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Touch Heals

“A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said.”  Matthew 8:2-3

Jesus is constantly touching and laying his hands on sick people throughout the gospels, and they are restored. Many churches have continued the practice of laying hands on people for healing.  But what is the purpose of the practice? Reassurance? Connection? Transfer of Spiritual power?  Science has an explanation.  Skin.

Human skin has pressure receptors that when activated through hugs, hand-holding and head stroking and even a reassuring hand on the shoulder tell the brain to release neuro-chemicals–specifically dopamine and oxytocin.  These chemicals not only make us feel good–they actually decrease blood pressure and inflammation and strengthen our immune systems.   Oxytocin has also been shown to regenerate muscle tissue in old mice.

Unfortunately, touch has been discouraged in Anglo society.  In 1928, John Watson, the influential psychologist who founded “behaviorism,” wrote the popular parenting book, Psychological Care of the Infant and Child.  He advised, “Never hug and kiss [your children], never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight….” Touch continues to be highly discouraged in our society through such mechanisms as “no-touch” policies in schools.  We have become fearful of touch–the very thing that is shown to reduce fear!

So, apart from an occasional hand-shake or fist bump, many people do not experience touch at all. As a result, more and more people are experiencing what psychologists call “skin-hunger” or “touch-hunger.”  What’s the prescription for skin-hunger and better overall mental and physical health?  Hug more.  According to neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, we need at least 8 hugs a day.  And the more–and the longer–the better!  From experience, we know that the most effective hugs come from someone we already trust.

Jesus was on to something.  Touch heals.



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