Saturday, January 8, 2011

Healthy Touch, Healthy You

I recently had the privilege of being with my 92 year-old godmother during her final days. Being an aromatherapist, I brought along a blend of lavender and a citrus oil. I used this blend to massage the tops of her feet and her hands. She had been unresponsive for the nurses but when my mother and I spent time with her she asked for water and seemed a little calmer. This made me realize the importance of touch for all of us, at any age and at any stage in our lives.

Touch is the earliest of the five senses to be developed in the human embryo and the most developed of all our senses at birth. Babies that are placed on their mother right after birth have lower stress hormones, cry less and are more likely to be successful at breast-feeding. Preemies who get ‘kangaroo” care spend fewer days in the hospital. (Massage can help shorten labor.)

Scientists are finding the amount of body contact in our lives plays a vital role in our mental and physical development as infants and in our happiness and vigor as adults. Gentle touch has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain, increase the ability to cope, and can increase immune function. Studies show that holding someone’s wrist can lower blood pressure and heart rate.

Getting a rub down has many benefits. Massage can improve your blood circulation, improve your lymph flow (helping your body get rid of wastes and toxins), boost your immune system, improve your skin health and reduce your heart rate. In a relaxed state your body is able to regroup and recharge.

Touching can reassure us, relax us, comfort us, or arouse us. We have all experienced moments when the touch of a hand on our shoulder, holding someone’s hand or a reassuring hug was all that was needed to reduce our fear, anxiety, or loneliness. A hug floods our bodies with oxytocin which makes people feel secure and trusting toward one another. A recent study showed that intervention consisting of therapeutic touch significantly reduced anxiety and restlessness in alzheimers patients.

Pet owners can reduce stress, improve their immune function and ease pain all by focusing on their animal and less on themselves. When petting or scratching their animal behind the ears, research has shown that the pet owner’s blood pressure dropped. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of pet is snuggled with.

Most of us would probably jump at the chance to have a professional massage. But if you can’t afford one or don’t have the time, you can actually give yourself a massage.

Here are some DIY tips:
Give your hands a massage every day -- whenever you put on lotion. Start with the bottoms of your palms by clasping your fingers and rubbing the heels of your palms together in a circular motion. Then, with your hands still clasped, take one thumb and massage the area just below your other thumb in circular motions, moving outward to the center of the palm. Repeat with the other hand. Then release your fingers and use your thumbs and index fingers to knead your palms, wrists, and the webbing between your fingers. With one hand, gently pull each finger of the other hand.

Use a tennis ball. Roll it over your legs and arms. (This is especially good for your muscles before exercising.) Stick the tennis ball between your shoulder blades, then slide up and down a wall.

For neck and shoulders-- Apply lotion to your hands. Gently, but firmly, work your fingers in small circles. Start at the back of your head and work down towards the shoulders. When you feel a knot, work it out in small circles with your fingers. Keep your fingers well lubricated and breathe slowly and evenly. After you have worked out all the knots, stretch out your shoulder blades by gently "hugging yourself.

For your tired tootsies-- Pour the marbles into a dishpan, and fill it with enough with water to completely cover your feet. Add a few drops of peppermint essential oil, and while sitting in a comfortable chair, give yourself a foot massage by rolling the soles of sore aching feet over the marbles. Or try this: apply lotion to your hands. Dig your thumbs in a circular motion into the soles of your feet. Don't forget the bottoms of your toes too! On the other side, start at your ankle and rub your thumbs outwards across the top of your feet and down the toes. Roll your feet to stretch the ankles.

I think a good resolution for this New Year would be to use more touch to help improve our own health and those around us. Wish I could give you a hug right now!
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