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Inspired living

Your guide to Tapping Touch


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Tapping Touch is performed by rhythmically tapping gently with the balls of the fingers of the right and left hands alternately. This can be done to soft music in order to improve its effects and enhance relaxation. This holistic technique was conceived and developed by Dr Ichiro Nakagawa, director of the Institute of Holistic Psychology and Education in Japan. The idea was born when Dr Nakagawa was practising clinical psychology in the USA in the San Francisco Bay area of California.

Working in a number of mental healthcare facilities, such as a community mental health centre, a psychiatric rehabilitation department of a large hospital and a drug and alcohol treatment centre, among others, Dr Nakagawa treated a wide range of patients and was struck by how illness and suffering seemed to be multiplying, regardless of the number of healthcare facilities and professionals available. Psychological chronic illness seemed to be reigning supreme, which inspired Dr Nakagawa to think outside the square in relation to finding solutions to this growing worldwide epidemic.

“In spite of sophisticated treatments and technologies, people did not seem to be necessarily happier or healthier,” says Dr Nakagawa. “It seemed as though the human race had lost its ability to heal itself and correct its maladaptive behaviours and lifestyles. I began to think that what was needed was a technique or a method that allowed people to care for themselves rather than depend entirely on professional care and medications. I thought that supporting people’s abilities to care for themselves could be a major factor in regaining true health as well as creating more supportive communities.”

With this realisation, Dr Nakagawa began to accumulate a number of useful ideas, theories and healing techniques that could be utilised by anyone, regardless of their socio-economic background or belief system. Dr Nakagawa sought to develop a technique that was effective, useful and free of side-effects. It had to be simple enough for anyone to learn and apply, to require no equipment and to be free or low-cost to learn and perform. It also had to promote the idea of caring for each other and not require any long-term training in order to practise it.

“After some serious consideration and numerous trials and errors, what I came up with was the Tapping Touch, which is based on holistic concepts and developed through the integration of therapeutic elements that were proven effective through clinical trials and research,” says Dr Nakagawa. “Moreover, as peoples’ experiences and feedback were incorporated into the practice and development of Tapping Touch, it became a natural expression of caring for each other.”

Benefits of Tapping Touch

“In the professional fields of human care, Tapping Touch has been clinically applied and scientifically studied in Japan. It has been shown to increase relaxation and positive feelings; and in doing so reduces anxiety, tension, pain, stress symptoms and more,” says Dr Nakagawa. This well-researched gentle technique also stimulates our innate ability to care for each other and to enjoy harmonious relationships with each other.

A recent neuro-psychological study conducted at Toho University in Japan indicated that Tapping Touch increases levels of serotonin, which is known to play an important role in levels of anxiety, pain and depression. Therefore, numerous medications that increase the uptake of serotonin have been developed and applied clinically. Many of the useful effects of Tapping Touch are thought to be partially related to the change in serotonin levels. Other academic studies have shown an increase in the blood flow to the frontal lobe and the rate of alpha waves of the brain.

“Tapping Touch creates a very positive vibration within the environment,” says Asami Gough, a Tapping Touch volunteer practitioner. “It soothes us mentally and physically when either giving or receiving.” When providing the holistic technique, Asami comments, the happy and relaxed vibration resonates for both the giver and receiver, making it a pleasure to practise.

“I feel very relaxed when giving Tapping Touch, particularly with the special accompanying rhythmic music. I have practised on some elderly women, who to begin with were very unhappy, but Tapping Touch changed their mood to become very relaxed and happier after they received it. The wonderful part of Tapping Touch is anyone can practise it, which is so great to see and experience. For example, a girl of just five years old can easily practise it on her grandma.”

The effectiveness of Tapping Touch can be put into three categories in relation to direct experience and feedback from participants, the effects shown during and after trials, and within complementary academic research.

Psychological effects

Tapping Touch brings about a sense of peace and relaxation and, in doing so, reduces tension, anxiety and heightened emotions such as anger and sadness. It creates a feeling of being cared for and feeling valuable and reduces negative emotions.

