Making sense of nature: touch

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Our sense of touch is more than skin deep. It touches us deeply – physically, mentally and emotionally.

Babies learn from an early age by putting things in their mouths. Those with sight loss may navigate and read with their fingertips.  People with congenital hearing loss use the auditory cortex to process touch stimuli and visual stimuli to a much greater degree than occurs in hearing people thereby pressing under-utilised areas of the brain into sensory service.

Touch is a type of non-verbal communication. In the animal kingdom behaviours based on touch are very important for keeping family and group members together (‘bonding’). You see this with monkeys and their grooming. Touch is calming, reassuring and charged with bio-electricity. Contact with a mother, a lover or a friend can make the world feel a better place and release the hormone oxytocin. Even in language we say ‘we feel’: it is deeply connected to our emotions. Sometimes we are deeply touched.

We want nature to be the carrier of change that deeply touches our clients.

Touch can be associated with the sense of heat, cold and pain but the refreshing breeze, the enticing kiss of a snowflake, the warming glow of the morning sun or the bracing pressure of a mountain stream can give delight and joy. Touch is one of our most immediate and ‘present’ senses.

At Aquifolium we use touch as a very direct form of connection between us and nature and we have found that the by-product of this is a more ‘grounded’, earthed, calmer and more curious individual. Touching is an enquiry of the mind through our fingers and skin as to what it is feeling – shape, texture, hardness, softness, cold and heat. The reconnection of our enquiring mind with this sense grows curiosity. And curiosity is closely linked to all aspects of human development.

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We understand that touch can unlock memories; barefoot we can feel both planted and better balanced; feeling rough bark on a tree can make it as identifiable as someone’s face; the company of a warm campfire can keep loneliness at bay and boost mood; dangling feet in a cold stream or a glass of cold water can make you giggle-giddy; and feeling the wood as you whittle and carve can reveal the spoon, cup or ring hidden within the grain beneath.

Sit with your back to an old tree with is leaves and twigs gently brushing your body or gently swinging in a hammock in its low boughs can offer a therapeutic a touch to ward off feelings of anxiety and restlessness, even for those with dementia.

We can touch and be touched. Nature touches us and we invite you to touch it back.

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