The Essence of Touch

Part 1

Our senses begin to develop already in the womb. As we grow from a seed into a fetus and then into a full-grown baby, ready to be born, our senses are becoming more acute and alert to stimulation and they respond accordingly. One of the first senses that develops in the womb is the sense of touch. When a baby is born, its first encounter is with the transition of being surrounded by water and then suddenly feeling the sensations of not being in water, but coming into contact with air, skin and new boundaries. The first languages a baby understands are touch and crying. In the first few months after our babies are born, we are often able to communicate and answer their cries mainly through touch. Unlike animals, our human babies cannot walk or move around on their own and need to be carried, nursed and nurtured until they can slowly fend for themselves. We are completely dependent on being touched in order to survive. At the same time our senses of sight, smell, hearing and taste start to also develop and we enter into a continuous sensation explosion!

What does it mean to touch? What does it mean to be touched?

How we fit in socially with others, mainly depends on our experience with touch. In some parts of the world we hug when see each other, in others we shake hands, rub noses or kiss.  Touch has the potential to heal or break down, nurture or abuse. Touching helps us to build relationships with one another. Many of today’s anti-social behavior could be reversed if we started to meet the touch needs in each other – especially those of our children. The need for bonding, or close physical contact with another human being, remains with us throughout our lifetime.  It generally feels good to have another human being’s skin come into contact with our own. Some of us repress our craving for warmth and affection, while others go to extremes to obtain it. Much of how we function as adults, depends on how we were nurtured during infancy. Were we rocked, cradled, swaddled, carried, held, kissed and hugged as babies and small infants? Did we grow up with touch? Or were we left to cry, bottle-feed and be put in the pushchair or cot to be silenced into sleep? How will we ever really know anyway? Does it matter if we do? What is important is to notice our relationship to touch and cellular memory of touch and how that affects us in our daily life.

We have all experienced moments when the touch of a hand on our shoulder or a reassuring hug was all that was needed to reduce our fear, anxiety, or loneliness. Touching can be an act of love, a way of communicating without words. Understanding when to touch, how to touch and if touch is necessary at all are vital keys in touch-awareness. We swipe, we type, we drive, we cook, we eat and we do all kinds of touching on a daily basis with inanimate objects…but how often do we touch each other and in what way? And if we do touch, are we touching because of an unmet need in us for touch, or are we touching because we are listening and responding to the needs of the moment for all people being touched.

When we listen objectively then we open up a whole realm of possibilities for touching and being touched. Instead of charging in and grabbing, pulling and imposing, can we take a small breath and see when and how appropriate our touch is? Likewise are we able to spot resistance, hesitation and aversion to touch? Do we close? Do we lack confidence to touch? Are we attached to our cultural upbringing? Are we rebelling against the norm on purpose? What is triggered within us? Can we see it? Can we listen to it? Can we elegantly sweep it under the carpet of our controlled self?

Things like early sexual activity, violence, depression and eating disorders can sometimes stem from an unmet need for positive and loving touch. Touch deprivation can be just as damaging as harmful touch. Touch can comfort us. Reassure us. Relax us. Heal us. Even arouse us. Or it could make us very uneasy. Threaten us. Hurt us. It can be aggressive, invasive or destructive. If someone touches you in a caring manner, you may feel loved and calm. If they touch you in a hurting manner you could feel stressed and threatened. As humans, we have an amazing hormone called oxytocin – the love hormone. It’s the antidote of the “fight-or-flight” response and instead creates a calm response. It is released during orgasm, while giving birth and during breastfeeding. But it can also be released when we are touched or also doing the touching. It offers an acceptance and allowance for this touch to penetrate us in whatever way is needed – be it emotional or physical.

How to approach the body during a session of bodywork?

When we touch someone in the form of a massage or any kind of bodywork for that matter, it is important to always have awareness of how we are within ourselves. If we would like to offer healing touch then we must take time to heal ourselves, leave our own story at the front door and be fully present with our mind and heart in our hands. How present are we when we touch another human being? The same if we are a yoga teacher and we want to adjust our students. How do we approach them? Do we come with a gentle approach to an alternative posture or do we jump in and correct? Why do we want to adjust anyway? Do we think it is really helpful? Or do we want to do something? Do we trust that their body will find its way and make its own adjustments?


Never underestimate the message your hands are giving… the signals which are coming from you…and don’t deny them their innate intuitive nature…
When the mind is clear the hands may do the walking and the talking… let them explore… we must simply trust that process.

So how to approach the body during a session of bodywork? Stay tuned for the 2nd part of the article that we will learn about the principles of Thai Massage and the importance of the touch before we even enter into the technique.


Continue reading Part 2, here.

Find the full article (in German) about “The Essence of Touch” on Yoga Aktuell Magazine.