Physical effects

The holistic-care technique releases physical tension and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, refreshes energy and increases serotonin levels. It also reduces symptoms of physical pain, fatigue and stress.

Relational effects

The technique encourages a sense of safety and closeness and a connection with others. It also brings about a feeling of mutual support and therefore can create a willingness to speak and relate to each other.

Dr Nakagawa believes Tapping Touch gently awakens inner wisdom and reminds individuals of the joy to be found in caring for each other and living together in harmony. “From a holistic perspective, as more and more people care for each other using Tapping Touch, individuals, families and communities will be gently empowered and the Earth itself will regain its wellness,” he affirms.

How to do it

As explained, Tapping Touch is performed by tapping gently with the balls of the fingers of the right and left hands alternately. It’s performed on non-invasive parts of the body such as shoulders and arms and requires no undressing so that the receiver feels safe and comfortable. The gentle tapping helps to release tension in both the body and mind, thereby increasing an overall sense of wellness and positivity.

Tapping Touch is made very simple so it requires no particular expertise or strength, with anyone of any age able to learn the technique. This accessibility is an important aspect of this holistic practice. It excludes no one and can be undertaken by anyone. The gentle and non-confrontational nature of the technique means it is appropriate in a wide range of situations, such as in pain management, depression, anxiety and so forth. It is also applicable and useful in specialised areas such as psychology, education, medicine/nursing and social welfare and has been used in a range of areas such as disaster relief, trauma care and as a medicine-free therapy for babies and animals.

The practice of Tapping Touch has primarily taken place in Japan where the technique was born but it is gaining support and momentum, stretching to different corners of the globe. “As you can easily imagine, because of the simplicity and effectiveness of the technique, Tapping Touch is shown to be very useful in developing countries as well as more modernised countries, such as Australia,” says Dr Nakagawa. “We’ve been to Thailand for disaster support after the Indo-Sumatra giant earthquake and tsunami, and also to Vietnam to teach the technique for caring for street children and those who are still suffering from physical illnesses and disabilities due to Agent Orange (dioxin) during the Vietnam War.”

The three forms of Tapping Touch

Basic Form

In the basic form, two people practise with each other as giver and receiver. After explaining what Tapping Touch is and the receiver agreeing to receive it, you sit behind the receiver in a comfortable position. It’s important to let the receiver know what you will be doing and what area of the body you will be touching in order to minimise any possible discomfort or unease. “Tapping Touch gives us a way to express our innate capacity to heal each other. This is why the basic form of Tapping Touch is practised with a partner,” says Dr Nakagawa.

The application begins with resting two hands lightly between the shoulder blades of the receiver, just below the neck. This is done briefly to introduce the receiver to the touch of your hands.

Next, begin rhythmically tapping the place where your hands rested with the round fleshy parts of your fingers, alternating your left and right hands. Tapping speed should be uniform between the left and right hands, with about one tap from each side per second. Tapping Touch should not be confused with a massage: it has to be very light and slow, with relaxed arms and hands.

After one or two minutes, move over the entire area of the back, keeping your fingers gently tapping in a calming rhythm. If there is a certain area that needs attention, such as the lower back, which stores a lot of tension and emotion, you may spend some extra time there. Expand the points of contact to the neck, arms and head.

In addition to tapping, there are other ways of touch in Tapping Touch. One is “Cat’s Knitting”, performed by making round hands like loose fists and gently pressing down the receiver alternately with soft parts of your hands. Cat’s Knitting looks and feels much like a cat’s paw gently climbing up and down.

Another touch is “Elephant Trunk”, done by letting your arms fall slack at your sides and turning your wrists so the back of your hands face your partner. Softly sway each arm, one by one, so the back of your hand makes contact with your partner’s body, resembling the movement of an elephant’s trunk.

