Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.~Leo Buscaglia
Touch is our primary language of acceptance and belonging, safety and security. Human infants need touch (skin-to skin contact) and attunement (eye contact and facial expression). This establishes a secure attachment (the child becomes self-aware and knows who they are in relation to another human being) and from this place a baby will feel confident enough to venture out and explore the world whereby they become self-aware based on their relationship to the world around them. This self-awareness becomes the basis for social relationships.
Touch is our primary language of mutuality. In the act of touching, we simultaneously feel ourselves and the other person. When we do this we feel separate and connected at the same time. In this way, touch is very personal, giving us awareness of who we are. It is also a social sense, giving us awareness of who the other person is.
The senses of self-awareness (touch, life, movement, and balance) are also senses of location. They answer the question, “Where am I?” When we feel confident about where we are, when we feel comfortable in our skin, when we can “stand in our truth”, then we can, with integrity, be open to experiencing another person without going into their experience. We can be inter-dependent rather than co-dependent.
Social stress is not knowing “where we stand” in a group. Peer pressure is a manifestation of social stress. So is bullying and aggression. Likewise, acting the victim or seeking to appease others signal a social insecurity. All social stress indicates a lack of self-awareness, a “disorientation” of the individual. Since we don’t touch something or someone we don’t like, friendly touch implies acceptance. And a lack of touch can cause social insecurity and stimulate a fight or flight reaction. This is why friendly touch such as hugging, back rubs, or holding hands brings relief to the autonomic nervous system.
Think of the autonomic nervous system in terms of yin and yang. The sympathetic nervous system, responsible for such reactions as fight, flight, freeze, or flock, is a picture of contraction and separation, danger and enemies. The stress hormones of adrenalin and cortisol are associated with the sympathetic nervous system. The para-sympathetic nervous system is associated with oxytocin (ahh-xytocin…) bringing feelings of calm and expansion, safety and belonging, friendliness and cooperation.
Peer massage is done student-to-student, clothes-on, with teacher supervision, and asking permission every time. It is a way to connect socially in the most fundamental way: through touch. Touch stimulates oxytocin, which leads to feelings of relaxation and acceptance. This feeling of calm allows a person to be more present within themselves leading to greater self-awareness and self-confidence. Equally important is the protocol of asking permission every time. This establishes a rapport of trust and respect.
Peer massage began in the early 1990′s in Sweden. It is still practiced there and has spread to England and Australia mostly. Yet, it is virtually unheard of anywhere in the world. I am making a documentary film about peer massage in the classroom. To view a trailer for the film, which should be finished by April 2013, please visit this site:
I am fundraising to cover post-production costs. This film will be mailed for free to schools around the world. Please spread the word!
Healthy Touch is Always:
1. With consent, before and during
2. Well intended by the giver
3. Appropriate to the receiver
Thea Blair is a mother of a 17 year old boy and a 10 year old girl, a Waldorf teacher, and a Pediatric Massage Therapist. She operated a successful pre-school out of her home where she observed the amazing results of touch in resolving children’s emotional stress. She now gives talks and workshops; she mentors teachers and parents; she campaigns tirelessly for the return of healthy touch to our culture. She lives in an intentional community on a small farm in Nevada City, California. www.theablair.com