The Healing Power Of Touch

You Are Beautiful, and I am so grateful you exist!!

Welcome to your Wednesday Wellness Reflection,

A little exploration on the importance of healing touch during a time much of our world is deprived of positive physical contact.

Compassionate touch is one of the most sacred ways we can connect as beings; it allows us to move beyond the physical barriers we create and respond to each other in a deeply nourishing and healing way.

As the number of cases of illness in all of its forms increases in our world, there also exists an increased need to connect in this heartfelt healing and loving way, especially as we navigate a world where physical contact has been greatly withdrawn over the past year.  We are coming through a very fear infused and touch deprived chapter in many of our lives.

Touch given with a therapeutic and compassionate  intention has the potential to affect an individual physically, emotionally, and spiritually; it can soothe physical pain; and also create space for the mind to come to a place of stillness and acceptance.  Through simply being present with an individual and offering comfort, not ignoring their pain or even necessarily trying to fix their condition, an environment for a deeper level of healing is fostered.

When I began giving massage therapy to individuals with cancer, through complex care and at end of life; it increased my understanding of human suffering and the ways in which it is a shared suffering.  I have also witnessed the incredible impact touch can have on an individual when one meets them in this place.

My hands have made contact with a person and the separation between us seems to dissolve. I have physically felt and seen peoples bodies soften and rest into the support of the therapeutic massage, the healing intention and my hands.  I have watched their breath become deeper and more restful as they respond while the treatment helps to soothe their pain – on a physical and an emotional level.  It is in these moments that I truly understand the phenomenal power of touch.

Massage is a safe therapy to receive with many conditions, however this does not negate that there are important considerations when receiving treatment.  It is important to ensure you work with someone who understands pathology and the changing needs of the body.  With careful modifications, a well-trained and educated therapist can provide massage during diagnosis, during medical treatment, when in remission, through palliative care with a terminal diagnosis and through survivorship.

The benefits, which I have witnessed first hand, are invaluable. Reflecting on my clinical experience over the past 20 years, as well as reference to the reputable studies that have successfully been done, massage has helped people with; pain management, anxiety, depression, disconnection from the body and/or from people, self esteem, body image, muscular tension, stiffness and pain, nausea, fatigue and feelings of isolation or loneliness. It can also help with the emotional impact of the awareness of a problem that needs care, and a diagnosis of any type.

When I enter a therapeutic relationship I also often find that a primary goal of our time together, is to support the reintegration of a person, reminding them that they are so much more than a diagnosis, so much more.  Often what is needed most is a safe place to rest, to offer comfort, to offer positive and very human care, and to help with symptom relief specific to the individual

Massage  and therapeutic touch have the potential to be such a healing and supportive addition to a persons circle of care.  Every person is unique, and every person’s story is unique, which needs to be deeply honoured regardless of what a person is going through.  The experiences and the stories I have been privileged to share with people through my hands and my heart have shaped me as a massage therapist, as a yoga teacher and how I experience life as a whole.

General guidelines of important medical areas to discuss with your therapist would look something like this:

(adapted from Tracy Walton’s “Massage therapy for people with cancer:  Fear and Healing”)

  • Whether/how/where issue is currently manifesting
  • Current or past  treatments (surgery/radiation/chemo/bone marrow transplant/etc.), side effects, complications, and discuss how this will be considered in the massage treatment
  • Discuss lymph node involvement and risk of lymphodema
  • Discuss medications and their effects
  • Discuss if dialogue with your medical doctor would be appropriate and necessary, based on your health history, status, and stage of progression.
  • A continued update to any changes in your health is essential, and it is also necessary to check your response to every massage treatment to ensure you are always getting the best possible care.
  • Most importantly, how YOU are

This is definitly a simplification and a general look at some key specific medical areas that need to be covered when you have a more complex condition and you’re seeing a massage therapist for the first time. Not all areas noted above will be relevant to everyone, and in other people there will be a need to expand on the complexity of the above information.  When these concerns are discussed openly and honestly between you and your therapist, there will be a greater sense of trust and the treatment can proceed with more confidence for everyone involved.

The gift of touch is shared, as is the suffering, and connecting in this way can pave the path for true compassion and healing.  It is my hope that we as a society will not continue to embrace the fear of the unknown or the fear of illness, but rather embrace the mystery and humanness of life.  There is a sacred element in sharing this journey with others through touch.  The people that I have worked with have allowed me to integrate the beauty and the intuition of massage, but also to deeply respect the science behind massage, the body and disease and to see how massage can positively affect a person when the bridge between the science and the art are joined in a mindful way.

With a deep respect for the human body, and the safe spaces where we can put ourselves back together again,

Much love, Amber

(This is a modified piece I wrote –  honouring where we find ourselves in the present,  previously published with the Victoria Cancer Resource Center newsletter, and the East Coast massage network conference publication on cancer and massage)