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Keeping In Touch

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 238 - May 2017

Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.
                                                                                                          Margaret Atwood.

The Pleasure of a Cuddle

Now that I am a grandmother I have the opportunity to cuddle one or other of my grandchildren on an almost daily basis; as I embrace their warm little bodies I feel a sense of deep pleasure - almost bliss. It feels as if the kinks in my nervous system are being ironed out. Neurologist Shekar Raman MD based in Richmond, Virginia explains; ”A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward centre in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy…. And it doesn't matter if you're the toucher or touchee. The more you connect with others - on even the smallest physical level - the happier you'll be."[1]


Vicki McKenna 238


There is a plethora of research exploring the healing benefits of touch.  Ann Biglow,  Professor and Researcher of Developmental Psychology at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish Nova Scotia conducted research into parent behaviour and infant development and explains how skin-to-skin contact with babies is important for their development. It seems that the healing power of touch is so vital for human development that babies not touched regularly do not develop normally, and children who are not lovingly touched enough are more likely to be violent as adults. In an interview in Scientific American Biglow says; “Particularly in the newborn period, it helps calm babies: they cry less and it helps them sleep better. There are some studies that show their brain development is facilitated - probably because they are calmer and sleep better.”[2]

Touching as self-massage is also very therapeutic. "People often don't realize how easy it is to give themselves a massage," says Psychologist Tiffany Field PhD, Director of the University of Miami Touch Research Institute and a long-time researcher on the benefits of massage. "Anything that provides pressure can work." Field suggests keeping a tennis ball in your office, placing it against your shoulder blades and doing deep knee bends against the wall to give yourself a back rub. The benefits of massage come from stimulating pressure receptors in the brain, says Field. "Most people don't know that. They might do light stroking, but that doesn't help and really is aversive to most people. These receptors are long and well-insulated nerve fibres - much more insulated than pain receptors, she adds. "Say, for example, you hit your funny bone and you rub it. The pain message is transmitted more slowly than the pressure message, so it gets turned off and you stop experiencing pain."[3]

5 elements
Reproduced from Aromatherapy, Massage and Chinese Medicine by Joanne Baker

Keeping in Touch

As an acupuncturist I have many times heard a patient tell me that she immediately feels calmer, more relaxed lying on the couch having her hand held whilst I take her pulses - and that is before any needles are inserted! I have not induced that feeling - it’s a natural high that comes from experiencing simple physical contact.

In Daoist Five Element theory the sense of touch can be  associated with the element of Fire. The nature of Fire is expansion and warmth, its season is Summer  - a time for socializing and forming relationships. Fire is governed by the Heart and its associated emotion when its energy is in balance is joy. Touch is thus a way in which we manifest our Fire element - a hug is a Heartfelt, joyful thing to do and contributes to socializing and sustaining relationships. Even just the friendly gesture of a pat on the arm can warm someone in body, mind and spirit. And the Fire Element can clearly be seen in the sensual Daoist massage technique sometimes known as sexual energy massage - a form of massage developed over centuries and taught originally to the concubines of ancient Chinese nobility.

Sexual energy massage is not simply an erotic form of massage but works because both partners are building sexual energy to encourage and balance the flow of Chi. This form of massage aims to stimulate nerve receptors in the reproductive organs, enhance blood circulation and increase the production of sexual hormones. For men the kidneys, testes, penis, perineum and scrotal sac can be massaged whilst for women there are techniques for massaging the breasts, kidneys, ovaries and uterus. The idea is to restore the flow of energy in the body by a soothing touch rather than by pressing and kneading of the muscles. And by keeping in touch in this way couples can experience joyful transformational states which will re-energize them in body, mind and spirit.

But Daoism is also about cultivating and sustaining energy through utilizing the sense of touch in a solitary way through self-massage techniques such as Chi Nei Tsang. This is a form of Daoist abdominal massage that works directly on the digestive system, helping to rid the body of blockage and toxins and release stagnant energy and emotions. The heart of this internal organ massage is the navel - a powerful energy centre. Try this - massage your abdomen gently making a circular motion towards the centre of the navel.  Massage within an inch and a half around the navel and eventually massage right into the centre of the navel. Spend perhaps ten to twenty minutes on this massage. Be gentle and be confident - you cannot hurt yourself massaging your navel. I was taught this technique by JR Worsley at his Leamington College of 5 Element Acupuncture  - he called it the Centre Pulse technique and taught that  it  helps relax the body and opens it up from the centre outwards. When we use self-massage in this way we are bringing our awareness back down into the body so that repressed, undigested energies move out and we can feel centred again.

Massaging your partner to create joyful and transformational states or practising solitary self-massage and acupressure - all of these ways literally involve keeping in touch with your physical body. Stay connected with yourself and with others through touch to enhance your Fire element and bring happiness and healing  into your life. 




3. Monitor on Psychology. July/August 2002.


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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 



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