I discovered a new word last night. And the way in which it occurred was unexpected. Serendipitous, you might say.
My daughter was tearful at bedtime; her daddy is still away with work, she has returned to school this week after the Christmas holidays, and she is tired. She'd also been to Brownies, so was later than usual going to bed. She was a little weepy, and asked me to stay with her and stroke her hair. This is something I have done since the children were born, and I've always found it to be soothing; not only for them, but also for me. It helps me to feel more connected to them and the gentle, repetitive action helps me regulate my heart rate and breathing, which they respond to by slowing their breathing, too.
In our Relax Kids and Baby Mindful classes, we use touch or "feel" as one of our 7 steps to relaxation. We show how touch can be relaxing and reassuring. We explain how we can use our sense of touch to soothe and to help regulate our emotions, often through peer or self-massage. It was the first session of a new term for my Magical Adventures class yesterday and, with new children in the group, we revisited why and how we use peer massage. I thought about it a lot on the way home, too, reflecting on how it always makes me smile to see the children be so kind and caring towards each other in that moment, and how it is so sad that they are often warned against touch, being told to "keep their hands to themselves" rather than being shown how to use their hands more positively, or that teachers and carers are so often scared to touch children, for fear their intentions may be misconstrued or allegations may be made.
We have so many ways to communicate positively through touch: the gentle squeeze of a hand to say "It's ok, I'm with you"; the gentle nudge to say "make some room for me"; the steady hand on the back to guide through the crowd; the fierce hug when you've been away; the high five to celebrate success.
Touch is important. Important for our physical health and emotional wellbeing. Accepted physical touch releases oxytocin, a hormone which promotes bonding and trust. It also reduces the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, reducing blood pressure and lowering the heart rate. When we massage and relax our muscles, we can also boost our immune response. There are numerous benefits to people of all ages, from babies who receive "skin-to-skin" contact after birth, to people who suffer from Alzheimers, receiving massage or touch therapy.
And, if we apply mindfulness to the sense of touch, those benefits can be even more powerful.
So, back to last night . . . When I had settled my daughter, I came downstairs, made a cup of tea and sat down to flick through a magazine (a rare treat!). I turned to the back page (I am a little peculiar, in that I often read magazines and booklets from back to front), and there was a list of words that have no simple translation into English. And the one that jumped out at me was a Brazilian Portuguese word: "cafuné" - the act of tenderly running your fingers through someone's hair.
And I wanted to share it. This one, small word, that describes a gentle, affectionate gesture, that can bring so much pleasure. Don't take touch for granted. Cherish it.