by Lisa M. Wolfson
As a breast cancer survivor I am often asked what helped or meant the most to me during my experience. One of the things that always comes to mind is the power of meaningful touch.
Let me explain. During my six months of chemotherapy, family members and friends took turns keeping me company at my treatments, which not only blessed me with their love but also allowed them the opportunity to participate in my care. When my older sister Cecile traveled from Arizona to stay with me for one of my treatments, we talked and did yoga together, and then, as we sat on the couch, she gave me a foot massage.
She probably didn’t realize how deeply it affected me, but her touch truly meant the world! The security and warmth she conveyed through her hands created the feeling that I was not just loved but protected, and it made my every fear and worry just drift away.
This is the essence of meaningful touch. Indeed, studies have shown that both the toucher and the one being touched receive actual physiological benefits from the act. Massage creates an increase in the circulation of red blood cells, which, in turn, triggers more oxygen to the body’s tissue. This heightens the body’s supply of energy as well as its regenerative abilities. Touch can indeed be healing!
Throughout any period of illness, a person begins to experience an overall state of tension that is reflected in their bodies. We tend to feel helpless because we’re not able to heal the people we love or ensure their recovery. Meaningful touch, however, is one way to make a difference. While many religions celebrate the “laying on of hands” as both a healing service and a method for conferring wisdom, it is possible in a very real sense to actually purge the tension from your loved one’s body through the use of massage.
Relaxing the head, back or hands, especially, can provide great relief to someone in pain emotionally and/or physically. Therapeutic massage can help relieve this tension and help the entire nervous system as well. You do not need to be a trained professional to help someone through the sense of touch. Here are some techniques you can try:
First, make sure your hands are warm. You can gently rub them together to create a little friction heat. Add oil or cream on your fingers so they are soft and able to move easily across the skin. Make yourself comfortable as you begin, so you don’t get cramped up or have to keep shifting positions.
- A great deal of tension is stored in the face and other muscles of the head. Place your hands on the sides of your loved one’s head, with your thumbs at the corners of their eyebrows. Beginning with the inner end of the eyebrows, firmly slide your thumbs along the hairline. You can also gently grip the flesh of the eyebrows between your thumbs and forefingers and knead, always starting nearest the midline and working outwards. When coming to the end of the hairline, you can create a circular motion (three spirals at the sides of the head), release and come back to the inner end of the eyebrow.
- There are many acupuncture points in the ears, so slow, careful touch over the entire ear surface can be very relaxing and rewarding. Grasp the ears between your thumb and fingers, and experiment with stroking and squeezing them gently.
- Simple strokes applied on the back are also very calming, bringing the energy down to counter the surge of tension and worry. Gently let the fingers of one hand travel down their back from neck to hips. Then let the other hand start stroking down the back. Maintain this slow, continuous pace of alternating hands. This motion has a calming, hypnotic effect and usually produces drowsiness. Allow this smooth rolling sensation to absorb both of you. At the end, the strokes should become slower and lighter.
- Touching or gently holding someone’s hand while they are going through a difficult time can be very comforting. This small gesture will help the person feel safe and reassured.
These techniques can naturally be adjusted depending on the needs of your loved one. But each method will yield immediate relief and create a powerful bond, both physical and spiritual. Above all, your loved ones will experience the most powerful healer of all, the love, warmth and security that is conveyed through meaningful touch.
Lisa Wolfson is a Reiki Master and lives in Rockville Centre, NY.
Photo by Karen Keller Capuciati.