Physical touch is critical for our wellbeing – from birth to death, in sickness and in health. To find out more, VERNE MAREE talks to four different complementary health practitioners in Singapore.
As a first-year behavioural psychology undergrad, I was haunted by experiments in isolating baby monkeys and chimpanzees and depriving them of touch – what my lecturer called “mechanosensory stimulation”. This severely damaged the baby monkeys’ physical, mental and emotional health and development, so much so that they’d bite the bars of their cages and chew their own tails.
Turns out it’s exactly the same with humans, as was so tragically shown in those famous nineties’ studies of neglected and sensorily deprived children in desperately understaffed Romanian orphanages. Though of course they had no tails to bite, they showed a strong resemblance to animals deprived of tactile stimulation: “muteness, blank facial expressions, social withdrawal and bizarre stereotypical movements”.
When we experience friendly touch of any sort – even in interaction with pet animals – our bodies release a range of neurochemicals, including endorphins (similar to morphine) and neurohormones such as oxytocin, all of which are linked to positive and uplifting emotions. Sometimes called the love hormone, oxytocin lowers blood pressure, reduces levels of stress-related cortisol, and even increases tolerance for pain.
You’re lucky if you have a partner who is generous in the massage department. For those of us who don’t, it’s good to know that touch doesn’t have to be social in order to be effective. In fact, a massage from anyone – including that 300-baht rubdown by a stranger under a Thai beach umbrella – can also be wonderfully beneficial. (And you won’t owe them a reciprocal 30 minutes…)
Studies show massage to be therapeutic for just about everyone: from premature and full-term infants, to children and adults, either healthy or with chronic pain conditions. Like other forms of friendly touch, it slows heart rate and lowers blood pressure. By reducing muscular tension and improving joint mobility, circulation and lymphatic drainage, it can also relieve headaches, banish insomnia and aid digestion – quite apart from its physiotherapeutic role in treating soft tissue strains or injuries.
6 ways to add touch to your day
- Hold hands
- Hug someone
- Pat someone on the back
- Go for a massage, a manicure or a pedicure
- Pet an animal – even if you have to borrow someone else’s
- Have sex
#1 Healing with Physiotherapy
As the use of technology becomes more important in physiotherapy, are the more traditional touch-based, manual techniques making way for mechanical therapies based as ultrasound, shockwaves, laser and infrared light?
Sydneysider JOEL BATES, who heads up ONEPhysio in Singapore, agrees that technology gives physios like himself the opportunity to advance their healing capabilities – but he does see limitations to its use.
“To get the best results for the patient,” he says, “physios need to know when to use technology, and how to optimise it – while also using touch (palpation), visual observation and words: education through explanation is of paramount importance.”
Logically, the choice of method depends on what the physio is trying to achieve. That may be to improve symptoms, or to address the cause – and in many cases, he says, the actual cause of an issue is not where the pain is located.
A great example of this is knee problems, which can often be traced to the biomechanics at the hip joint. And as technological therapies mostly address symptoms (knee pain in this case), and not the cause (hip biomechanics), they may be of little benefit.
“Evidence has never completely supported the effectiveness of treatments such as ultrasound, TENS, laser and infrared therapies,” says Joel – despite some anecdotal evidence of improved symptoms.
Research into shockwave therapy, however, is starting to show results, and Joel’s clinic uses it for tendon-based injuries, such as in the Achilles, tennis elbow and plantar fasciitis. It involves a series of repetitive pulses to the affected tendon and, in combination with an effective strengthening programme for the tendon, can facilitate recovery.
Joel says he’ll always be open to something new if it works and research supports it. However, he concludes: “It will be a long time before hands-on and observation skills are replaced by technology!”
#2 The Chiropractic Way
The term chiropractic is derived from two Greek words, the first, chiro, meaning “hand”, and the second from praktikos, meaning “practice” – literally “done by hand”. So, not much room here for anything other than human touch!
According to DR TRAVIS FISHER of Genesis Chiropractic, we are programmed for health, and not for disease. The role of the chiropractor is “to enhance the expression of that divine force which animates life”. There is no healing force outside the human body: true healing depends on enhancing our own inborn healing abilities.
He also reminds us that every aspect of our life is experienced and expressed through our nerve system – and that the nerve system is the only system in the body protected by bone.
Causes of disease
Chiropractors respect and work with the laws of the universe, says Travis. “When we as humans violate these laws – when we don’t eat right, don’t exercise enough and are over-stressed – it’s a recipe for poor health.”
