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Written by Dr. Marc Halpern   

Hands Touching

Part 6: The Sadhana Of Healthy Touch


Our sense of touch is one of our most human traits and penetrates the core of our needs. Through our sense of touch we help shape the world around us by manipulating tools, and also bring the external world inside of our selves. Our sense of touch pervades our skin from head to toe and to some extent touch allows us to perceive even inside the body. Through our sense of touch, we discover if the world is hot or cold, heavy or light, moist or dry, smooth or dull, rough or sharp. Perhaps most importantly, touch lets us know whether our most immediate environment is pleasurable or painful.

Just how important is touch? Research shows that the bodies of babies require touch in order to adequately grow. Psychological studies reveal that how and how much we are touched play important roles in our emotional development. Touch informs us of our relationship with our surroundings. If we cannot feel the world around us, we cannot live in it. It is through our sense of touch that we know where our feet are when we walk, what is in our hands, when there is food in our mouths or if we have been physically injured. The sense of touch and the pleasure it can bring are what drew our parents together resulting in our own births. So if it were not for the sense of touch, you might not be here to read this article.

What we call our sense of touch is actually several mechanisms working together. Inside the skin are multiple receptors capable of differentiating temperature, pressure and body position as well as pleasure and pain. These receptors connect to afferent nerves which carry the signal describing the sensation to the spinal cord. Here the signal is transferred to another nerve which assesses the data and, if appropriate, sends a signal up the spinal column to a part of the brain known as the somatosensory cortex where the data is interpreted and identified.

Touch from an Ayurvedic Perspective

Skin is the barrier between the outside environment and the inside of our bodies. It is produced as a secondary tissue to the formation of muscle, or mamsa dhatu (muscle tissue); and the health of both the skin and muscle are intimately connected. The health of the skin is also directly affected by the rasa (plasma), rakta (red blood cells) and medas dhatus (fat). The state of the rasa dhatu determines the moistness of the skin, a function of sweat. The state of the medas dhatu determines the oiliness or lubrication of the skin and the state of rakta dhatu determines the warmth of the skin. While each of these dhatus impacts the health of the skin, touch disorders are not primarily a result of faulty skin but rather of a dysfunction of the majja dhatu (the nervous system tissue) and/or majavaha srota (the channel that carries nerve impulses).

The state of prana vayu (the force of attraction) determines our level of desire and the type of touch we attract to us. Once received, the touch sensation is digested in the skin and is carried by samana vayu through the majja dhatu and majjavaha srota toward the brain. In the brain, the information is digested by sadhaka pitta and becomes understandable.

Touch Disorders due to Doshic Imbalances

The two primary categories of touch disorders are hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity. Hypersensitivity occurs when vata dosha enters into the majja dhatu and majjavaha srota. When vata becomes vitiated, touches that are meant to feel nice, comforting or soothing become bothersome and irritating. It is not unusual for some people with this condition to avoid being touched all together.

Hyposensitivity can occur from either vata or kapha doshas entering into the majja dhatu. Excessive kapha or excessive kapha slows down nerve impulses and makes it more difficult for them to fire effectively. As a result, sensation is decreased or muted and most sensations feel dull. Vata dosha vitiation in the majja dhatu can also result in hyposensitivity. This occurs when excess vata weakens or damages the nerve. Demyelinization of the nerve as occurs in multiple sclerosis is one such example.

The Sadhana of Healthy Touch

A healthy lifestyle is the foundation for a healthy sense of touch. This lifestyle begins by understanding the balance of doshas in your body and then adopting the proper diet and daily routines. The sadhana (personal practice) of healthy touch begins with making harmonious choices for how we are touched by others and how we touch ourselves. The most universally disharmonious form of touch is to be hit. There is no real universally harmonious form of touch, as like food, nothing is right for everyone and everything is right for someone.

Attracting Touch

Ayurveda and Yoga teach us that how we are touched is based on karma (our own actions, both conscious and unconscious in the past and present, in this life and in previous lifes). Most of our actions are taken unconsciously and are based on deep seated tendencies that in Yoga are called samskaras. These tendencies attract touch to us. When we receive touch we do not like or too much or too little touch, this becomes an opportunity to explore conscious actions that attract a different experience. Even when we become conscious, we do not immediately know how to attract the touches we want or to repel the ones we do not, any more than we know how to attract money or power. It is a learning experience often explored through trial and error or though the guidance of experienced teachers. It is difficult to act in a manner contrary to one’s deep seated tendencies. New actions require awareness and discipline and this is how we grow.

Self Massage: The Art of Touching Yourself

Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic art of massage. While you can go to an Ayurvedic practitioner for an abhyanga and it will be a wonderful experience, it is also an important practice in Ayurveda to massage yourself with warm oil every morning. Self- massage with oil is also called snehana which means to love or show affection. Daily Ayurvedic self-massage expresses your self-love and affection and is one of the most important ways to nourish yourself through your sense of touch. Abhyanga keeps your skin healthy, your circulation moving and your nervous system relaxed and balanced. Performing daily abhyanga is a strong statement that you are committed to receiving only the highest quality touch sensations.

To massage yourself, first select the right oil for you. For pacifying vata dosha during the fall and early Winter seasons, use sesame oil, for pitta dosha use a mixture of sesame and sunflower oils and for kapha dosha use a mixture of sesame and safflower or mustard oils. Place a bottle of massage oil in a saucepan full of water and warm it up to body temperature. Apply liberally to as much of your body as you can reach. Leave it on for at least 15-20 minutes before showering and let it absorb into your skin. When you shower, avoid using soap except where necessary. Pat yourself dry. For more specific instruction see an Ayurvedic practitioner.

Receiving Healthy Touch from Others

It is important to attract positive touch into your life. Healthy touch is sensual but not necessarily sexual. While sexual touches should be reserved for the person who is most special in your life, sensual touch needs to be a part of a daily routine. Whether receiving a therapeutic massage or having your hair stroked by good friend or lover, healthy touch nourishes you physically and emotionally.

One of the most important forms of touch is giving and receiving hugs. The touch of a hug brings the hearts of two people together. A hug is one of those special touches you can offer to even casual acquaintances that nourishes both the giver and the receiver. How much hugging is healthy? I have not heard of anyone overdosing. Hugging is a safe and effective treatment for all forms of stress and it can be administered by anyone.

Dr. Marc Halpern is the founder and president of the California College of Ayurveda (ayurvedacollege.com) and co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (ayurveda-nama.org) and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (ayurveda-caam.org). He is also a yogi in the lineage of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnu Devananda. Look for his new book, Healing Your Life: Lessons on the Path of Ayurveda next spring on Lotus Press. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by calling (866) 541 - 6699.

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