Guest Podcast: The Healing Power of Touch

In this episode Jathan is interviewed by Eric Crake from the Elite Health Education podcast. Click on the three circles in the grey bar to download this podcast in MP3 format. Click here to listen to this interview on Youtube.

Eric and Jathan Interview – Part 1
Eric and Jathan Interview – Part 2

In today’s increasingly virtual world, it’s more important than ever for men to spend time consciously investing in the tangible. Physical actions like taking a hike in the mountains, crafting woodwork, preparing and eating good food or lifting heavy things all bring us back to center. They remind us that real life existed long before cell phones or flat-screens.

But of all the different kinds of physical actions we can make, probably the most important is the act of touching someone else. Whether it’s a handshake, a hug, playfighting, wrestling, hand-holding or more intimate, sexual forms of contact, humans are designed to touch each other. When we touch more, we thrive. Our immune system works better, we’re happier, our stress levels are lower and we feel connected. When we are deprived of that contact we begin to fall apart.

I was recently interviewed by my friend and fellow massage therapist Eric Crake from the excellent Elite Health Education Podcast (which you should definitely check out) and we had a great conversation about touch and how important it is. Some of the topics we cover include:

  • How human touch can literally heal your body
  • The dangers of touch deprivation
  • Using massage to reduce depression better than anti-depressants
  • How our country could save almost $5 Billion a year through baby massage
  • Why many men are still afraid they might be gay
  • And a lot more

Below are links to the various facts and studies referenced in the podcast. If you have questions or want more information on any of the subjects, make sure to comment below. Thanks for listening!

Fact Sheet / Bibliography:

Scientists recently found “Tactile C Fibers” in skin of humans. These fibers release pleasure and reduce pain when contacting other humans.

Major Systemic Benefits of Touch:

  • Increases Oxytocin – bonding/connection, Seratonin – happiness, Dopamine – pleasure
  • Lowers blood pressure, Cortisol, stress
  • Lowers depression
  • Lowers pain levels
  • Improves digestion
  • Increases energy
  • Improves immune system
  • Triggers parasympathetic state
  • Many other benefits

There are thousands of clinical studies around the world showing these effects. For specifics, visit the NIH (National Institute of Health) PubMed website and search for “massage benefits.”

Unfortunately modern Americans obviously aren’t getting touched enough.

Touch Deprivation is dangerous for adults but even worse for kids. Multiple studies show that restricted physical contact can be potentially permanently damaging to developing children.

Babies, Massage, Development and Health

Tiffany Field, Ph.D, 2010 meta-analysis of premature baby massage studies

  • Babies receiving massage 5-10 days gained 21-48% more weight than non-massaged babies
  • Stayed 3-6 days less in hospital than non-massaged counterparts
  • Babies massaged with Coconut Oil, Mineral Oil, Powder. Coconut oil gained more weight than simple skin massage
    • Coconut oil promoted more AND faster weight gain than Mineral Oil or Powder.
    • Oil showed decrease in salival cortisol, averting motions, clenched fists and grimacing
  • Bone density increased for massaged babies
  • One study of orphans in Ecuador showed massage lowered rates of diarrhea by 50%
  • Mother Massage vs Pro Massage Therapist for their babies
    • Babies showed similar health benefits for both Pro and Mom
      • Point #1: You don’t have to be pro to touch someone
      • Point #2: You don’t need the same bond as Mother/Child to provide great benefits
    • Unexpected: Mother’s depression & anxiety levels went down by doing massage!
      • Great part about massage: Everyone that does it gets benefited, giver and receiver
  • Cost/Benefit analysis of savings to hospitals for premature babies receiving massage is estimated at $100,000/baby or roughly $4.7 Billion/year (470k preemie babies/year).
  • Firmer massage is better than light massage (but not too firm) :
    • Moderate pressure was more beneficial than light pressure, showing:
      • Less crying, lower heart rate, better sleep

Massage, the Vagus Nerve and Parasympathetic State

  • It appears massage may directly connect to the parasympathetic system via vagal nerves. Vagus nerves thread throughout our body and are responsible for:

Touch Around the World

  • In US, 2-4 feet space normal, in Latin America and Middle East, one to two feet or less, in China often less than a foot. 8-12 students in dorm room. Asians cultures are interesting – studies show they usually want more space than most other cultures (bowing rather than touching is preferred) but in big cities often have least amount of space of all cultures.
  • Middle east, Latin America, Southern Europe touch more common. Kissing cheeks, hand holding, grabbing shoulders, etc., very common.
    • Cheek kissing:
      • Common in Latin America, Southern states male/male cheek kiss normal
      • Common in Southern & Eastern Europe (Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, etc)
      • Common in Middle East but not between women & men (inappropriate)
      • Sometimes in North & Western Europe, depending (rarely male/male)
      • Further North Europe , less common
      • Rare in US except in certain social classes
      • Most Asian countries don’t cheek kiss, prefer bow (India, China, Japan, etc)
        • Weirdest fetishes in those countries
  • One study in 60s by Sidney Jourard followed sets of two people talking at a cafe, each set from a different country, and focused on how much they touch in an hour.
    • England – 0, US – 2, France – 110, Puerto Rico – 180!
    • Obviously Western world needs to up their game!

Men and Physical Contact

  • Men sexualize touch. Natural but sexual touch is only small part of whole.
  • Western men less comfortable with touch in general
  • “If a man touches me and I like it, am I gay?” “Maybe but statistically probably not. 2015 Gallup poll shows that roughly 4% of the population identifies as gay, lesbian, bi or trans combined – so your odds are low.”
  • Why is men touching men strange in Western Culture?
    • Don’t see it in media (except bro hugs, handshakes, arm around shoulders when needed)
    • When guys are physically affectionate in public, usually gay men or from other culture
    • Religious fear of potential homosexuality
    • Incidence of violence to gays
    • A man’s lack of comfort with his own sexuality
      • Learning to accept touch from outside sources without conflating w/sex
    • No modeling of male/male touch in home with fathers
      • No hugs, long hugs, wrestling, sitting on lap, carrying kid around, etc.
      • If you don’t see it, you don’t know what it feels like, you won’t do it
  • Importance of teaching men the value of touch
    • Statistics bear it out: Physical contact = health, both mental and physical
    • Sex is great but it’s a very small part of contact with humans (how many people do you have sex with vs. how many people in your life)

Touch and Trust

  • Touch = Trust. It’s very uncomfortable to have someone touch you that you don’t trust. Even if they aren’t skilled at touch, per se, the feeling of safety with that person will overcome it. (Ie. Hug from your lover vs. hug from your client vs. hug from a stranger)
  • Touch and Physical Abuse
  • Touch and Sexual Abuse
  • Touch breaks down barriers, restores confidence, helps rebuild relationships

How To Start Using Touch More In Your Daily Life:

  • Consciously touch people more
    • Shake hands, give fist bumps, hugs, kisses
    • Touch forearms, arms, shoulders – when appropriate
    • Don’t be rude
  • Read body language, etc. to see if you’re too close
  • Practice receiving touch (aka Massage, Chiropractic, Assisted Yoga, etc)
  • Look for opportunities to touch someone
    • Are they sad? Needing comfort? Enjoying a celebration? Wanting connection?
    • Lavish attention on your significant other and family
  • Realize that touch transcends religion/culture
  • It’s a journey
    • It will take time to re-learn how to connect with people
    • Worth every second

Stay Superior!


Cover photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

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Jathan
Jathan is passionate about helping create a community of great men. He enjoys beautiful women, altered states and Monty Python jokes. He lives in San Diego with two cats and a lot of books. Email him anytime at [email protected]