Saturday, 21 April 2012

The healing power of touch

Why is touch so important?

There is something so special about human touch. Skin to skin connection seems to have a magical element to it that makes it so much more amazing than something that sounds at first so simple. I guess it starts when we are babies, for those lucky enough to experience that skin to skin contact with their mums after just emerging from the womb. Imagine how comforting such touch would feel after a riveting journey into the outside world. Nursing at the breast continues this experience of closeness, the comfort and security of being held, and as children grow up, they continue to thrive in cuddles, with their little hands enclosed in big hands, little bodies surrounded by the security of loving arms.

Sadly as we grow, our experience of human touch often dwindles, especially as we reach the teenage years. How many diagnoses of Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and mental health problems such as Depression and Anxiety could be avoided or improved with a return to regular, safe, loving human touch?

For further reading on the health benefits of touch:

First experience of massage.

When I was about fourteen, I began to be a sad little soul, spending way too much time in my bedroom where I would compare my appearance unfavourably to models in Dolly and Cleo magazine and memorise the words of melancholy pop songs. I was desperate for touch, subconsciously seeking the cuddles I wasn't getting at home from boyfriends but becoming increasingly unhappy in the process.

I had begun to have some lower back problems around that time, which I believe were a combination of sitting for hours studying and playing the piano combined with anxiety and stress that was stemming from my unhappy home situation (conflict with my step-father, to be specific). One day something happened that would be the start of something very healing. My mum had been to visit a local massage therapist, who also did Chinese cupping, and she suggested I go for an appointment. I was somewhat skeptical at the time, having no idea what I would experience, but decided to give it a try.

The massage clinic was far from clinical, being tucked away behind a fertile garden, with a little brass bell which tinkled as I stepped inside the scented rooms. I was welcomed in by the therapist who sat me in a cosy old chair and asked me some questions about what was ailing me. She led me to her massage table and left the room to allow me to undress down to my underwear. I then lay on the padded, rectangular table, face down, and she soon returned quietly to drape me in thick, warm towels.

I shut my eyes, not sure what to expect and the most heavenly experience followed! By the time I stepped out of that little room I felt like a different person - a much happier, more relaxed person with a whole new perspective on the world. That was the start of many future experiences of massage, with me as both the giver and receiver of therapeutic touch.

Learning the art of massage.

When I was twenty-four and pregnant with my second daughter, I decided to complete a massage course, and I enrolled in the Central School of Tactile Therapies. What an amazing experience! The practical elements of the course were fantastic, especially the first half of the course, which was spent giving each other delicious oil massages on backs, legs, arms, hands, scalps and feet – bliss! We learned about using essential oils too, as aromatherapy is an important part of the practice. I spent my days floating in the delicious aromas of oils in every scent; basil, bergamot, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, eucalyptus, fennel, frankincense, geranium, ginger, jasmine, lavender, lemon balm, mandarin, orange, peppermint, clary sage, spearmint, vanilla, Ylang ylang. That was just a sample! My daughter’s birth was fantastic, as I enlisted my friend to give me massages during the labour and later on my daughter became the baby-massage model, helping me demonstrate the technique around local mother’s groups. She didn’t seem to mind!

Paid massage positions.

My massage skills came in handy when I decided to pick up from my Bachelor of Arts Degree and enrol in a grad dip of teaching, as I was able to work part time. We moved to Creswick, a little town outside Ballarat where the puddles would freeze in winter and I would drive the curly roads to the Hepburn Spa every weekend.

Massaging at a spa was a whole new and rather exhausting experience. It sounds like bliss to be paid to work in such an amazing setting, with relaxation music piped through the building all hours and my hands in essential oils all day long. However, faced with my eighth client at the end of a long day of study and work I would begin to wish it was me lying on that massage bench. I even became a bit angry, after all how dare they get a massage when it was me who really needed one?

The last day at the spa was memorable and a poignant finish to my employment there. As I came out to welcome the final client on my typically massive list, I was confronted with a couple who had dread-locks to their knees and whose bodies were literally covered in mud. My nose could have detected them from all the way back home in Creswick! It was a joint massage session, where couples come in together and two therapists massage them at the same time. My partner that day and I tried to stifle our disgust as I discreetly opened windows and poured on a whole bottle of oil, using a collection of towels just to clean my client before I even began the massage. I can’t remember that being in my job description! That was one of the longest forty-five minutes of my life and I drove home in relief, knowing I would never be working there again.

I was happy when a position became available close to home at the John Curtin Hostel, where I massaged elderly clients who were thoroughly grateful for the skin-to-skin contact. One of my patients was a man in his nineties, whose skin was like rice-paper, so translucent he was almost see-through. I preferred this work, as I was able to build relationships with the people I massaged, something that wasn’t possible at the Spa.

Massage in my life today.

Although I no longer massage for money, I still have my massage table and my family enjoy the occasional massage if I’m in a really good mood I and not too tired. I am a full believer in its powerful healing benefits, and would encourage anyone who has never tired it out to make an appointment. Choose your therapist with care, making sure they are qualified, and your money will be well spent. If you can’t afford to go to a massage therapist, there are some easy guides on the internet and a great range of massage technique books in the shops. Try out your discount bookshop, as these types of books often turn up on bargain tables. You can buy almond oil from the supermarket or just use olive oil, and your basic eucalyptus and lavender oils are cheaply available at supermarkets too, they work just as well as the more expensive and exotic varieties, in my opinion. Do take care when using essential oils, as some of them are not safe for those with certain conditions or for expectant or breast-feeding mothers and there are a few contra-indications, such as bruising and varicose veins, for which special care should be taken.

For further information:

Your comments?

I’d love to hear your stories about your own experiences with therapeutic touch! Please leave a comment below.

Sue Oaks, copyright 2012.

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