The Healing Power of Touch

Lifestyle Notes

Volume CIII, No. 12December, 2003

Dr. Diane Gioia-Bargonetti

All good musicians understand the concept of touch. Many of you spend a lifetime trying to blend your body type with your instrument in hopes of finding the nirvana of comfort, sound and ultimate expression – a synchronization of your individual spirit, mind and body. How does this concept of touch apply to life in general?

We all know the world is not what it used to be and you almost feel like you have to have a defensive strategy to get through each day. Vitamins, the correct foods, herbs and homeopathic remedies are just a few of the daily fortifications for your body. Some of us buy insurance; others drive big, intimidating vehicles on the road – all in an attempt to feel more secure. We wear gloves, incessantly wash our hands, and, in some countries, people are even driven to wear facemasks for protection. As we alarm-proof our little world, what might we be losing?

According to research on the benefits of physical contact, quite a lot!

The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical Center reports one of the most powerful physiological outcomes from loving touch is the dip in the stress hormone cortisol.

Another benefit is its boost to the immune system. People who hold hands and give and receive hugs experience convincing benefits to heart rate and blood pressure.


I urge musicians to apply the principle of touch to their life and see what sweet music they make. Maybe a simple pat on the back or saying, “Gee, that was a great lick,” could turn an intense rehearsal or session into a healthy experience for all!

Magnanimous behavior of any kind can help depression, reduce stress and invigorate and rejuvenate not only the receiving person but also the giver. In essence, you help yourself when you are kind to others.

With the holiday season approaching, it is a comfortable time to implement loving touch. Around now, people are naturally friendlier and you won’t feel so awkward initiating contact with others. As loving touch can manifest itself in many different ways (not just the usual physical contact), here are some simple habits you can incorporate into your routine:

  • Say thank you, excuse me, forgive me or I’m sorry.
  • Offer any kind words, like, “Wow, you look terrific,” or “Hey, you sound great.”
  • Ask, “Can I help you?”
  • Show a loving smile.

In last month’s article, kissing was discussed as one of the most efficient ways to spread the flu – and since kissing is such a show biz greeting, we need to substitute this behavior with other ways to say hello. Try handshakes, pats on the back, a distant wave, tipping your hat, miming throwing a kiss, or giving a simple hug. (You need to decipher the appropriate greeting according to your relationship with that person.) The point is to reach out to those around you – those you work with and especially those at home.


Studies show that using loving touch on infants results in less crying, less stress and greater sociability. Positive weight gain and growth are also benefits from applied touch to infants.

So, for struggling parents, give massage a try. Basically, I recommend that all parents add a good dose of touch to their children’s diet and exercise program for optimum health – no matter what age. Studies confirm that growth, development and learning increase with massage. Give your child a backrub as you sit watching television, or rub their feet or head and watch them melt. Eventually, they will seek out this special time of loving touch with you. It is intensely personal and powerful and takes little effort.

Don’t discount giving or receiving loving touch through massage from your significant other. The intimacy of personal massage works wonders on all kinds of relationship problems for adults as well as children. Add aromatherapy for increased benefits. (Rosemary increases alertness and skill functioning and lowers anxiety; lavender increases relaxation and improves performance with skill-oriented tasks.)

I also suggest you treat yourself to the ultimate gift of a massage. I know it seems indulgent and frivolous, but it isn’t necessarily expensive. At Fishion Herb Center in Chinatown (169 Hester Street, 212-966-8771) you get an hour massage for $35 from someone trained in traditional Chinese medicine. You can also get a foot reflexology session for $25 (40 minutes) or a shoulder massage (15 minutes for $10.) A place where even musicians can afford to pamper themselves!

The health benefits of massage are well documented. These include:

  • Improving alertness and comprehension;
  • Treating dermatitis;
  • Decreasing blood pressure and anxiety;
  • Helping with bulimia and anorexia
  • Treating ADHD and even asthma (through increased pulmonary function);
  • Decreasing glucose levels, which eases diabetes;
  • Helping the body’s immune system by increasing the amounts of natural killer cells that can attack H.I.V. and cancer.

Self-massage, as well, helps with issues of particular interest to musicians:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Stretching tendons alleviates pain in as little as one month. I also recommend arnica cream (available at health food storess) for soreness – use generously day and night.

Smoking. Rubbing earlobes and hands reduces cravings and anxious behavior. (Remember, a few drops of the herb stevia on your tongue offer additional help with this problem.)


Therapeutic touch is fast becoming a popular CAM (Complementary Alternative Medicine) therapy in many hospitals. The therapeutic use of hands is an ancient example of treatment that goes back some 5,000 years. Healing touch is a universal human act – a healing meditation – that we have all but forgotten in this scientific and perhaps anti-human age we live it. There is significant evidence that therapeutic touch can:

  • Affect the patient’s brain waves;
  • Affect the patient’s blood components;
  • Elicit relaxation;
  • Relieve pain.

So, if you find yourself in a hospital or have a loved one there, do everyone a favor and inquire into whether this service is available to you. (There is usually a nurse trained in this service.)

This holiday season, I wish you all a big, healthy hug and just in case you overindulge, remember, Nux vomica (30c), will help you recover in order to continue being kind to others!