Reach Out and Touch
September 19, 1991 was a sunny day in the Italian Alps. Two German hikers were enjoying the scenery, terrain, and weather and decided to veer off the walking path and go exploring. Proud of their shortcut which took them along the banks of a gully, they noticed what they thought was trash at the bottom of the gully. Leaning over for a closer look they realized it was a human corpse. They photographed the scene and then reported what they thought was the tragic ending to another hiker’s story. And it was….just five thousand years earlier.
Named Otzi, the corpse, also referred to as “iceman” took four days to be removed due to the weather. The site where it was found is on part of a glacier which is responsible for the condition of the body and its mummification. Two archaeological digs resulted in numerous small “finds” at the site. Leather and bits of animal hides were found along with string, pieces of skin, muscle fibers, hairs, and a fingernail. Parts of a broken longbow and the iceman’s bearskin cap were also located.
Of particular interest, though, were the sixty-one tattoos found on Otzi’s body. With scientific testing, DNA results proved the lineage to be similar to the people of central Europe and his last meal was deer meat, vegetables, and grains. At an estimated age of forty-five years, the iceman would have been considered an elder in his village and it is thought the tattoos were a type of therapeutic medicine to help with his obvious arthritis and prior fractures.
Many modern tattoos are symbols, selected because they remind the bearer of special events or people. Otzi, however, had tattoos that corresponded to acupressure points. There were groups of vertical lines on either side of the spinal column, on the calf of one leg, the instep of the other foot, his chest, one wrist, and even cross shapes on the back of one knee and an Achilles tendon. The significance of the meridian lines used to channel the body’s energy or life force was deemed remarkable since it was not thought acupressure existed outside of China at this time in history.
The practice of acupressure is seldom regulated and practitioners may or may not be well-trained. Like many things, the basic concepts can be used for a variety of things. While acupressure is most commonly used for medicinal and/or therapeutic purposes, it is also used in martial arts. The practice of Chin Na involves using basic acupressure knowledge to lock an opponent’s joints, thus preventing him movement or defense.
There is an old spiritual saying: “How you treat me is your karma. How I respond is mine.” There are many ways to touch people and acupressure and chin na are just two. We all have had instances where we have been drawn into negative situations; someone has “pushed out buttons”. The saying means that another person has determined what your emotional pressure points are and is using them to get a reaction from you. “Our anger or annoyance is more detrimental to us than the things themselves which anger or annoy us,” said Marcus Aurelius. The Roman philosopher knew the wisdom of what he was saying. Just because someone invites us to argue does not mean we must accept the invitation. Anger seldom solves anything.
Over the past two decades a popular television commercial for mobile phones involved a man walking around various locations asking “Can you hear me now?” Perhaps we should be asking “Can you feel me now?” The epiphany of the two German hikers in their discovery of a fifty-three hundred year old tattooed corpse shows the importance man has for the science of touch. Beneath the skin’s surface lies a network of cells called Merkel cells which transmit sensory impression to the brain. Based upon the signals received, the brain then responds with a release of hormones.
Jeanne AbateMarco of New York University’s Langone Medical Center explains: “Touch is our body’s largest and oldest sense. It’s a channel of communication. It’s integral to the human experience.” The type and number of times people touch each other physically differs based upon culture, ethnicity, age, and gender. Psychologist Sidney Jourard studied groups of friends over fifty years ago as they conversed and discovered that in England, the friends never touched each other. In the United States, the friends touched each other only twice but in France they touched up to one hundred times an hour and in Puerto Rico the number was one hundred and eighty times.
The science of touch and the history of acupressure all measure the importance and need mankind has to connect with each other. Physical touch has its place and importance but the bright idea for all of us is to realize and recognize that we are touching others by our every thought and action and deed. Our lives are interwoven into the fabric of life. When we reach out and touch we really do make the world a better place.