blake however, who works with preconception expert Rock on Divas on their Thrive Fertility Retreat at Lifehouse Spa and Hotel, she has seen first hand that man and woman cannot survive on talk alone.
In fact, Clare says that often women will come to her and will talk about the emotional traumas they have had in the past, say that they have seen someone about it and dealt with it, but then they find that it comes up again throughout the course of their massages. Where the talking has been invaluable, that all important, kind, caring and intuitive touch is the final point of healing.
Having interviewed and spoken to spa therapists across the UK, many of whom have treated patients with or recovering from cancer, the story is very similar. It’s not uncommon for someone who has been through the trials and tribulations of chemotherapy and surgery to find themselves crying during a massage, such is the power of kind and caring touch after the mind and body has been through so much.
This is the moment where you allow yourself to feel human again, connected with someone else as well as yourself, making a massage, a facial, reflexology or whatever else you happen to choose, so much more than a physical way to relieve muscle tension, and a much deeper, powerful experience.
Speaking to Dr. Peter Mackereth, the Clinical Lead at the NHS Christie Foundation, who provide complementary therapies to cancer patients, he highlights that: “we talk a lot about resilience – building people’s resources for long term health. Controlling cortisol (stress hormone) levels is important as that can have a big impact on your resilience, and even when people have an ongoing illness evidence suggests that life expectancy can be increased by reducing stress levels, which spas and spa treatments can actively contribute to.”
It is this very powerful impact that touch can have that inspired the formation of TpoT in 2015, the not for profit organization that aims to make all spa therapist in the UK cancer aware by 2018. The aim is that anyone with or recovering from cancer will be able to have a spa treatment, knowing that the skills and expertise to cater to their particular sensitivities are always catered to – a practice that has had barriers in its place for longer than the spa industry would care to admit.
When one of Spabreaks.com’s own clients, Dorothy, visited Rockliffe Hall on a Recovery Retreat following treatment for breast cancer, she encapsulated the importance of such a simple but powerful experience, saying: “My body seemed not to be my own but simply something that had things done to it which were consistently unpleasant and painful… so imagine my delight at the thought of staying in a five star hotel where I could be the old me, the me who could enjoy the pleasures of a beautiful hotel and beauty treatments, the me who was like everyone else.”
Just like laughing, kissing and sex, the simple hug has been the subject of numerous scientific studies and the end result is that it simply makes life better, which none of us can really argue with. On a more practical note however, the health benefits range from an improved immune system to reduced stress and lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, better sleep, decreased heart rates and increased nerve activity.
The tall and the short of all of that is that on balance touch, or a hug, can increase your life span, not to mention your mood and your relationships thanks to a generally better state of mind and increased levels of oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’ for want of a better description).
It isn’t just about how we deal with emotional and physical tension either. In 1997 Carlson and Earls, a neurobiologist at Harvard University and a Harvard psychiatrist respectively, published a study that showed a direct link between human touch and attention and the cognitive and physical development of children.
Children who had had less attention from parents achieved far less in assessments than children who had a rich home life with higher quality care and more human attention, and interestingly if that higher level of attention was then removed, their performance then deteriorated with it.
In Psychologist Today there is a wonderful quote from Rick Chillot that says: “If touch is a language, it seems we instinctively know how to use it. But apparently it’s a skill we take for granted.” If you think about how much of your regular communication is based on reading signals on someone’s face or in their body language then it all begins to fall into place.
Whether it’s reading how someone feels, reassuring someone, or finding a way back to ourselves when life’s getting in the way, the power of touch isn’t a luxury or a fluffy idea, it’s something real and necessary that we all need and treasure.
It’s easy to think we don’t have time for a massage, a hug or even to hold someone’s hand when we’re so busy with important things like emails and bills, but perhaps taking a little time out once in a while could prove to be a little more important than we think…
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