As we approach the wonderful season of Christmas, I have been reflecting with great joy on the ‘Power of Touch’. In Matthew 8, we read, ‘When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said,” Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing”, he said.” Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy….’ It was a leper Jesus touched – a man nobody touched. Think of this. For years this man had not felt the kiss of a child, or the embrace of a friend. Jesus touched him. There was healing in his touch. There was comfort in his touch. There was reassurance in his touch. There was life in his touch. Jesus touched people physically and emotionally. And people touched him in the same way.
Did you know of the remarkable scientific benefits of touch? Did you know that the skin is the largest organ of our body, and enables touch to become a powerful method of communication? Scientists have discovered specific neurons in the skin that process information about touch.
Touch conveys a whole range of emotions. The immune response is triggered in the skin through touch, which is why we live longer. When we touch someone, we activate certain parts of our brain that provide feelings of reward, of compassion. Touch builds up cooperative relationships. It also signals safety and trust. Touch soothes. It calms cardiovascular stress through reduction in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Touch spreads a tremendous amount of goodwill, and is highly contagious.
The hormone oxytocin is released in response to touch, and this in turn produces care giving behaviour and generosity. It also promotes monogamy. We read emotion better, and discard cynical views of human nature. We respond with stronger compassion.
Touch is an unbelievable mechanism of social well being. Regular physical contact with premature babies helps them get a huge boost in weight gain. Lots of touch results in better sleep, reduced irritability, and increased sociability among infants. Touching patients with Alzheimer’s leads to a precipitous drop in their symptoms, and to a remarkable reduction in depression.
Let us go a step further. Did you know that hugging is healthy for the body and for the soul? How often do we hug our children, our family members, our friends? Hugging boosts self esteem and brings about a sense of security in a way no word can. A warm hug can touch our soul. Hugging strengthens our bonds with our children. We can never hug our children too much. They feel a sense of acceptance, their self esteem is boosted, they become more confident, and it brings them great happiness. To connect is more important than to correct. I read a wonderful quote by Virginia Satir, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Truer words were never spoken.
There are times, whether during intense grief or anger, or in ecstatic moments of joy or love, when only the language of touch can fully express what we feel. Let us reach out this Christmas to our family and friends with the gift of this wonderful language given to us by God. May we cherish the joys of this language forever.