Remember when you got a boo-boo as a kid and your parent kissed the pain away? Ever notice how a hug seems to make things feel better? Turns out it is not magic. Touch is a powerful and necessary aspect of healing and survival.
When we are in pain, hugs can be a balm for the soul. When we are in joy, they are a way to share that experience. Physical touch helps us feel in synch with something greater than ourselves. It literally brings people together, permeating our physical layer and dissolving the divide between “us” and “other”.
Humans are not alone in needing touch and contact. Our dog, Tucker, begs for cuddles like other dogs beg for food. He will literally cut off his air supply if it means being close us. Google “animals hugging” and any worry you have will instantly melt away as you scroll through images of various creatures nuzzling against each other. (Pro tip: Add the word “cute” to your search to up the ante.) Turns out it is a very mammalian thing to do.
Touch is crucial for overall health and well-being. All of us need connection to thrive.
Research Proves the Importance of Touch and Connection
Psychologist Harry Harlow turned the field of psychology upside down in the late 1050s when his research found that being cuddled and comforted outweighed being fed in the hierarchy of what is important for human development. This experiment was revolutionary, as it came during a period where it was believed that the only things human beings needed for survival were food and shelter.
In his experiment, Harlow looked at baby rhesus monkeys who were separated from their mothers at birth. His team tested different types of surrogate “mothers” in the monkey’s cages and observed who the baby monkeys were drawn to for both literal nourishment (read: food) and emotional nourishment (contact and comfort). The first “mother” was a wire figurine with a bottle as food source; the second “mother” was a cozy, terrycloth figurine, which would sometimes have food and sometimes not.
The baby monkeys chose the cloth mama, even when she did not have food. In fact, the monkeys would take what nourishment they needed from the wire “mother” and then run right back to the cloth “mama.” If something scared them, they ran to the cloth “mom” first, every single time.
Countless more research studies have proven the importance of physical connection: Touch is a potent analgesic for both acute and chronic pain; it soothes the nervous system; it can improve immunity; and it can also decrease anxiety. There is even research happening right now exploring therapeutic touch as an alternative treatment for cancer.
This Healing Sequence Harnesses the Power of Touch
Here’s the best part: You don’t need contact with another person to receive all of the benefits of physical touch. In fact, you can learn to “hug” and “hold” yourself, using your own incredibly healing hands.
Just as we support and connect with others through physical touch, we can do the same for ourselves. In fact, we do this often when we practice yoga. Think about it: When you lightly lay your hands on your belly to track your breath or place your hands near your heart to sense your inner light, you are harnessing this great power of touch.
Learning to “hug” yourself is an important tool for self-soothing and to feel connected, and you can use this 7-pose sequence to cultivate connection through touch:
See also Cultivate Your Connections
About the Author
Sarah Ezrin is a yoga teacher in San Francisco. Learn more at sarahezrinyoga.com.