We know from our loving kindness practices that the simple intention of wanting good things for ourselves and others generates well being and happiness for ourselves and affects how we interact with others. Allowing ourselves to open and receive these loving wishes—to really drink them in, creates immediate benefit. When these are combined with touch, the physiological response is strengthened.
The centering exercise we practice in coaching sessions and courses includes bringing our left hand to our heart and our right hand to our belly as a way to deepen our connection to our breath, to our body and to the moment. It can also contribute to a positive physiological response that includes activating the vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response.
Our conscious connection with the moment comes alive as shifting sensations (pressure, texture, temperature, tingling, etc.) flow through us. When we add to that a kind intention to sooth and calm ourselves, our body responds with pleasantness and ease.
Of course, the entire experience is affected by our thoughts of the person giving the touch. For those of us skittish of receiving touch, we can begin our explorations of soothing touch with ourselves. By taking some moments cultivating ease and safety--creating our "compassionate container"--allows the genuine freedom to gently receive our heartfelt good intentions for ourselves. The ability to let down our defenses enough to unreservedly allow an actual experience unhindered by fear, judgment or resistance is a mindfulness practice in itself--a highly worthy one.
Creating a sense of safety and ease with another can also be a conscious and loving practice. Starting with something as simple as a hand massage, a partner can begin by inquiring what we are wanting or needing. A soft, smooth stroking? Just hand holding in stillness? Deep pressure applied to relieve pain?
Once this is known, the giver can respond accordingly, developing a simple feedback exchange. This becomes an additional practice of careful and mindful listening, speaking, giving and receiving. It also gives us the opportunity to learn to ask for what we want. The giver becomes receptive to receiving feedback and modifying actions while the receiver practices giving positive encouragement and corrective requests.
The pause we take after our exploration with touch is a vital part of mindfulness practice. What was the result of our simple actions? What do we notice? What sensations arise? What sensations pass? Where do we let go? Did we start holding on in a new place?
The basic format of the practice, whether practiced alone or with another, is simple:
Soothing touch has myriad benefits for our health and wellness. We can give ourselves this nurturing gift or ask others to support us and reciprocate. Bringing a conscious mindful awareness to the exchange offers us additional benefits.
Mindful Touch Challenge: Spend 5 minutes 5 days a week for two weeks engaging in soothing and nurturing touch. Purposefully pay attention in the body to both giving and receiving. Notice the thoughts that arise in each situation as an additional exploration.
--JoAnn Saccato, MA, teaches mindfulness, the popular health and wellness practice based on purposeful attention to present moment experience. It is a scientifically proven approach that helps reduce stress and stress-related illnesses, increase focus and attention, decrease incidences of and relapses with depression, reduce anxiety, reduce relapses in addiction, and aid in sleep and digestive disorders. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase well being, life satisfaction, happiness, as well as improved social relationships. For more information, visit www.MindfulAndIntentionalLiving.com .
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and the forthcoming Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom