The Meaning of Touch

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“There certainly is an enhancement of a relationship when touch is involved,” Dr. Tiffany Field, founder and director of the Touch Research Institute in Miami, told me. “You can express virtually any emotion by touch and people read the signals of different emotions through touch.

“In addition to social benefits, there are physiological benefits to touch,” she continued. “Moderate-pressure touch—like if you're stimulating pressure receptors of the skin—slows down heart rate, blood pressure and the production of stress hormones like cortisol. It changes brain waves in the direction of relaxation and heightened alertness.”

Interestingly, very light-pressure touch, used to arouse as in a tickle, has the opposite effect, so Dr. Field suggests using moderate to deep pressure to encourage healing. Speaking with the doctor made me interested in how touch, or the lack of it, in everyday life translated into different cultures’ respective massage modalities. I decided to dig deeper and reach out to experts on the topic.