Are you single, married, dating? Do you live at home, with someone else or alone? Do you have children or are taking care of a relative and/or elderly person? Do you work full-time or part-time? Do you volunteer or help out around your neighborhood or community?
Well, let me ask you this…Did you get touched today? I mean physically touched without anything required of you? Did someone give you a hug just because or to offer their love and support?
Too often, no matter what your circumstances, you weren’t touched at all today or maybe for several days and this can affect your health physically and mentally.
Touch is vital to our survival as humans, regardless of age. In 1915, James H.M. Knox of Johns Hopkins Hospital reported that babies left in orphanages and given proper nutrition died at a rate of about 90 percent. Other studies of the same era confirmed these findings and showed that those babies who did survive were often mentally handicapped and stunted in their growth. These valuable studies helped institutions understand the importance of touch. When staff was added to provide enough time for each child to be held, handled, and touched, mortality rates dropped dramatically.
Those early statistical studies showed how vital touch is to developing infants. Researchers are also finding that giving massage to premature infants can improve their growth and overall health. A study conducted by the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami found that when stable premature babies were given five, one-minute massages a day, they gained 47 percent more weight than their counterparts who didn't get massage.
Many massage schools now offer courses in neonatal massage, and most hospitals include some kind of program to introduce nurturing touch to hospitalized infants. In the U.S., nurses, therapists, and parents are trained to give massage to premature babies so they get the necessary stimulation for optimal development without stressing their delicate systems.
While most infant studies involve preemies, a 2001 study conducted by TRI showed that when mothers gave their infants a 15-minute massage before bedtime, these sleep-challenged children went to sleep more quickly and were more alert during daytime hours. The list of studies goes on and on, but what's most important to remember is that infants need touch to develop healthy nervous systems.
From the time my son was small, I gave him back rubs before tucking him into bed at night, especially when he wasn’t feeling well or had a bad day and it would help him relax enough to go to sleep. He suffers from asthma and many times just gently rubbing his back, neck and shoulders would calm him down enough to ease his breathing. He still loves having his back rubbed in order to relax and is especially happy that his mother has become a massage therapist.
As children grow up, they continue to need touch, but as they get older they get nurturing touch less and less. Boys especially suffer touch deprivation that begins much earlier than for girls, typically. Many school systems forbid teachers from touching students for fear of litigation and the busy lifestyles of children and working parents often keep children from getting the touch they need and behavior problems can result.
Clinical research and sociological studies have linked touch deprivation with aggression. A 2002 study reported that adolescents with a history of aggressive behavior showed less aggression and were less anxious after receiving a 20-minute massage twice a week for five weeks.
Massage also reduces the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder so children can concentrate better, and it's even been found that the right kind of touch can help children with autism relate better to teachers and family members. Massage is on the increase at hospitals and clinics that treat many types of physical, emotional and mental challenges for children.
Ongoing research by The Touch Research Institute continues to prove that massage is an important therapy for many conditions. After a massage, levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop in saliva tests and examinations show an improvement in alertness and relaxation, depression scores decrease, and mental focus improves.
The exponential growth of the bodywork field is a testament to the value of safe, therapeutic touch. Of course bodywork can play an essential role in the healing of specific chronic or acute orthopedic conditions, but it also serves as a powerful aide in improving the quality of life for adults.
Interesting to note that in 2008, massage, as an industry grew even when most other industries were suffering in the midst of an economic crises. This reflects that stress levels were high and people were seeking healthy ways of relieving it.
We often equate the need for physical closeness with the need for sex, but anyone who's been in a close, long-term relationship understands that as time goes by sex becomes less frequent, however the need for nurturing touch remains strong. For those not in a relationship, massage can be a healthy way to get that much-needed human contact.
Isolation, loss of loved ones, loss of home and independence -- we often think of these things as primary causes of depression in the elderly, but what about the loss of human touch? People confined to nursing homes rarely get more than daily hygienic care and the stigma of touching elders contributes to their physical isolation.
Elders need touch as much as infants, studies show that when they receive regular massage, the elderly have less depression and anxiety, experience better physical coordination, and show a decrease of stress hormone in their saliva. One study showed that elders who participated as volunteer grandparents in a program to give massage to abused infants experienced the same benefits as when they themselves received massage. Simply by giving touch, they were able to improve their own health. In fact, many hospitals recruit the elderly to give touch to premature and sick infants by rocking them for several minutes each day and both experience the benefits.
Geriatric massage is a growing field requiring specialized training and many massage therapists offer it in their practices. Some nursing homes now provide massage to their residents. In my own work, I have an elderly client that is home bound and also going through chemo therapy. With light massage, they are able to rest and sleep better. Their spouse died a couple of years ago and just giving a head and neck massage helps with their loneliness and depression and eases their anxiety.
We are wired to need to touch, we need to be touched. In the early months before babies learn about their hands, feet, toes and fingers, they need the touch of parents, caregivers, and family to develop and we retain that need our entire lives.
