We know this is true, but what about the times when it is just not enough? When we are caught up in a squeaky wheel of spinning thoughts, or escalating emotions to remember to breathe, or when it just doesn’t help? Emotions aren’t phantom dreams playing out like a movie in our brains. They may drive you to feel a contraction in your belly with anxiety, heaviness in your heart or your head throbbing.
Emotions course through the body in a biochemical cascade - cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine – and a breath or two doesn’t always cut through that.
When breath is not enough, the answer is touch
Touch creates instant and unmistakeable neurological and biochemical responses in the body. When we make warm, friendly contact with our physical bodies, our breath becomes more effective at bringing peace to our emotional state. Pleasurable physical sensation allows your body to understand what is happening inside your mind rather than resisting it. This helps you get perspective and you get an idea of how you can handle the situation. The thoughts taking over your mind fade away into the background, or even disappear for a precious moment of unwavering awareness.
Different touch techniques for peace and mindfulness
This kind of touch can be overt if you’re alone or very discreet if you’re in public. Here are five different compassionate touch techniques that will bring peace and mindfulness.
When You Feel Overwhelmed
Rest your hand over your heart, exerting just a little bit of pressure. Feel your heart rising to meet your palm as you deepen your breath and feel your hand pressing gently into your heart as you exhale. This is especially helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed because it creates a sense that there’s enough space to feel everything without having to disconnect, that it’s ok to feel whatever you’re feeling.
When You Feel Unmotivated
Press the fingernail of your thumb into the top of another finger on the same hand. Exhale with force while you go through all the fingertips one by one. In the meridian system of Chinese medicine, these points restore consciousness and calm the spirit. It’s an instant lift for when you’re feeling unmotivated or you’re sinking under dark heavy thoughts.
When You Feel Self-Critical Or Judged
Press your thigh, arm, or the back of your neck when you’re feeling self-critical, judged by others, or unsafe in any way. You are basically giving yourself a big hug, creating a little more trust and letting your body know that everything is going to be okay.
When You Feel Uncertain And Confused
Gently, run your fingertips up to your forehead and through your scalp, and to the back of your neck. Use a gentle or firm touch, whichever feels pleasurable to you. The scalp has more blood vessels than any other area of your body and has lots of nerve endings, so touch brings a lot of energy. Stimulating your scalp, paying attention to the crown is especially helpful in times of confusion, uncertainty or when feeling a lack of pleasure or inspiration in life. This kind of touch helps us to connect to higher wisdom within ourselves.
When You Feel Distracted
Rub your hands together vigorously so that they are warm and then gently press them over your eyes. This sensation can bring us into focus when distracted or when you have racing thoughts. It helps you digest all the information your eyes take in throughout the day.
The science behind touch healing it all
While all this feels incredible, there are scientific reasons behind this. A touch, like a hug from a friend, stimukates the release of oxytocin, the neurochemical that can help you feel safe and trust what is happening at the moment. Oxytocin is a peptide produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and is an essential neurotransmitter within the brain that affects several important areas in the central nervous system (CNS). It regulates social interactive behaviours, fear, aggression, pain, calm, wellbeing, and stress reactions by modulating the activity of the HPA-axis and the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system1.
We have the power to elicit the same response on our own. Warm, friendly self-touch, in particular, calms down our neurophysiology of stress, deactivating the stress-related regions of the brain when experiencing a difficult emotion. This is especially true for women. A UCLA study shows that women tend more towards a “Tend-and-Befriend”, not “Fight-or-Flight” response to stressors. Women respond more quickly to nurturing and healing modalities “that downregulate sympathetic and hypo-thalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) responses to stress”, like touch. 2
The next time you’re feeling stressed out, try offering yourself the gift of your own healing touch, then immerse into your breath.
(This article is authored by Alexia Komninos, Lac)
1.Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Handlin, L., & Petersson, M. (2015). Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01529
2.Taylor,S., Klein,L., Lewis,B., Gruenewald, T., Gurung,R. & Updegraff, J. (2000). Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: Tend-and-Befriend, Not Fight-or-Flight. Psychological Review, Vol. 107, No. 3, 411-429. Vol. 107, No. 3, 411-429
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