Touch as one of the 5 senses
Along with taste, smell, hearing and vision, touch is one of the five senses. Touch receptors are found throughout the skin and especially in hairless areas e.g. soles of the feet, fingertips and lips. Touch is fundamental to the development of a healthy human being, and touch deprivation in early life is known to inhibit the growth of a child both emotionally and physically. The laying of hands on the body as means of healing the sick is well documented and its practice is found in every culture throughout the world. There is a basic premise that caring touch in itself is a powerful agent for the healing process. This combined with skilful techniques drawn from both ancient and modern approaches to the study of reflexology can only enhance it.
Touch and the sensors in the brain
Touch receptors relay messages to the brain via two pathways. One carries sharp, fast transient pain signals and the other dull slow persistent pain signals. Some of the fibres containing touch information pass through the spinal cord to the brain stem while others go straight to the grey matter where the pain receptors of the skin gather, combining and filtering these two feelings and discarding trivial information. This divided process enables the fine discrimination aspects of touch to be preserved, and eventually ending up in the thalamus enabling the cerebral cortex to form a picture of the touch sensation. Here it is correlated and memories of previous sensations added to give an overall picture.
How the brain depends on the hands
The brain depends on the hands for distinguishing the features, size and shape of the object being touched are analysed. The brain gets an enormous amount of information about the texture of objects through the fingertips because the ridges that make up the fingerprints are full of these sensitive receptors. As the hands are one of the most sensitive parts of the body, we experience much of our sense of touch through them. Thoughts of action naturally turn to the hand for their expression. It is the tool which the mind depends upon when it wants to do something. It is peculiarly the organ of expression. When another person suffers and we sympathise, we instinctively use our hand to soothe their pain. When we hurt we instinctively place our hand upon the injured part. From infancy the human hand automatically expresses the thought or purpose of the mind – the controlling part of the body.
Physiological benefits of touch
Touch & massage benefits the entire physiological system. Soft flowing techniques calm and soothe the nervous system, stimulate the sensory nerve endings in the skin and warm & loosen the superficial tissue. Massage assists the cardiovascular system by boosting blood and lymph circulation, so that vital nutrients reach all the cells and toxins are eliminated from the body. Revitalising techniques invigorate energy levels, and so stimulating cell renewal. The breath deepens with relaxation increasing the intake of oxygen and the expulsion of carbon dioxide from the lungs. The calm soothing movements enable the person to relax deeply and de-stress, bringing about a feeling of harmony and relaxation within the body. According to ‘A Guide to Natural Healing’ by Geddes & Grosset, physiological tests have shown ….”that petting animals improves general health, lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and reduces stress levels’. Some hospitals, retirement homes, and prisons report an improvement in the behaviour, and mental, physical and emotional health when ‘their care’ has been given access to animals.
Underlying quality of touch
Touch transcends language and personality. It speaks directly to the innermost core of the human heart, soothing away pain and dissolving tension from the body and mind. By treating one aspect the body as a whole is treated. The power of touch through massage as an alternative therapy is becoming more acknowledged by the medical profession. As with most of these disciplines they share a common holistic principle – that the wellbeing of body mind and spirit is inter linked and inseparable. The importance of this kind of non-verbal communication can never be underestimated in this increasingly impersonal and detached society of the world today.