Touchy Feely


Friday May 15th is the second annual National Massage Day. The aim of this event is to help people understand the positive psychological and physical effects of human touch. It is instinctive and natural. It is part of human nature and yet as a society we often remain inhibited about touch and perceive massage as a luxury treatment- or as a prelude to something else – rather than a necessity for a healthy lifestyle.

Our skin is our largest organ, and it can be very sensitive and responsive. The warmth of a hand held, the sensation of a soft cheek against ours, holding a new-born, arms wrapped around shoulders in embrace… they can all go a long way toward expressing our affection for someone. But touch can actually give more than a momentary tingle or a second of solace; touch can heal as well as comfort.

Massage therapy dates back thousands of years. References to massage appear in writings from ancient China, Japan, India, Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Arabic nations. Massage has a huge number of benefits to all the systems of the body. By massaging and relaxing the muscles there is a domino effect to all the other systems of the body and it also has psychological benefits too. Experts estimate that upwards of ninety percent of disease is stress related. And perhaps nothing ages us faster, internally and externally, than high stress. While eliminating anxiety and pressure altogether in this fast-paced world may be idealistic, massage can, without a doubt, help manage stress.

Some might argue that touch and massage just distract us from our aches or anxieties. But research links massage therapy to decreased blood pressure in adults with hypertension and to the improved immune function in women with breast cancer. Some research suggests that people who are deprived of touch early in life may have a tendency toward violent or aggressive behaviour later, and research in rats has found that rats with a strong mothering instinct (measured by licking and grooming their babies) were more likely have babies that showed a strong mothering instinct.

Of course, this is potentially controversial and we need to consider the likely consequences of doing this on a national scale when our institutions – and our British reserve – advise us against touch. With the media impressing on us almost daily the negative effect of inappropriate touch there is a danger that we might also fail to recognise the negative effects of not touching.

So, is touch simply a pleasant, soothing diversion? Is it mind over matter, or something more? No matter what the case, use National Massage Day as an excuse to embrace the power of touch and invite it into your life. The idea is that on National Massage Day itself everyone in the UK use a simple massage techniques on a colleague, friend, or someone they care for. If the idea is a step too far for some the invite is for people to form a conga line and massage the shoulders of the person in front.

Probably best to give them some sort of warning first, though!

Ray Henshaw