Most women will agree that they are guilty of putting themselves last when they typically are working full-time, caring for a family and sometimes an older relative. This also applies to stay-at-home dads too. However, the first rule in first-aid is to take care of yourself first, so you can be there to take care of others.
I have many female clients that come in for massage only because the pain has become so unbearable that they have little choice in order to keep taking care of others.
So, let’s skip the lecture, because I’m sure you’ve heard it before, how you should take better care of yourself. Massage can be a very effective way to care for yourself and let me just list a few of the many benefits:
· Assist in tissue repair and healthy scar formation
· Promotes good joint mobility, flexibility and proper alignment
· Reduce muscle stiffness, tension and pain
· Improve circulatory and lymphatic function
· Decrease blood pressure and increase blood cell circulation
· Increased mental clarity, reduced anxiety and increase feelings of general well being.
So this is all fine and good, but what to do between massages to meet our need for touch? Hug someone! Yes, a full body (not the barely touching with a little pat on the back kind of hug), where you wrap them in your arms, is a wonderful way to feel good and make someone’s day.
Years ago, I had a friend that was a “hugger”. She would hug anyone and everyone, it didn’t matter. The day she hugged the man that would later become my husband, I decided I was giving this hugging thing a try. It was a bit scary at first and felt awkward, but the more I hugged, the more I got hugged and it felt great!
I came from a home where touch was not part of our family unless you were getting disciplined. In fact, I never saw my parents touch unless they were making up after a major fight and it was uncomfortable to see them touch, either hugging or holding hands. It isn’t surprising that they divorced and went on to live the same unhappy patterns.
Now, as I stated before, touch is necessary for our survival as humans. Dr. Leo Buscaglia or better known as “Dr. Love”, in the 1980’s said, “Hugs make you happier” and he taught about love and emotions and connecting with others. He wrote several best-selling books on love and connecting.
Several years ago, I had a business in a strip mall and two doors down was an Italian restaurant that was owned by a couple. Carole was always there first thing in the morning and we made a “hug pact”. Every day either she came to my shop or I went to hers and we shared a hug. Even now, twelve years later, I miss her hugs. However, I try to reach out to as many as possible and especially the elderly and give them a hug. I usually hug each client as they leave just because it feels natural and it lets them know I care. I am single and don’t get touched and a hug is a gift for them and for myself. Many of us have it in our nature to care for others, but we can do it better and be more effective if we care for ourselves, first.
Massage can be the necessary nurturing touch you need, to be healthier and happier in your life, but a hug will get you by until then too. Hug your children. Rub their backs before they fall asleep. Touch and hug those around you and let them know you care. Try it and see what changes happen.
When you have hands the size of baseball mitts, you are probably meant to be a massage therapist. It took me a long time getting here, but it has been interesting along the way.
I’ve been rubbing people since I was a little kid. My mom always had knots in her neck and shoulders and would recruit me to rub on them when she hurt and she had no other choice but me. I also had a grandpa with diabetes and his feet always hurt and he would ask me to rub them for him. I remember being a little hesitant to rub his feet the first time I took his sock off and he’d had a toe removed. Unfortunately he ended up losing several toes before he died.
As a kid, I was considered “rowdy”. Now days they would have medicated me, but in those days I just got in a lot of trouble. In fact, my 5th grade teacher said I needed either medication or counseling, so my mom put me in sports. I loved water and was always finding ways of getting soaked so my mom put me in swimming.
I went from being a little fish with the minnows to swimming with the big kids pretty fast and after watching Mark Spitz win all those medals, I dreamed of swimming in the Olympics. Unfortunately it turned out I was extremely allergic to chlorine and the doctor said I had a choice; breathing or swimming. I chose swimming, but for some reason my parents disagreed and made me quit.
Oh well, by that time I was also getting involved in other sports like basketball and setting records for the physical fitness program at school. I was the perfect “tomboy” and proved it by becoming the neighborhood wrestling champion which drove my mother crazy. At age13 she insisted I stop beating all the boys and start acting like a girl!
In high school I played basketball, but couldn’t stay out of the water and played water polo and joined the swim team too. By this time I started my own little business of teaching private swimming lessons during the hot Fresno summers, after my life-guarding job and was learning to paying attention to how bodies worked and moved.
When I got into college, I wanted to be a cartoonist for Disney or work in health sciences and was trying to decide. After meeting a freelance artist that was about 450 pounds and worked in a small room with no windows it was easy to choose health sciences so I enrolled in Anatomy, Physiology and later Kinesiology.
One memorable event in Anatomy was the dissection of the cadaver of an elderly woman. At first I was horrified that there was a dead body in the room but eventually I had my face right in there my horror turned to fascination with how complex and intricate the parts were and how they worked.
I had tough instructors! My physiology teacher had us draw our own blood and centrifuge it. Funny thing was that our class was after lunch and it was pretty obvious I ate a hamburger that day because of the fat layer between the plasma and platelets. Yuck!
In my kinesiology class for our mid-term, we were to identify the landmarks on a box of random bones and the final was describing all the muscles involved and their movements in throwing a baseball. You would be amazed at how much is going on in your body at any given time with even the smallest movement!
