Touch is essential for the regulation and connection experienced by new-borns. The way they move and gesture signals to mum what they need. And mum understands! It's a language that transcends words and cultures. But what about as adults? Relationship with touch and physical expression is unique for all of us. Our nervous systems have been toned, our past experiences are informing the present moment, and our cultural lens are all in the room. So there is no on-size-fits-all when it comes to peoples' preference and expression of touch and movement.
The literature suggests that touch stimulates pressure receptors under the skin leading to increased vagal tone. This leads to a reduction in stress hormones and can increase the amount of killer cells (a type of immune cell), that can help fight off nasty bacteria and viruses. Ultimately, invited touch (and self-touch) benefits your physical and mental health (Field et. al. 2020).
Touch for a lot of people however, can be really intense for a multitude of reasons, like past trauma or maybe avoidant/disorganised attachment styles, and this is something to be aware of, especially in relationship. If two people have opposing attachment styles, you could find yourself in a dynamic that looks like one person craving physical closeness and the other being totally overwhelmed by it. This isn't a problem in and of itself, challenges can come up because dealing with that dynamic can feel scary, vulnerable and sometimes shaming for one or both of them. Sometimes, the way to start this conversation (or any other conversation that feels too much) can be more effective with movement.
When I lead couples Yoga sessions, the aim is to use the physiological synchrony (thought to increase a sense of togetherness and cohesion between people) being generated between you to facilitate connection and recalibrate together. One great thing about this is that physiological synchrony just happens, with zero effort. All that is required is proximity to another. What a cool phenomenon! Some of the practice takes place back-to-back, which can feel really soothing for people who like closeness but feel overwhelmed by eye-contact. You can find out more here.
Like I mentioned earlier, touch and movement is the primacy of language, and you don't have to know someone to experience it. There is a really cool piece of research (Hertenstein et. al 2009) that revealed accuracy rates for understanding the emotion of another through touch, fell between 48%-83% , between strangers! My mum shared a story about something she recently experienced. Almost a year ago, she lost her life-partner, and the other day she bumped into an acquaintance. He offered some words to say how sorry he was to hear about what happened, and then placed a gentle hand on my mums back. This simple gesture moved my mum to tears, even when she was telling me the story! She felt truly connected and seen in this moment - by someone who isn't even a close friend. It made her realise how rarely she experiences this kind of human connection, especially since the famous-flu has reduced so much of the community interaction. She felt so considered, and held in that moment, and it took her by surprise. A simple touch was able to transmit the genuine expression of another.
Words can often fall short of delivering a complete understanding.
Connection and communication through the lens of touch and movement exists across a spectrum, and I want to leave you with an example of the other side of the spectrum.
I remember when I received my first ever client booking, I was so excited! Arms in the air, bopping around, my parter gave me a massive congratulations-hug and SHARED the experience with me. My experience was enhanced because of the dimension that another person brings. Being hugged and held with the energy of yay-you-did-it! was playful, connecting and awesome.
I invite you to lean into curiosity, and playfulness!