Healing Touch


by Kevin Smith

Each person comes to Touch Practice or other bodywork with a different set of expectations, intentions and agenda. While the practice of touching each other can be thought of as an activity or movement, it also makes sense to think of Touch Practice as a way to create different containers for energy. The shape of the container— the style of touch— varies for different people and for the different intentions people bring to practice. For some, there is a more “active” intention, characterized by stimulation, excitement, arousal, and a desire to explore erotic energy. Like the more active forms of yogic practice, there is generally more physical movement of our bodies in an active practice, and a greater number and frequency of postures explored. This kind of practice can also be characterized by the words energetic, engaged or hot. It corresponds roughly with the energies described as “yang” in eastern ways of thinking.

While Touch Practice can explore a number of different modalities, a large part of my practice involves working with people who are experiencing trauma, grief, or fear of touch— and because of this a great deal of the touch work I do is more restorative and gentle in nature. For those of you familiar with the large variety of yoga classes available today, this kind of Touch Practice corresponds to “gentle”, “restorative”, and “yin” types of yoga. This practice is characterized by quiet, calm, still postures. My goal is to create a container in which the person can relax, often profoundly, sometimes to the point where he falls asleep as I am holding him.

Regardless of whether a more yang or yin style of touch is involved, there is always an opening warm-up which allows the partners to connect to each other, to establish trust, and to become familiar with each others’ physical and energetic bodies. Both practices also include grounding and balance practices which continue throughout the session.

When a partner would seem to benefit more from a yin-based approach, we often work fully clothed, and with very careful sensitivity towards all the parts of the body— those that welcome touch and those that do not. We often settle into the sitting posture (partner facing me, legs overlapping, torsos close to each other) for a number of minutes, sinking deeply into a joint silent meditation in that posture. It is not unusual that people relax enough to be fully supported by me or to feel sleepy or “heavy” in that position. In deep restorative work, I will actually lie down and hold the person I’m working with in one of several ways, with the goal of helping them feel so completely supported and safe that they can let go of “holding” themselves in their own body. Two common forms of release often occur at that moment—either crying, or falling asleep.

My practice is to meet whomever I work with wherever they are, but I treat with special sacredness the opportunity to hold another who is in the process of healing, and to try to offer containers for that process. The sensation of having a child fall asleep in your arms is not much different from the sensation of having a grown man do so! As in all of my work, it provides a sense of joy for the holder as well as the held. I often have a sense that I am standing guard over someone when they fall asleep, trying to keep them safe and warm on the outside so they can do whatever work they need to do inside.

I was recently privileged to hold several soldiers who have recently served in Iraq. Many of these men carry trauma and post-traumatic experiences in their body; many have things to grieve, and all certainly deserve at least a hug. We were able to create a sense of safety for the body so that the guard could be let down—something soldiers are not able to do while serving. This particular kind of protective, less active touch container can provide restoration for other types of “soldiers” (CEO’s of companies, fathers of families, etc.) who play the primary role of taking care of others. Creating a structure in which the caretaker can be taken care of can be as simple as creating a safe place for someone to fall asleep, or to follow the breath deeply wherever it may lead, or to benefit from the endorphin release caused by gentle stroking of the skin, or being held in a blanket. The physical container we create temporarily replaces the emotional need to “hold everything together.” Once that container is properly in place, it allows the person being held to let go and “fall apart” in a safe and protected space. Most commonly, people who have had such an experience in touchpractice report feeling deeply rested, refreshed, and empowered.