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What is the importance of healing through touch?

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

To me, massage always seemed like some sort of exotic, unachievable (or at least unsustainable) form of self care reserved for the most affluent of people. In my past, self care was something well beyond my means and capacity, and even before that I hadn't truly considered the fact that it might be something I could and would one day add to my routine.

Many of us, especially young men, are taught from a fairly young age that touching others is inherently inappropriate and should be avoided in all but the most intimate of circumstances. Even in medical contexts, doctors rarely, if ever, touch their patients. This practice of avoiding physical touch whenever possible seems to have been established to protect us from inappropriate situations, but has it really done so, and if so, at what cost?

The cost, it turns out, is one of the most fundamental of human experiences: touch.

From the moment we are born we experience and understand the world through our sense of touch. We experience warmth, softness, comfort, and discomfort, the gentle embrace of our caregivers, and this experience continues throughout our entire lives. But for some reason we have decided that after a certain age this becomes inherently problematic. Meanwhile study after study shows the horrible impact isolation, loneliness, and a lack of touch causes us.

So why experience healing, comfort, and therapeutic change through massage and bodywork? For so many reasons! At the top of the list is that human beings have an innate need for connection and community, as it provides emotional support, a sense of belonging, social interaction and learning, and physical touch, all of which are crucial for healing and well-being.

While massage and bodywork may seem intimate, or even sexual at first glance, the experience immediately negates this perception. The physiological act of coaxing tension from muscles; the caring act of holding space for (and sometimes avoiding) areas of the body holding onto physical, mental, and emotional trauma; and the healing act of restoring balance to a human body through the power of informed touch add up to an exceptional way to improve the human condition.

Those who know me will immediately understand that this has been an incredible number of words to use to describe something so personal and important. So how do I sum up what this means for me and for my practice?

As one of my instructors in massage school used to say, "Self care is the new healthcare." Massage and bodywork are incredible tools that can be used to enhance and advance self care routines. I also believe that every act of self care is a holy act (in whatever way you wish and choose to interpret that). So for others to come to me as a way of performing and enhancing their beautiful act of self care and to trust me to improve the condition, comfort, and outlook of their lives, means more than most things in this world could ever compare to.

Chris Ost, LMT

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