Skin to Skin: The Power of Touch

A look at the science behind the healing components of touch. The advancing studies behind this science brings Reiki to light.

|Epilogue for author’s personal experience with touch during the 2020 Pandemic|

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You’ve heard the saying, “Humans are social creatures,” and if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably pondered why humans fall in love or why we crave sex, drugs, and rock and roll. You may have also played around with the idea of why we’re so dependent on others especially if we crave so much alone time. As much as you crave your alone time, you probably crave physical affection which is pretty much the best vehicle for mental and emotional lovin’.

Every bit of the theory for our need of physical touch is true and it’s actually pretty vital to our livelihood. Whether our touch comes from friendly socializing, connecting platonically, or most importantly healthy passionate love making, it’s all incredibly important to keeping us mentally, emotionally, and physically stable.

The power of human touch is vital to the orbitofrontal cortex- located in the prefrontal cortex. This is the region of the brain related to learning, decision making, and emotional and social behaviors. All thanks to our skin receptors sending signals to the brain as a reaction to pressure and temperature.

Did you know the brain can decipher between physical touch from the self and from another person? When we touch ourselves, the brain is actually expecting the touch. Therefore, the brain doesn’t release our most sought out chemicals. In a sense, our own touch doesn’t compare to the touch of others- this is why touch exchange is so important to our health. (Linköping University, 2019).

Touch from another person increases the release of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus which all involve: emotions, decision making, and the ability to experience pleasure (and not just sexual pleasure). Serotonin releases in the in this area, too and can be regulating to our overall mood.

Okay, so really. Why another person?

Touch to a specific region of the body repeatedly, literally reduces pain in that area. When someone is experiencing pain or some form of distress and they are touched by another person there can be greater physiological impacts than the neurological chemicals released. This is due to the psychological theory called brain coupling (Cohut Ph.D, 2018 Medical News Today).

How cute, right? Well, actually, this is a major reason why there is so much power to the practice of Reiki//Healing Touch.

In brain coupling, studies show that two humans can synchronize their physiological responses through touch such as: breathing respirations and heart rates (two major notes in your body’s vital signs). These two functions are a part of the automatic nervous system and can ultimately effect the message our body sends to our immune system. However, when we sync up our breathing and heart rates, we become “in tune” with each other; relating to one another at the same level physiologically and allows us to begin connecting mentally and emotionally. Maybe our vulnerability makes an appearance, too.

“A new touch does not erase the memory of a previous touch from working memory,” explains that study’s lead researcher.

Cohut Ph.D., 2018 Medical News Today 

Finally, the answer you’ve been seeking: the L-O-V-E drug. That’s right, Oxytocin is also released when we encounter touch, social recognition, and forms of bonding. This euphoric chemical is released in the pituitary gland- the master gland of the endocrine system. Maybe love does conquer all.

Essentially, there are oxytocin receptors in the brainstem and spinal cord sending information to the rest of the central nervous system. These receptors are also found in the amygdala– a center for emotional memory. Our emotions can trigger or relax our nervous system presenting an effect on our breathing and heart rate.

Now that the science is out of the way, let’s get on the flow of universal life force energy. Reiki typically involves touch by placing hands on the meridian points of the body. These points are studied in Traditional Chinese Medicine and known as channels throughout the body where “Qi” blood flows. Just like Western medicine studies veins, blood vessels, and the lymphatic system; Meridians of Eastern medicine include flow amongst those systems.

[Rei- pronounced “ray” meaning Universal Life. Ki- pronounced “key” meaning energy]

When we are in a more relaxed state, all of these chemical releases and receptors in the brain drastically reduce our stress releases (cortisol/epinephrin). Being in this more receptive state we are able to open ourselves to our feelings and thought processes. As we are confronted by our feelings and thought processes, such as in meditation, we are better able to understand ourselves and the people by whom we are impacted. This relaxation state is a tool to understanding how we can better approach our relationship with ourselves as well as with others in our community and environments.

