I was confused…

Years ago, while teaching massage in Virginia Beach, I always gave the following advice to our graduating students: “If you’re ever in an assisted living facility or a nursing home, reach out to just touch people as you pass by. They don’t experience enough touch other than clinical, and as you’ve learned here in your studies, it’s powerful.” Touch is a basic, primal human need we all share.

I just stumbled on some research which elaborates on that and subsequently did some homework before writing this column. The research involved comprehensive analysis of more than 200 studies involving some 13,000 people. From a light touch to warm hugs, the benefits of touch to psychological and physical health were clearly proved, which obviously was not surprising to me. Reduction of depression, anxiety, stress and even pain was consistently shown to be a result of increased episodes of touch.

Frequency was more effective than the type and intensity. Daily touches reduced aggression and stress even in people dealing with dementia and was more effective than say, an hour long massage once a week. This comment from one of the co-authors of the study sums it up: “More consensual events of touch throughout the day can help alleviate many mental and physical problems.”

My homework involved delving into neuroscience (which hovers well above my pea-sized brain). Neuroscience is the study of all aspects of our nervous systems and is everywhere these days. There are videos, articles and websites, and our computers make the data accessible. There are a few neuroscientists who speak in terms we can understand rather than consistently sending us on definition searches for thalamus, cortisol sensory processing, norepinephrine, orbitofrontal, etc. Also, today’s advanced technology gives the folks who understand the interrelationships of those terms a lot more to work with. They explain what is happening with our hormones that inspires the positive benefits of simple touches and warm hugs.

Now, back to the headline and why I was “confused.” First, a little background for clarity: I had a personal training room in the massage school where I also taught so I was there regularly in different capacities. Standing around talking with other therapists involved, unsurprisingly, casual touch. Someone was always touching/massaging another’s wrist or shoulder or hand. It was kind of happening without real thought or purpose. Just touching each other in a helpful way.

So I was disoriented when I learned about this recent complaint in the news from women regarding being offended by being hugged. Huh? I mean, I’ve always been a hugger. I hug friends, I hug my grandsons, my daughters and son, I hug. How can that be offensive? Obviously a ridiculous complaint by some new generation’s paranoid concerns. Too much time on no-human-contact social media, I figured.

To confirm my clear understanding of these foolish anxieties, I asked some women whose views I’ve learned to respect. Friends, my trainers, my clients, my daughters, and… once again in this short, short life, I had an opportunity to confront my lack of awareness. It was unanimous. Consistent examples of men touching and hugging in ways that felt inappropriate. And when I reflected on that study’s co-author’s comment, the word consensual sure stood out. More aware now, I’ll adapt accordingly.

I’ll close with: I’ve changed my mind repeatedly over the years about so many things because I consistently learn new information. I hope I always stay open to the uncertainty that comes with still learning.