Deficiencies, traumas and toxins put further stress on the body, which over time can lead to a misalignment of one of more bones of the spine – what chiropractors call “vertebral subluxation”. Chiropractors, he reminds us, are the only doctors trained to locate and correct vertebral subluxations.
Chiropractors use a technique known as adjustments, which is performed by hand. “It’s an artful skill to be a quality chiropractic adjustor,” says Travis. “We train for years to master our techniques.”
By checking for and correcting vertebral subluxation, chiropractors aim to enhance the body’s potential to heal itself, and its ability to adapt to stress. And Genesis Chiropractic encourages all members of the family to come in for checks and, if necessary, adjustments, whatever you think your current state of health might be.
Like most effective approaches to healing methods, chiropractic is holistic. “At Genesis, we teach the causes of disease and how to heal and prevent it: by following our customised exercise programmes at home, supplying the body with sufficient nutrients, and following proper rest habits for optimal relaxation and rejuvenation,” says Travis.
In today’s fast-paced world, he believes, to strengthen the posture is the best route to optimal health and full life expression.
#3 Network Spinal Analysis
Like all chiropractors, touch is central to the care that DR AMY MORRIS provides; but she describes the approach at Awaken Chiropractic as “dramatically different” from what you may experience at other chiropractors.
Network Spinal Analysis (NSA) uses very gentle yet precise contacts to the spine, she explains. “These light contacts release or move body tension and engage the brain to develop new strategies for healing.”
On a physical level, the changes include the healing of symptoms that wouldn’t go away, improved posture, and greater flexibility in the spine. Most astounding though, says Amy, is how it unlocks a person’s self-awareness and inner potential.
How it works
Our body’s neural network consists of the brain, the spinal cord, and spinal nerves that branch out to every cell in the body, and, as Amy explains it, transmits the vital life force that’s in charge of all bodily processes, including healing.
“As humans, we all have fears and stresses that affect both body and mind. If we are not able to fully deal with a stress or trauma in the moment, we store that trauma as tension in the body – and chronically stored spinal tension affects our entire neural network.”
It also results in the typical misaligned posture that you see every day – people with their shoulders hunched forward and their head out in front of their shoulders – and desk work, chronic sitting and looking down at cell phones all contribute to the problem. What’s more, the great physical tension that this posture shows translates into a chronic sympathetic state where stress hormones are released and the body is in a constant and unhealthy state of defence.
“So, the first step in NSA is reversing this process,” Amy explains. “By correcting posture, we remove physical tension from the spinal cord. Freeing up the spine, engaging the brain in a different way, and creating more breath and body awareness are key. Setting free our neural network brings about an inner freedom, a sense of possibility and empowerment that many long for. It is a joy to watch this unfold in our clients.”
#4 Reiki, Crystals and More
Full Circle SG was founded in 2012 by CLAIRE SEET and TARRA TAE, a teacher of esoteric studies. The name, says Claire, came from a realisation of how we always seem to “come full circle” in our life experiences as we move on to the next stage of our personal growth.
From their showroom at Far East Shopping Centre, Full Circle offers crystals and other healing tools such as pendulums, singing bowls and essential oils. VitaJuwel, for example, is a range of vials and water bottles made of crystals encased in lead-free glass, with the idea of safely transferring the beneficial “energetic blueprint” of the crystals to your drinking water.
Tarra also provides a comprehensive education and guidance service that includes weekly meditation sessions (which are free), and various workshops, including reiki.
What is reiki?
Reiki is a hands-on stress-reduction and healing system that comes from Japan and is based on the idea of the unseen life force energy that flows through us all. “The healer becomes like an energy conductor,” explains Claire, “connecting to the universal healing energies of reiki and transforming that energy into what the recipient requires.”
Tarra, who has been practising traditional reiki for over 15 years and teaching it for 10, says that anyone can learn reiki. She keeps classes small and offers a step-by-step approach, spending time explaining the theory before moving on to practice. “At each of the various levels, taught over two days, there is ample time to take in the study material, ask questions, and practise what you have learnt.”
It may take time to see your desired results, says Claire; but after a session, everyone feels a sense of lightness, calmness and wellbeing. “Reiki is an empowering life skill that you can use not only to heal yourself, but also friends and family. We have seen it helping parents to calm down active children, for example, and get them to fall asleep and stay asleep.”
Next year, Tarra will be leading a reiki retreat to Japan, to retrace the footsteps of the original masters and practitioners of reiki.
Our Complementary Health Panel
Like this? Read more at our Health section