In Reiki, touch is used in conjunction with the practitioners interpretation of the energy they feel or understand while brain coupling begins to morph. As the client is breathing on the table, working through their own thoughts and emotions in their mind, the practitioner is working their hands through the energy centers or meridians. The client begins to shift their breathing as they are comforted by the touch which then releases all those satisfying chemicals in the brain. Reiki ultimately aids in the shift of the client’s emotions and thought processes. On the other hand, the intuitive gift of the practitioner enhances these shifts as they have experience working with other people’s energy shifts. Each practitioner is truly one of a kind and varies from person to person.

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As science continues to study these emerging fascinations of healing though touch such as in Reiki, Massage Therapy, Acupuncture, Emotional Release Tapping Therapy, etc., we begin to grasp better control on our lives and our personal healing. Healing happens on so many levels from emotional, mental, spiritual, and ultimately physical. Our bodies are literally designed to heal its own organs. Our intentional focus of enhancing that has power that bring us closer to this universal life force, God, the Universe…whatever you want to call it. This is why Reiki is so beneficial in conjunction with medical healing. It allows us to bring our awareness to acceptance and relaxation which ultimately aid in pain reduction, anxiety relief, and improved ability to perceive.

So basically, the more empathetic we are with each other, more importantly including touch, the less likely we are to feel pain, stress, and despair. We also can find ourselves “on the same level” as another and we begin to release these chemicals that drive us to connect deeper and have a better perspective on potential outcomes. 

The science behind touch backs the notion of why humans are such animalistic creatures and seek partners, connection with family, and extensive self care measures. Be open to receiving touch from others in a positive, loving way. Be sure to hold your boundaries if your bonding trust feels violated and please seek additional safe, healing therapies to overcome any fear of touch you may have. Healing starts with your willingness to release and replenish.

Fun Fact: Did you know, babies who are touched or massaged more often are less likely to have developmental issues? 

In the times of quarantine and Social Distancing of the 2019-2020 Pandemic I have ultimately experienced a lack of touch like many of you.

I’ve had consecutive romantic partners for over 6 years because I essentially love touch, words of affirmation, and quality time (love languages anyone?). Throughout the year of 2020 I have not had such a partner and I’m cool with it because well, I work hard on loving myself and I want someone to love me to the same degree if not more! To say the least, I’m raising my standards. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t crave the physical affection from a parter or platonic loved ones.

I wrote this article in hopes to replenish my belief that we can’t stay away from each other for long even though it truly helps reduce the spread of the virus. The social distancing rules of the pandemic had me second guessing if shaking someones hand, hugging another person, or being so close to someone is acceptable. I truly believe in the power of “Universal Life Force” energy and exchange. Therefore, I know that the basic foundation of sharing touch is unstoppable. There are just some simplistic things in this would that will not be overcome, like the power of touch, love, affection, and empathy.

I am incredibly hopeful that this pandemic is a massive paradigm shift for this planet and species. We are being taught to slow down because, let’s face it, you can’t stop our internal, innate drive to continue to strive for more. Consciousness is far beyond the reality we live in everyday- it’s in our dreams, subconscious, and in places we can neither see nor hardly fathom.

I truly hope that if you’re reading this, you cherish every single moment you share and learn with someone you love. These moments are symbiotic and are truly what makes the world go ’round. Less we forget that alone time is crucial to our foundation of who we accept in our lives and personal bubbles. I love you.

Erin is not a medical doctor, scientist, or licensed therapist. Please heed advice as a general informative conversation. Erin is certified in Reiki healing touch. Any opinion or suggestion made through her services is to be taken as a personal informative conversation, results and outcomes are subject to action of the client and receiver of such information. Please consult a licensed professional such as a medical doctor, a board certified traditional holistic doctor, or therapist psychologist if you are seeking further assistance in any issues requiring further attention.

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