I’d like to talk a little about touch. It’s interesting to me that touch is often equated with being moved: I was touched by his gift: I was emotionally moved. Touch is something we communicate with before we have language.
I think one of the things so many of us have found difficult in the last 14 months is the lack of touch. Not hugging friends, even if we get to see them, not feeling other people’s touch in the shaking of hands at hello. Or kissing those with whom we have a different level of closeness.
When I first started having hands-on sessions many years ago, it was very profound for me: to be touched by another who wasn’t family; didn’t want something from me, and who wasn’t a doctor: moving me to find what was wrong with me; but rather someone who listened to me through their hands. I felt held and seen on a fundamental level, accepted on a fundamental level. That I wasn’t broken, rather someone who just had challenges in certain areas.
I have 1:1 clients who chose not to come to individual sessions online with me during Lockdown, because for them, so much of what we do in a 1:1 is about that non-verbal communication of platonic touch. When we are touched without another’s need or without desire, in a platonic, almost neutral way, it allows us to sense ourselves in the prioperceptive mirror. Because of the skeletal touch that we learn in a Feldenkrais training, we can touch and hold people in a way that touches at our core.
As a primate, touch is part of our social function. Like them, we touch to calm, to soothe, as well as to show status. And in that we aren’t so far away from our gorilla counterparts, (although they spend a lot of more of each day grooming than even the vainest of us).
If female gorillas want to head off a fight between two Alpha males will stroke their backs, to bring them back to their senses. I tried this once in a salsa hall, when an accidental knocking into someone else started to turn ugly. (I had just finished reading a book about it!) So I put my hands on the back of one of the guys (it wasn’t too strange, I had been dancing with him at the time), and slowly stroked his back, downwards (smoothing his fur, rather than ruffling it!) As his breathing altered, slowed, and deepened, the fight in him dwindled.
Platonic touch can help us co-regulate ourselves- it can help us bring ourselves back to our body, our physical self. And of course, we can do this on our own too. For those of you who have been to a class or two, you may well have heard me suggesting that you touch your collarbone before we move it, in order to locate it more easily. When we touch, we send information to the brain via the area being touched, and the hand: twice as much information in one.
When we touch others it helps us create a picture of those parts of us that we can’t touch. We imagine it in relation to the other. And touching or being touched allows our brain to move into the direct experience network, this non-verbal network in the brain which down regulates the amygdala, and helps us move into a more parasympathetic state (aka rest and digest).
If you’re someone who finds it difficult to sleep, try this out. In bed, gently stroke along your forearm and hand with the other, Go slowly, and time it with your exhalation. Slow down the stroking, and slow your breathing at the same time. Stroke downwards, or with “the grain” of your hairs, wherever is convenient and easy to reach.
This also works well if you’re anxious as a way to self-soothe. To literally feel yourself is to sense the physical boundaries of where you begin and end. And as long as you’re doing it in a way that feels nice, should help your sense of calm, and grounding.
If you’re looking for a little more of a wake-up, literally ruffle your feathers- stroke upwards, against the grain of your hairs, vary the speed, vary the level of touch, and see whether there’s a little more liveliness in your face, your arms, hands, or wherever else you’ve chosen to explore.
Why am I so passionate about this? Poor mental health holds us back from acting in the world with pleasure, with joy, stops us being able to take risks, or make healthy connections. In the last few weeks I have talked about self image, and how mine has changed for the better over time.
Moshe Feldenkrais was passionate about us all becoming more mature humans: we all have the potential to get better, to feel better about ourselves, to sense ourselves better, so that we can fulfil our dreams and desires. Emotional maturity, in his thinking, is the ability to allow the whole gamut of emotions in, without holding on to any of them. Without getting pinned down by any of them.
If I can go from someone with a poor self image, only seeing what was wrong with me, with a lack of self kindness, of self belief, of self-like, to a more stable, kinder, easier, self-likeable person, I believe we all can.
And I didn’t do it alone. I had help. The hardest thing for me, back then, was to ask for it. To recognise that there is no shame in working together with others to improve ourselves. After all, alone we can’t see outside our habits, we don’t recognise where we are limited in our thinking. It’s easier to look inwards, to see new options for moving, sensing, thinking and feeling when we have others to do that with.
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