Many complementary therapies are wholly reliant on touch. All massage therapies, including reflexology, are based on the application of contact on the skin.
Reflexology, however, incorporates other senses too. For example, because my clients are face-up, we can make eye contact, and some clients choose to talk to me during a session, so we use the senses of hearing and sight.
Eye contact is not usually a part of a massage, as mostly the client is face down, or their eyes are closed, but using aromatherapy in my massage oils can invoke the sense of smell. This sense can be a powerful one, using the brain's limbic system to relax the mind and body, and is why I will always have my diffuser on in the room, no matter what treatment you choose.
As a therapist, I can understand the power of touch as my own experience of massage and reflexology had noticeable benefits to both my physical and mental wellbeing. But in the past, it has not always been easy for people to accept the importance of touch, both in therapies and in life. Living through a pandemic where contact is restricted, this concept will be much easier to adopt. Touch is a way to feel emotionally connected. I find it helps with clients who feel invisible, finding it hard to get Doctors to listen to them, viewed by their condition and not as an individual.
It's an important part of human development. It is argued that effective touch provides infants with the motivation to engage, suggesting this type of touch makes us feel better and has a positive outcome.
It has been well researched that loneliness and isolation can lead to higher risks of physical and mental conditions, including heart disease, weakened immune system and depression. The findings report that there was a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone) during affective touch, while there was an increase in oxytocin (the feel-good hormone), tackling some of the symptoms of loneliness.
The International Association for the Study of Affective Touch (IAST) was founded in 2015 to further the scientific inquiry, education, and dissemination of ideas within the field of 'affective touch'.
Complementary therapies that focus on stimulating affective touch, such as massage and reflexology, could provide a non-pharmacological means to treat some conditions' physical and physiological aspects.
As with a lot of complementary therapy research, the feedback from the participants is key, and Patron Emission Tomography (PET) have allowed the feedback to be backed up with data on what is happening in the brain. This provides us with scientific evidence that supports therapists and their amazing work.
Many of us continue to be separated from loved ones, friends, and colleagues, and even when we can meet up, touch that we, and they, took as given, has been restricted. During the first lock, contact such as hugging someone was, in effect, banned. Overnight, the restriction took the power of touch away from millions of people, and a year later, many of these restrictions are still in place.
As a therapist, my clients come to me for many reasons. They come looking for support, and each client is drawn to a therapist that resonates with them and their current needs. This could be pain management or a longing for the patter of tiny feet. It could be that they have a disruptive sleep pattern that is getting in the way of them living healthy. They are looking for someone understanding and supportive on their journey.
Whatever their need may be, it's a unique experience for them all, and at some stage, it involves the power of touch from me.
The importance of touch spans thousands of years and across species. If you look at animals that are social groomers - that is, they strengthen their social bonds by grooming each other - touch gives strength to their relationship and signifies how close they are. The reason for this could be down to pressure receptors in the skin. By stimulating these receptors, the stress hormone lowers. Simultaneously, a warm touch releases the oxytocin hormone produced when we experience love and is present during breastfeeding. The presence of this hormone enhances a sense of trust and attachment.
Interestingly, studies show that a person giving massage experiences as great a reduction in stress hormones as the person receiving it, and a person giving a hug gets just as much benefit as a person being hugged.
Maybe this is why I love what I do. I love helping people heal. I feel the power in my hands, whether this is via a massage, reflexology or Reiki. I believe I am the lucky one to have many wonderful clients who appreciate the power of complementary therapies.
“The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. The are moments when we touch one another”.