I decided that there was far more I wanted to learn about the power of touch. In life, I have progressed from treating the hugs of strangers with a certain amount of distrust to the realisation that a hug can bring healing. I have hugged and been hugged into a bucket full of friendship.
An article by Roger Dobson in the Health & Families section of Health News, 10 October 2006, reported on experiments conducted by Jim Coan, Neuroscientist at Virginia University. Mr Coan ‘noted that the touch of husbands and wives reduced activity in the areas of the brains involved in fear, danger, and threat. It’s the first study of the brain’s reactions to human touch in a threatening situation, and the first to measure how the brain is involved in the health enhancing properties of close social relationships … Other research findings hint that, not only does touch lower stress levels, but it can boost the immune system and halt or slow the progress of disease.
The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, School of Medicine says it has carried out more than 100 studies into touch and found evidence of significant effects, including ‘… improved immune systems in people with cancer.’
I am currently a guest in a home where an uninvited one took up residence several years ago and was recently discovered and served notice. There is nothing welcome about cancer. Amidst the anguish, pain and trauma, precious people are at work touching lives. They are doing what they can do, and it is amazing.
I have learnt that there are teams who have dedicated themselves to hug children with cancer. Suddenly the biblical promise that, ‘they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover,’ makes physical sense. Could it be that people are rediscovering the value of what the faithful have known through the ages? Touch brings healing.
I once was the recipient of a flask of chicken soup when I confessed to being a victim of earthly elements. I’m not sure if it was the ingredients of the warming gruel or the pat of kindness that made me feel better and accelerated my recovery.
As with everything, there is a downside. Touch has to be loving and conveyed within relationship, or with deliberate and innocent purpose. Perhaps the world’s gradual avoidance of physical touch as a means of healing and love is due to the abhorrence of devious abuse. The power of touch and the desire for it is sometimes so strong that its purpose has been distorted. Touch should be handled with care as with the other four senses. It should bring healing, not harm.
When the power of words is lost, a hug is the answer to prayer.