During this period of self-isolation, I believe self-touch to be more important than ever.
As a somatic therapist, supportive touch (with the consent of the client) can be one of the most powerful tools I utilize.
I know firsthand the healing power of touch and the deep connection to self and others it can provide — often much more than any words can.
In this way, as a therapist, I offer contact to parts of my clients that may feel pain, tension, or trauma arising in any given moment. The mind-body connection is an important part of healing!
For example, if I had a client who was talking to me about their childhood wounding, and I noticed that they’re grabbing their neck, raising their shoulders, and grimacing their face, I might ask them to directly explore those sensations.
Rather than continuing to talk and ignore these physical manifestations, I would invite them to bring more curiosity to what they’re experiencing physically. I might even offer a supportive hand to their shoulder or upper back (with consent, of course).
Of course, there are a lot of questions around how therapists like myself can utilize touch when many of us are now practicing digitally. This is where supportive self-touch can be useful.
But how, exactly, would it work? I’ll use this example to illustrate three different ways self-touch can be therapeutic:
With the client above, I might ask them to place a hand near the source of their physical tension.
This might look like asking my client to place their hand on the side of their neck and breathe into that space, or to explore if a self-embrace would feel supportive.
From there, we’d practice some mindfulness! Tracking and scanning any sensations, emotions, thoughts, memories, images, or feelings arising at that moment in their bodies — noticing, not judging.
Often a sense of release and even relaxation arises when we intentionally tend to our discomfort, even with the simplest gestures.
Ready to try it?
Care to try using touch to notice quickly in this very moment? Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly, breathing deeply. What do you notice coming up for you?
Voila! Even if you’re having a hard time noticing anything, that’s important to know, too! You’ve gained some new information about your mind-body connection to explore later on.
Self-massage can be a powerful way to release tension. After noticing tension in the body, I often direct my clients to utilize self-massage.
In our example above, I might ask my client to bring their own hands to their neck, gently applying pressure, and exploring how it feels. I’d also invite them to explore where else on their bodies touch could feel supportive.
I like to ask clients to be mindful of the amount of pressure they’re applying, and to notice if other sensations arise in other places in the body. I also encourage them to make adjustments, and observe how this feels, too.
Ready to try it?
Take a moment to notice how much you may be clenching your jaw right now. Are you surprised at what you’ve discovered?
Whether or not you’re fully aware of it, many of us hold stress in our jaws, making it a wonderful place to explore self-massage!
If it’s accessible to you, I invite you to take one or both hands, find your jawline, and begin to gently massage into it, increasing pressure if it feels appropriate for you. Does it feel hard to allow release? Does one side feel different from the other?
You can also try opening wide and then closing your mouth a few times, and even try to yawn a couple of times — then notice now how you’re feeling.
Giving clients the space to explore where on their body touch might feel supportive is an important part of the work that I do as a somatic therapist.
This means that I’m not just inviting clients to touch where I’m naming, but to truly explore and find out where touch feels the most restorative for them!
In our example above, my client might start with their neck, but then notice that applying pressure to their biceps feels soothing, too.
This can also bring up areas where touch may feel too triggering. It’s important to remember that this is okay! This is an opportunity to be gentle and compassionate with yourself, honoring that this isn’t what your body needs right now.
Ready to try it?
Take a moment and scan your body, asking yourself this question: What area of my body feels fairly neutral?
This invites exploration from a comfortable place as opposed to from a place of physical pain, which can be complex and confusing.
Perhaps it’s your earlobe or your baby toe or shin — it can be anywhere. Using that place in your body, take your time to explore applying various forms and pressures of touch. Allow yourself to notice what arises for you. Allow yourself to have a conversation with your body, leaning into what feels supportive.
In the video below, I share a couple of examples of simple, supportive self-touch that you can do anytime, anywhere.
The healing power of touch is one that has been discouraged in many cultures, both with others and with ourselves.
During this period of self-isolation, I believe self-touch can be more important than ever. This mind-body disconnect has very painful, even long-term implications.
The empowering thing is that self-touch is a resource that many of us have access to — even if we only have the ability to close our eyes while we notice our internal sensations, like our eyelids coming together or the air moving into our lungs.
Remember to take a moment to breathe and self-soothe, if only for a few minutes. Bringing ourselves back to our bodies, particularly during a time of stress and disconnect, can be a powerful way to take care of ourselves.
Rachel Otis is a somatic therapist, queer intersectional feminist, body activist, Crohn’s disease survivor, and writer who graduated from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco with her master’s degree in counseling psychology. Rachel believes in providing one the opportunity to continue shifting social paradigms, while celebrating the body in all of its glory. Sessions are available on a sliding scale and via tele-therapy. Reach out to her via Instagram.