The human touch is a powerful source of healing. Witness that when a child cries, our first impulse is to hug. We put our arms around grieving friends. After long absences, we embrace. Often, holding hands can convey much more than mere words.
The healing in human hands is documented by research. Premature infants who are gently stroked will gain weight faster than babies who are left alone in their incubators. Studies show that customers are more apt to leave a bigger tip if their waitress or waiter touched them.
In comparison to Italy or Puerto Rico, for example, the United States largely remains a "touchless" society. We are not comfortable with it. Massage, for example, remains a largely underused form of relaxation. Often those who have never had a massage are concerned about sexual arousal. This sadly indicates the only aspect many people associate with touch.
Based on the idea that the human body has an energy field, "Therapeutic Touch" was developed by medical nurses Dora Kunz and Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N as a form of patient care in the 1970's. Whether applied directly or from holding one's hands just above a person's skin, Therapeutic Touch eased a patient's anxiety, altered pain perception and encouraged recovery.
Another form of hands-on healing is the practice of Reiki. Japanese in origin Reiki holds that a "life force energy" flows through all of us, and can be transferred through the power of touch. Reiki has no religious affiliation, but it is a spiritual discipline because it is based on the belief that the energy that creates and sustains life comes from a divine power.
During a Reiki session, the practitioner's hands are placed and held still on another person's body as energy is imparted. Recipients may report a feeling of warmth. It can be an experience of comfort and reassurance. Sometimes during such a transfer of energy, surprising moments occur.
Years ago, when I first moved to New England, a new friend discovered that I had practiced Reiki and wanted the experience. Candace was scheduled to undergo a mastectomy for breast cancer. To me, she was frightened and needed to be touched.
During our hour together, I intuited a message from her chest area. It said, "You always hated us." It was an odd, sudden thought that bubbled up out of nowhere.
Afterwards when I told her this, Candace admitted to harboring a negative body image all her life.
Later that week, she told me she made a conscious peace with her body before the surgery. Today, almost a decade later, she remains in remission.
Am I claiming that Reiki cured her? No, but fear and secret shame are toxic. The power of touch can be a mighty assist in our lifelong journey toward cleanup.
Massage, Reiki or Therapeutic Touch are not the only ways to access the comfort of human hands. How many of us still remember the way our mother caressed our face, or the sensation of dad's hand on our head?
If it hasn't been your habit to gently touch your family and friends, re-think your hesitation. Love and encouragement are alive in your very hands. A reassuring squeeze on the shoulder does, in fact, work wonders.