So at this point I thought I wanted to go into Physical Therapy, but the program was impacted and I wasn’t going to pin my hopes on getting in with a wait of two years. I had just begun swimming for Cal State Northridge, for Pete Accardy who was voted NCAA Division II coach of the year and I was so excited, but again, my body wasn’t having it and my knee blew out because I was a breast stroker and the kick was too much for my knees to handle for so many years.
My parents sent me to Dr. Frank Jobe of Centinela Hospital, one of the best orthopedic doctors in the country. He was doctor for the L.A. Dodgers; he did shoulder surgery on Jim McMahon, quarterback for the Chicago Bears, and was doctor to many professional and Olympic athletes. I was hoping that he would be able to fix me and I could continue my Olympic dream.
I couldn’t have had a bigger let down. He had no idea what was going on with my knee. He had theories but really wanted to open me up for exploratory surgery which in those days meant you ended up with a zipper scar and possibly not being fixed. I had had a few swimmer friends that ended up with a scar and were no better. I wasn’t willing to risk a scar to go through surgery without knowing what we were looking for or if it could be fixed.
Dr. Jobe and I finally agreed that he would give me a shot of cortisone at the location of pain, put me in a cast from my ankle to my mid-thigh for a month and see what would happen. He was hoping by immobilizing the ligaments and muscles that they would heal and the inflammation would go away.
Getting frustrated with the pain and lack of improvement I started researching knees and how to get them stronger with weight training. In college, I had been training with a coach at L.A. Valley College that had set me up with a strength coach and I learned a lot about what to do and how to do it safely.
So the day the cast is to come off, I get up on the table, grit my teeth as the saw cuts off the cast and take my first step on the injured leg. Immediately searing pain hits my knee and I almost lost my balance because the leg buckled.. It was a complete failure!
I was so emotionally destroyed by the failure of my knee healing that I dropped out of school. In the time since then, I have had a few serious injures and had to rehabilitate myself back to health and as a result I’ve learned a lot about how bodies get hurt and how they heal.
As a result of my using weights, I started to feel an improvement in my knees and I was able to run and do other things without the discomfort that I had suffered before. I got so into the weight training at one point, I actually played with the idea of bodybuilding and later entered the Ms. Fitness competition, but that is another story…
So skipping down the road about 4 years, I was in the middle of a divorce and had a little boy. I had an idea of becoming a massage therapist that traveled to offices and worked on people. There weren’t any good schools in Los Angeles County at that time, so I checked out a school in San Diego. I received my first massage by one of their therapists and it was a definite negative, but still wanted to pursue attending the school. However, my ex wouldn’t agree to let my son move with me to San Diego to go to massage school, so there went that idea!
My son and I needed a future but I wanted to be able to have a schedule that allowed me to be a mom too, so I chose teaching. This way, I could be working when he was in school and then be home when he was home too. Well, it sounded great, in theory.
So for the next 6 years I worked almost full-time and attended Cal State Long Beach full-time in order to finish as quickly as possible. Life was pretty busy and I will always give my son credit for the sacrifices he made so mom could finish school. It was very hard on both of us, but really tough on him.
During this time I was training and competing in Triathlons and several types of competitions. I also skied, snowboarded and played pretty hard at anything I did. This means I ended up with a compressed spine, torn rotator cuff, damaged cervical vertebrae and other dents and dings that I rehabilitated myself.
I received my B.A. in Physical Education with a minor in English, a secondary teaching degree and ended up teaching English…go figure. I taught for a couple of years but it was a full-time job and then 3-4 hours of grading papers each night, not allowing me very much “Mom” time.
While in college, the second time, I had become an aerobic instructor and personal trainer and was coaching Junior Olympic and college level swimmers. I was getting a “real world” education on how bodies worked; how to prevent injuries, how to treat injuries when they happen and how to rehabilitate injured athletes.
The thing I found frustrating about working with bodies was that there wasn’t much money in it and it was all about “the look” (hot bodies) instead of healthy bodies. In the fitness world, steroids, Fen phen and cocaine were pretty popular in attaining “the look” instead of focusing on health.
Between the time I originally looked into to massage school and ended up finally enrolling, it was about 20 years. Oh well, some of us are a little slow in figuring things out, but without the journey of those 20 years, who knows where I’d be now and what I would have missed out on in my education.
In 2009, I needed a career. I had had my own mortgage company for almost 10 years but with the economic melt down of 2008 and moving to the Central Coast, I ended up having to shut my doors.
I enrolled in California Holistic Institute and within 3 months I received my certification. My previous degree and knowledge really helped me skip right through the anatomy and physiology sections. I continued my education by taking classes in Trigger Point, Craniosacral Therapy, Herbs and Reiki.
I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the body but learn new things all the time. The body is a fascinating and beautiful creation. There is so much known about the workings of the body and yet it is only a drop compared to what we don’t know. I continue to work on my education and increase my own knowledge so I can keep helping my clients.
Thank you for being a part of my journey and letting me assist you with your healing!