A yoga teacher friend shared with me that at one studio where she works, teachers are encouraged to offer gentle hands-on assistance to every student, which isn’t unusual. However, most of us don’t work in environments where touch is appropriate, and I’m certainly not encouraging you to do anything that would land you in the HR department. But the reasoning behind the studio policy was interesting to me: Feedback indicated that this assistance was the only time in the day when some people were touched, and if others received hands-on help and they didn’t, they felt slighted. Furthermore, my friend told me that at the end of a class, she always goes around and gives a gentle shoulder massage to each person. But in order to respect boundaries, she first announces her intention to offer the brief massage, then adds, “If you’d rather I pass you by, that’s totally fine. Simply place a hand on your belly so I know.” In seven years, she can count on three fingers the number of people who’ve opted out.
It seems many of us are starved for true, physical connection. But we hold back for a host of reasons, not the least of which is we don’t want to come off as one of those touchy-feely creeps we’ve all encountered. So we avoid all touching, just to be safe. Some people even act as if a handshake is taboo, offering a slack hand and cursory wrist waggle, which is unimpressive, especially in a business setting.
If you were not raised in a demonstrative family, it can be tough to break out of that mold. Consider, though, that science has proven the myriad health benefits of touch, including lowered blood pressure and increased immunity. Neurologists have found that it doesn’t matter if you’re the toucher or touchee – connecting more with others on even the smallest physical level creates positive feelings.
Sure, it can feel awkward at first to touch others if you’re not used to it. So start with your loved ones. Be present when you hug each other and hold on a little longer. Then branch out to friends – maybe offer a reassuring shoulder squeeze or pat on the back. Some of this obviously gets tricky when we’re dealing with the opposite sex, but I think it’s clear that I’m not advocating anything shady, like squeezing someone’s thigh or patting their rear — unless you play professional sports. Then, apparently, slapping a teammate’s behind is encouraged. In fact, scientific evidence has shown that athletes who give each other high-fives or an encouraging pat during games do better as a team than the ones who don’t physically interact — just one more piece of evidence that physical contact can have positive benefits. So reach out and touch someone!