english-jack-russell-terrier-0010Moondanz, my 11-year-old Jack Russell terrier, is a lover if ever there was one. She’s a food scarfer, too – but she absolutely loves being held and petted, so much so that if you’re petting her and you stop, she nudges you to start again until you do.

For being such a dog person (we have six in our family, across three households), I sure seem to have a lot of non-dog people in my life. It’s always baffled me just a bit how anyone can live completely alone, without even a pet goldfish or parakeet to talk to. But having a dog – or even a cat – to come home to is a whole different experience. Dogs wait patiently for you to arrive, only to lavish you with love and attention, and with those actions boost your happiness level, which in turn boosts your wellness level.

Come on – even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports the health benefits of pet ownership:

Pets can decrease your:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Triglyceride levels
  • Feelings of loneliness

Pets can increase your:

  • Opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  • Opportunities for socialization

Many groups support the health benefits of pet ownership. You can learn more about the health benefits of pets and how to keep your pets healthy by visiting the following sites.

What they don’t say overtly is that a bunch of that benefit is derived from touching and petting your four-legged companion.

Somewhere along the line, we adult humans have lost our way when it comes to the importance of touch in our lives. Think about how often you hug or touch another person. Chances are good that you touch your dog more – and while, as we’ve mentioned, that’s a beneficial thing – touching a person is even more rewarding.

An article on Unilever details the human need for touch this way:

There is no better way to demonstrate the importance of touch than by examining what happens when we are deprived of it. Most of us have experienced the sensation of touch deprivation at some point – the need to feel the benefits of touch.   But touch deprivation can also have more serious consequences.

In the 19th century, infants in their first year of life commonly died from a disease called Marasmus, a Greek word for “wasting away.” Doctors later discovered that this disease was caused by a lack of touch: babies not touched on a regular basis would literally starve themselves to death.

An amazing study completed in the 20th century by touch researcher Ashley Montagu found that children deprived of loving touch suffer the consequences in their bones – small lines of retarded growth, known as Harris lines, appear at the ends of the tibia and the radius.

And the need for touch doesn’t diminish as we age. In fact, research on adults has proven that touch is essential for physical and emotional well-being: regular touch can lengthen life and cut down on doctor’s visits. Touch provides solace, safety, tenderness and soothing.

They go on to explore the four most prevalent areas where touch plays a key role:

Biological - Studies on infants and children link touch very directly to healthy physical development.   And in people of all ages, touch reduces stress, releases seratonin and oxytocins and reduces cortisone levels in the body.

[A friend and former client of mine, Kelly Damron, eloquently illustrated the importance of touch therapy for premature infants in her book, Tiny Toes: A Couple's Journey Through Infertility, Prematurity, and Depression. She described that the highlight of her days during her twin daughters' stay in the NICU was when it came time for "kangaroo care," a way of holding a preterm infants that creates skin-to-skin contact between the infant and the person holding him or her. The baby, wearing only a diaper, is held against the parent's bare chest. Kangaroo care for preterm infants is typically practiced for two to three hours per day over an extended time period.

Kangaroo care was so named because the method is similar to the way a kangaroo is carried by its mother. Researchers have found that the close physical contact with the parent can help to stabilize the preterm infant's heartbeat, temperature, and breathing. Further, researchers have found that preterm infants who experience kangaroo care have longer periods of sleep, gain more weight, cry less, have longer periods of alertness, and are discharged earlier.]

Communicative – There is perhaps no more effective way to communicate than through touch – in fact, touch produces a series of neural, glandular, muscular and mental changes that we interpret as emotion.

Psychological – Touch provides reassurance and comfort and aids in the development of self-identity and self-esteem.

Social – Research has linked the quality of touch experiences to competence in interpersonal relationships. The ability to trust others, and understand the needs of others, is directly related to touching.

Touch-Centered Gift Ideas

If you’re struggling for a Christmas stocking theme, why not offer the gift of touch? There are tons of options in this arena, but here are just a few to get you started. You can certainly spend a lot of money on these kinds of gifts … or you can take the opportunity to create a new intimacy by performing these touch acts yourself.

Massage - One of the most relaxing ways to destress and unwind, massage offers the recipient the chance to release all the thoughts of the day and be fully pampered. There are many methods of massage and every practitioner has their own specializations. If you’re giving massage as a gift, though, why not offer to do it yourself? Create a quiet opportunity to cherish your loved one, further your touch (but not necessarily sexual) relationship with them, and give of yourself.

Haircut – Who doesn’t feel better after getting a new ‘do? One of the nicest aspects of getting a salon cut is the washing that comes with it. But here’s another opportunity for you to treat your loved one! Draw by hand or on your computer a certificate good for one personal hair-washing. Towel or blowdry afterward and then brush out their tresses. They will feel pampered, and you will feel closer.

Manicure – OK, this one may better be left to the pros … but if you’re open-minded, you may be able to create a manicure day at home. Ladies, perhaps this is something you can think about for your daughters or girlfriends. One of the nicest parts of a manicure is the hand massage, truly a delightful treat.

Spa Day – Package all of the above together into a Spa Day. If you’re really in that giving, intimacy-creating space, see if you can create something like this at home for your loved one. Pack the kids off to Grandma’s or their best friend’s house for the day and take the time to touch your partner in a loving way that doesn’t necessarily lead to sex. Your relationship will be vastly enhanced for your effort.

hug-certificateHugs - Yup. Plain, old-fashined wrap-your-arms-around-‘em hugs. Make this a gift by creating a little book of certificates your loved one can redeem at will. I’ve heard that we each need seven hugs a day to stay healthy. Here’s a perfect way to up your hug ratio.

Reiki – Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy. Find a provider in your area and give a gift certificate.

Rolfing - Rolfing® Structural Integration is a hands-on manipulation developed by Ida P. Rolf 50 years ago. It works on the connective tissue to release, realign and balance the whole body. Rolfing enhances your posture and freedom of movement. It can resolve pain and discomfort from many different causes, including back pain, repetitive motion injury, trauma, and aging. Find a provider in your area and give a gift certificate.

Chiropractic – Chiropractic emphasizes diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine, with the understanding that these disorders affect general health via the nervous system. The main treatment involves manual therapy and manipulation of the spine, other joints, and soft tissue. Treatment also often includes exercise and health and lifestyle couseling. Like massage, there are many different forms of chiropractic. Find a provider in your area and give a gift certificate.

Acupuncture – Acupuncture is a component of  Chinese medicine that can be traced back at least 2,500 years. The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi – pronounced “chee”) through the body that are essential for health. Disruptions of this flow are believed to be responsible for disease. Acupuncture may, it has been theorized, correct imbalances of flow at identifiable points close to the skin.

The thing about the touch therapies mentioned above is that they are not simply reserved for healing, but actually can be very beneficial in maintaining health and preventing illness. The gift of touch. Give it to others and the beneifts will undoubtedly come back to you.