For thousands of years, healers in India have understood the importance of maintaining balance in the body for optimal health and developed a system called Ayurveda, or the ‘science of life’. Massage was but one of the many tools Ayurveda had to offer as philosophies and practices from the far East made their way to Mediterranean cultures.
Documentation of the healing power of touch is found on artwork from thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece and Egypt. In the 5th century BCE Hippocrates, whom we know today as the Greek Father of Medicine, spelled out the benefits of what he termed anatripsis, which means to rub or to create friction. He revolutionized medicine in his day by encouraging good eating habits, exercise, rest, fresh air, and music to rejuvenate the body. He also strongly advocated the use of oils and herbs while rubbing the body to treat pain and disease. Unlike his contemporaries who viewed the body as a collection of parts, he saw the body as a unified whole and treated it as such.
In stark contrast, anthropologist, Ashley Montagu, wrote in his seminal work, The Human Significance of the Skin, “that the impersonality of life in the Western world has become such that we have produced a race of untouchables. We have become strangers to each other, not only avoiding but even warding off all forms of ‘unnecessary’ physical contact, faceless figures in a crowded landscape, lonely and afraid of intimacy.”
Groundbreaking research in the last century shows us how just how powerful the human touch can be. It calms the nervous system, activates the vagus nerve, which is involved with compassion, and most remarkable, touch is responsible for the release of oxytocin, the love hormone. Touch signals intimacy and helps build trust between individuals. It is vital for optimal health.