Why is touch so important?
Touch is one of the five senses and thought to be one of the first senses to develop. Our sense of touch allows us to receive information about the environment around us, important for sensory perception, but we also have a network of nerve fibres in our skin to detect and respond to human touch, which affirm our social connections and relationships with other human beings.
Being touched by others signifies safety and trust. In studies conducted to research the benefits of touch, it is found to be closely linked to the vagus nerve, a nerve responsible for controlling your autonomic nervous system, a system which controls your bodily functions in times of ‘fight or flight’.
So what happens if we experience a lack of touch? Even if you are not a tactile person, touch is one of ways that we have learned to relate to each other as humans, and studies have shown that a lack of touch can elevate the stress hormone cortisol, which can elevate blood pressure, increase muscular tension and cause our breathing to become shallower and more increased, which can have detrimental effects on our immune and digestive systems.
Touch can soothe and it can heal. It can calm cardiovascular stress, lessen depression and anxiety, relieve pain and boost your immune system.
So how can we implement a strong practice of self-care through the power of touch? By making sure we fully connect with our friends and family, hug others, hold hands with your loved ones. Hugging is a proven method to promote our ‘happy hormone’ oxytocin.
Introduction into the history of massage
The modern word massage comes from French word of the same spelling, meaning ‘friction of kneading’ and preceding that, the Arabic term ‘massa’, meaning to ‘touch, feel or handle’.
We cannot place the exact origins of massage, but, some say that Ayurvedic medicine practiced by Hindus around 3000 BCE involved massage therapy to heal injuries and relieve pain, and those therapists passed their techniques on to subsequent generations.
The earliest written records of massage therapy were found as early as 3000 BCE in China, where the Chinese practised massage from a health perspective, to promote general health and to cure specific ailments. The Egyptians are credited with the first methods of reflexology, dating back as far as 2500 BCE and depicted in tomb paintings.
Massage and self care
Throughout time, massage has certainly evolved in its techniques and practices throughout the world, and also through eastern and western health perspectives, but massage is a still a widely used technique for its therapeutic, health and healing benefits.
Receiving massage is also hugely beneficial, and as well as booking in for a treatment in a salon or spa, you can also receive so many of the benefits of massage and touch by introducing a little self care into your own routine.
Below is a routine for short massage, which you can try at home with the Plantopia Be Serene Bath and Body Oil:
I love using this product at nighttime on my body as a massage oil. It contains Turmeric, famed for its anti-inflammatory effects, and Geranium, a wonderfully balancing essential oil. Massaging your feet is a great area to focus on at home, because it helps to stimulate ‘reflex points’, found on the feet which correspond to certain organs of the body.
- Pour some of the oil into the palms of your hands, and rub together, taking a few deep inhalations to accustom your mind to the scent.
- Sit down on a chair and cross which ever leg you want to start on over your other leg.
- Start on the ankles and use slow circular motions. This will help to drain any fluid retention that might collect around this area.
- Next use your thumbs to slowly move from the top of your heel, to the base of the ball of your foot. This is where a lot of foot tension is stored, so repeat this motion as often as you like.
- Hold your heel with one hand, and, with the other, hold your toes, and gently bend then forward and backwards trying to flex the toes through their full range of motion. You can then spend a few seconds, massaging each toe, using your thumb and forefinger to gently knead up and down each digit.
- Return back to the back of your foot and make a fist with your hand. Knead the base of your foot with your knuckles, working around the whole area.
- Afterwards, place your thumb into the middle of your heel and push for about 30 seconds.
- To finish the session, use deep sweeping strokes on the calves, towards the knee to help to move any lymph up towards the nodes on the back of the knees. Be careful not to press the backs of the knee too hard, as this can cause trauma to the nodes.
The Good To Go Bath and Shower Oil, contains Ginseng and Lemongrass to moisturise skin and uplift the mood. It can be massaged onto the body whilst the bath is running, to help to stimulate some of the effects of touch, before soaking in the bath for 15-30 mins.
Even though it doesn’t replicate the full psychological response of being touched, the feeling of movement of water on your skin will generate a ‘CT afferent response’ (nerve receptors in the skin that respond to non painful and light touch). Running a warm bath, or having a shower will help to calm muscles and relieve stress.
For wellbeing on the go, I now keep a pot of the Deep Peace Sensory Balm in my handbag or toiletry bag when I travel. It contains the same hero essential oil and adaptogen as the Be Serene Bath and Body Oil, take a pea sized amount and melt into your hands, again taking a few inhalations to acquaint your mind with the scent. Then you can apply this to your pulse points, such as the inside of your wrists, the inside of your elbow joint and behind the ears. It also doubles up as a subtle solid fragrance, for those who like using natural perfumes.