My parents -while loving people – are not touchers. It’s not a judgment, just an observation that they were simply not into PDA. When I was in 3rd grade, I remember seeing my friend Deirdre’s parents holding hands and they might as well have been naked.
So I surprised myself when, two days after the shootings at Sandy Hook, I registered for a weekend yoga teacher training called Hands on Healing. Normally the words “Hands On” would send me running, but this time was different….I was different. I kept asking myself: “What needs to change in this world? Where does healing begin?”
The training is one module in a larger program called TIMBo (Trauma Informed Mind Body Program), developed by my brilliant and ballsy friend Sue Jones and her nonprofit yogaHOPE. TIMBo is designed to address the effect that trauma and stress have on the mind and body. One way to do that is through what Sue calls “safe touch.”
As the training date loomed closer, I began to doubt my decision. I mean, Phil once diagnosed me with Intimacy-Induced Rigor Mortis….not a good indicator of having Healing Hands.
On Day 1, we were instructed to draw a “Body Map:” a partner-drawn outline of your body on butcher paper. After our bodies were traced, we were instructed to color our body parts with either a red, yellow, or green crayon.
Green = I am OK Being Touched Here
Yellow = It Depends
on How Many Drinks I’ve Had
Red = Hands Off Bitches
Then we hung them up on the wall.
I looked around. Everyone’s map included some red crayon, but mostly in the obvious places: the chest area and what some yogis like to call “the Sacred Triangle.”
Then, there was my body map.
Mine was red. Really red. Like, all over. Even my ankles were yellow. When I showed it to Phil he said, “maybe if I get you drunk enough, we can rub elbows later.”
At first I felt bad about my frozen tundra of a body map. Shameful, in fact. What is wrong with me? Why am I such a frigid bitch?
But then, we meditated. The stillness allowed me to reconnect with myself. Afterward, we had some beautifully raw discussions. The reciprocal vulnerability that accompanies the sharing of stories allowed me to reconnect with other women…brave, trustworthy women.
The purpose of any map is to let you know when you are on track and when you might be a little lost. I realized it was the stress and shame that was keeping me stuck in the red.
So what do I do about it?
I stimulate some oxytocin.
Oxytocin, aka. the “hugging hormone” is a chemical messenger released upon stimulation in the brain and blood. It is shown to lower stress, cortisol levels, and blood pressure. According to neuroeconomist Paul Zak, oxytocin also has been shown to increase trust, connection, and overall well-being.
The Bad News: Stress and shame shut down the secretion of oxytocin.
The Good News: You have the power to stimulate oxytocin through activities like praying, dancing….even Facebook. But the #1 way to really get it going is touch: hugging, massage, cuddling….you get the picture.
Of course this seems like a Catch 22: If my body map is one big STOP sign, isn’t this saying that I don’t like to be touched? That being touched causes stress? And doesn’t stress inhibit the secretion of oxytocin?
Well, yeah. So I start with the people I trust. Mounting the mailman might not be the best place to start. The UPS guy, on the other hand…..
For me, the best place to start was my kids, my dog, and Phil. Not necessarily in that order. But most likely.
Paul Zak prescribes “8 hugs a day to be happier.” With Emma, this is pretty easy. The kid loves to be hugged, stroked, tickled….she can’t get enough. Phoebe, on the other hand, is a little more reserved. I tried to rub her back at bedtime once and she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Uhh, dat’s annoying.”
When your kid is in school all day, it is surprisingly tough to fit in 8 REAL hugs. So with Emma I have been taking advantage of bedtime to really get her oxytocin flowing. As a little yogini, she is familar with the resting pose of Savasana and loves to be my “student” as I practice my assisting skills. I massage her feet and hands (both chock full of nerve receptors) and then move up to her head and jaw. The result? One blissed out little 1st grader.
With Phoebe, I have to be a little sneakier with the magic hands. A few times I have asked her, “do you want a hug?” to which she responds, “uhhh, no tanks.” Bathtime is my prime opportunity. By bathtime I am usually ready to punch my time card. I typically
hose her down like a circus elephant move at a pretty clipped pace to keep the bedtime train chugging along.
But now I savor this time. When shampooing her hair, I pretend I am working in a salon and give her the full court press. I focus on massaging her scalp which, as the washer, is oddly relaxing. By the time we are done, I feel like I am the one who had the bath. And last night, as I put on her pjs, she actually said, “Hey, uhh, I ready for dat hug now.”
I am telling you, this shit works.
Try it: give someone a hug, get a massage, give your
husband dog some heavy petting. You have nothing to lose. In fact, the more touch I give, the more I am willing to receive.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date to rub elbows with Phil.