“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth” – Margaret Atwood
Just like the elves that sweep into the shoe shop during the night time to repair any shoes that are in need of some handy-work in the fairy tale ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, so the Wellness therapists sweep through the camps in Londolozi like silent elves to work on any bodies that are in need of some down-time of their own.
We are often presented with the same question, from both guests and staff alike:
What is it about touch that makes you wish to work within another person’s personal space with your hands?
From an external perspective, this is a relevant and good question.
Gary Chapman’s 1995 bestselling book, titled “The Five Love Languages” outlines five fundamental ways we, as humans, express, experience and understand love.
These involve giving gifts, spending quality time with other(s), words of affirmation, acts of service, and affection through physical touch.
We use all, some, or one of these depending on our individual natures… Ultimately communicating our affections, emotions, and desires to one another through these various forms of love.
One of the most special parts of Chapman’s book is the fact that, once we understand these love languages within our own actions, we can see and receive them from others too. Of course, this covers friends, acquaintances, partners, work colleagues and lovers alike.
With this in mind, the act of physical touch is ultimately the front-running sensory means of expression through which we, as therapists, as well as animals, are predominantly wired to use in order to connect with those around us.
Benefits are seen to stem from the very beginning of life, as new-borns are placed on the chest of the mother to soothe and comfort the new life. Out here, in Africa, we witness touch in the primates around us which spend between 10 to 20 percent of their waking day grooming one other. We witness big cats nuzzling each other and elephants interlinking trunks as a means of close communication.
If we then return to the idea of physical touch among humans, from a physiological perspective, working on the surface of the skin involves the somatosensory system, which links directly to the sensory nervous system within the body.
By stimulating various receptor cells on the surface of the skin, messages are sent along neurons to the brain for processing. These messages reach the brain and a few things happen;
Basic warm touch initiates the body’s relaxation response by stimulating the vagus nerve – the body’s largest cranial nerve that controls the involuntary nervous system and controls all unconscious procedures in the body such as breathing, digestion, and heart rate.
Touch also triggers the release of ‘the love hormone’ oxytocin, which floods the body with a feeling of bliss and happiness and is easily witnessed in the relaxed body-language, seen through our eyes us as we work during a session.
By knowing that this is all happening on a physical level, we also know that most people function from within their heads rather than from within their bodies; making decisions, plans, sticking to schedules, deadlines etc… And by catalysing these various sensations within the body through our array of various sessions, we can see that the hands-on touch puts a person back into a place of functioning from within the body, through the senses… essentially a reconnection to one’s own body.
At Londolozi, the high-paced continuum of modern stress lifestyles is supplemented with the chance to slow down, reconnect with what and who is around, and appreciate simply experiencing life as it happens, rather than running on a mad, no-contact hamster wheel. As therapists, we see how the concept of touch has disappeared within the lifestyles of so many of our guests and thrive off being able to use our love language to bring a person back to earth through a thorough session of hands-on bodywork.
It’s essentially our conversation within the workspace; an inward inquiry as to what is happening on a physical level within the body, and the ability to work to release the tensions from a deeper level, restoring the body to a place of equilibrium or balance and reconnection of body, mind, soul. To provide a famous Londolozi treatment, but really, to facilitate the process of reconnection.
Our love language puts us into people’s vulnerable spaces which carry all sorts of weird and wonderful life-stories and body-things imaginable. Tales of triumph and loss, of dreams and love, to snores, to tears, to scars, sighs and tickly spots. All make for their own unique storyline.
And so, while touch is seen to be a necessity innate in humans and animals alike, we can recognize how we can find the biggest gifts through this love language of ours… That of healing and connection.
I suppose our work really is our ‘love made visible’.
What is your language of love?