How to Touch, part 1 of many
How to touch someone with finesse, skill and attunement in a way that is unattached to outcome, listening to both your needs and theirs, following the flow of what wants to happen... It's an art.
On one level, it's super simple to touch someone - you just do it.
However, we're complex creatures.
I'll speak for myself...
I want to be attuned to, deeply heard and seen. I want the person touching me to release what they think they know and to actually listen to my body, my energy, my words, my breath, my soul AND theirs. If they are not aware of what's happening for them and they're focused solely on me, something is missing.
What is attunement?
Speak to me, make contact with me in a way that has my body, mind and energy soften and clarify in your presence. When we are attuned, my body trusts your touch the moment you come into contact with me, and where you come into contact with me is not necessarily physical touch first. Here in this moment as you're reading, you are coming in to contact with my words, my thoughts, my energy field. The energy field spans distances and time.
Attunement is finding resonance where your body and mine meet. It's finding harmony between us.
Attunement is how a mother knows exactly what her baby requires, and giving it to them in a way that they can fully receive it. Attunement is not assuming you know what someone else needs based on past experiences, but being present with the being you are with in the moment, who may be different than how they showed up 10 seconds ago.
A guitar will need different tuning in dry and humid conditions. A living human is far more complex than a guitar. They may desire completely different contact now than you gave them 2 days ago, or different than you would like to receive yourself.
HOW do we attune to our partners?
First, know yourself. Become so purely present with yourself in this moment.
As I type this now, I feel tingly in the back of my head, tension in my jaw and teeth, distrust of people who may read this (I have a story that the more strangers know about me, the more they'll take advantage of me, in a way that takes and doesn't give), awareness of sounds around me - the dryer running, neighbors upstairs - my sleepy eyes, the ticking clock, the habit of my energy coming forward, then recalibrating and finding where my energy wants to be - naturally sinking in to my belly as I allow it.
What's the point of noticing and naming all of this? Why does any of this matter?
Because as I write, as I notice everything in my experience, I soften, settle, and relax. My energy expands. The pressure in my head releases.
How does this relate to attunement to a partner?
If I'm holding tension, or on edge, or not present and aware in my body, then some part of the person I'm coming in to contact with is aware of that, whether they are conscious of it or not. Their body, or their energy, or their subconscious knows. And the better that I can attune to myself, to become aware of my present state and to give myself what I need, I will be better equipped to make contact with another being in a way that is clear and mutually supportive in a clean, unattached way. If I were disregulated and not aware of it, not owning it, and then offering supportive contact to someone, I may actually be receiving more benefit by touching them than they are receiving from me. I may actually be subconsciously taking. This can create an energy imbalance - an unconscious way to pull energy. The more that I as a support person am aware of my experience, and am grounded, centered, and owning my experience, the more I can offer neutral, attuned, supportive contact.
Once you know where you're at, you're ready to start attuning to another... which I'll write about another day.
If you're not clear where you're at and what's happening for you now, reach out to schedule a session. Bodywork, somatic coaching, and Biodynamic energy healing will clarify the body, mind and spirit.
“Your quality of touch is different - I feel relaxed with it. I’m not reacting defensively like I sometimes do...
My body is open to it.”
I wonder how the world would be if we all knew how to touch and be touched with ease and grace?
This is what I strive for in every session - to contact the recipient in a way that has them relaxed and receptive. Why is this important? When the body reacts defensively by tensing or contracting against contact, or when anxiety builds up in response to it, the body is reacting more to the therapist instead of relaxing into it’s natural healing processes. I could create more tension for you, which could also get worked out during the session, but you’re probably coming to me to release tension you had before seeing me, not to create more tension to work through. Have you ever had a massage that left you feeling more tense? Let’s not do that, ok?
So what contributes to a quality of touch that instills trust and allows for the most easeful healing?
The first two skills that are taught in the Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy training - ones that are repeatedly emphasized throughout the program because of their importance, are the skill of being and the skill of relationship. The skill of being pertains to the state of the therapist. As I begin a session, do I feel grounded, centered and neutral? Am I relaxed, present and aware of my state, or am I nervous or biased in some way? This will affect how the recipient responds, whether they’re conscious of it or not - on some level, their body will be aware of my state, even if their mind is not.
The second skill is the one of relationship (the basic definition of “relationship” is “a connection” - I’m not referring to a romantic relationship in this instance). In this connection, what kind of contact would feel most easeful or welcome by the recipient? How much space would they like and what kind of pressure feels most easeful? Sometimes there’s a wide range of contact styles - light strokes, heavy compressions, etc. - that feel comfortable for the body. Sometimes the recipient will be very specific - they may want very light, still touch and a wide focus from the therapist.
To get a sense of different focus styles, imagine gazing out at the vast expanse of the ocean horizon. Notice how that feels in your body. Then imagine you’re examining something very specific through a microscope, and notice what you feel in your body with that image - two different modes of focus. Considering the body, I could have a wide focus by opening my awareness to the whole body, including the space around the body. Or I could have a narrow focus by zooming in to one little point, like a vertebra in the neck. Again, the recipient’s body feels the difference, whether or not the mind is aware of it. The book Open Focus Brain, by Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins, is a good resource for developing relaxed, open focus.
These “skills” can be applied to any experience in life where you’re interacting with another being. If you want to create the greatest ease in connections (relationships), and minimize reactive defenses, try working on the skills of being and the skills of relationship.
Skills of being:
Feeling grounded, centered, and neutral
This is a state of being present with self-awareness, mindfulness and allowance of what wants to happen - having a sense of equanimity. Perhaps we notice biases, judgements or habitual patterns come up. These are normal, so rather than judging the judgements, see if they’ll disappear if you ask them to, rather than hooking on to them. The level of neutrality you can hold may vary, depending on who you’re interacting with. Feeling some appreciation or loving kindness for yourself may help. Another way some people access neutrality is simply to look around the room and label (in their mind) what they see - i.e. I see a green wall, white lamp, brown wood door, etc.
In a grounded, centered, neutral state, the person you’re interacting with is least likely to react because there isn’t something to hook onto, positive or negative, and because you’re present with them. If you’re distracted, it’s more likely to create some interruption of the connection.
Skills of relationship, or connection:
Comfortable proximity and contact
This includes awareness of the energetic space (wide vs. narrow focus, for example), and awareness of the type of contact desired. In the context of a therapeutic bodywork session, I’m offering massage, craniosacral therapy or other touch therapy to someone laying on a table, so I’m trained and comfortable offering different types of touch. If you’re offering someone massage, considering the skill of relationship, notice what feels good to you and the person you’re touching. If you’re unsure or if you want to encourage verbal feedback, ask how the contact is. If you trust your intuition, they appear clearly at ease, you feel relaxed and connected to them, and you trust them to speak up if something is uncomfortable, then it may not be necessary to talk about the contact. And that may change tomorrow… each day is different.
What have you found to be helpful in establishing comfort and trust with touch? I’m curious to hear your stories - what has you feel relaxed and what hasn’t worked for you in bodywork sessions?
Intuitive energy healer, massage therapist and somatic coach in Asheville, NC, bringing you insight and inspiration on healing and conscious living. Formerly in Boulder, CO.