The time taken for the basic form should not be a strain on either person but a pleasurable experience for both. Ten to 15 minutes per person is recommended, although longer or shorter periods can be performed where appropriate. After you have finished tapping, again gently rest your hands lightly on a spot between the shoulder blades of the receiver in the same location as at the beginning. This time leave your hands there a little longer (15–30 seconds) before brushing your hands down your partner’s back and arms two or three times. After you are finished, you can discuss how it felt and swap roles.

2. Self Tapping

In some situations, it may not be acceptable to touch each other or have someone to practise with, in which case Self Tapping is an appropriate avenue to take. “It’s very simple and easy to learn so that readers can read instructions and practise Self Tapping by themselves very easily,” says Dr Nakagawa. “In Japan, it has been introduced in numerous ways, including books, TV and magazines, in addition to lectures and workshops.”

Self Tapping can be performed by oneself as a form of self-care and has been proven useful in times of sleeplessness, anxiety and stress. It embodies the same principles and techniques as the basic form but with obvious alterations. For example, with Self Tapping, you focus more on the front of your body since access to the back is restricted.

Begin by sitting in a comfortable position and lightly tapping on each side of your jaw, moving to the cheeks, temples and forehead. Move then to the head, then back down to the collarbones, chest and lower abdomen and then move on to any areas you like.

“Tapping Touch’s basic form is ‘mutual care’ whereby people care for each other, however it can also be performed by oneself as a form of self-care,” says Dr Nakagawa. “The most contributing aspect of Tapping Touch to us as humans is that it is a mutual-care method. I do think self-care is important and I think that more people should learn to self-care in order to enjoy a healthy life. However, for us to be truly healthy and happy, we have to realise that we need to spend more time comforting and caring for each other.”

3. Care Tapping

As the name suggests, this is a form of Tapping Touch that is very useful in caring for those who are sick or troubled. Usually, the receiver lies down on a bed or the floor. As with Self Tapping, the basic principles are the same as for the basic form.

“In our modern society, care is often done by professionals. I believe what we need to do once again is to use our hands and hearts to care for each other,” explains Dr Nakagawa. “When we begin to enjoy caring for each other, we can then feel much safer and more comfortable and enjoy more trusting and mutually satisfying relationships.”

Since its conception in 1999 in Japan, Tapping Touch has been used in various fields. It has been employed for plethora of circumstances, including to reduce daily stress and improve family relationships as well as being used in childbirth and childrearing.

Within the education system in Japan, Tapping Touch has been used in supporting students who have difficulties in going to school due to tension and anxiety. In some schools, Tapping Touch is used to improve relationships among students and teachers. Through academic research completed at Jiyu Gakuen, a comprehensive school in Tokyo, Dr Nakagawa found students experiencing Tapping Touch were inclined to become more considerate and tended to have additional positive views toward others, including the students they disliked.

“In the field of medicine and nursing, we have shown Tapping Touch is applicable to not only patients in general but also those patients who are treated at a hospice or in palliative hospital wards,” says Dr Nakagawa. Because of this, an increasing number of universities and professional associations have become interested in Tapping Touch, with numerous lectures and workshops being introduced in the care industry.

In Sydney, Australia, Asami Gough is part of a group of women who have learned Tapping Touch from Dr Nakagawa directly. They have been visiting nursing homes as volunteers where they practise Tapping Touch and talk to elderly people. “I hear that elders and staff at those facilities welcome and truly enjoy their visit,” says Dr Nakagawa. “The volunteers also enjoy visiting because they themselves receive similar effects as they do it. Here, you can see the mutual care aspect of Tapping Touch and I think it’s a wonderful way to share and experience it.”

“One of the concepts of Tapping Touch is not only receiving but also motivating people to give as well,” adds Gough. “Knowing we can do something for others is the essential motivation to live our lives.”

The main concept behind Tapping Touch is to get in touch with ourselves and to care for each other through one of the simplest forms of communication we have: touch. This holistic technique has led to Dr Nakagawa’s hypothesis: “Humans are the apes who forget how to groom. If we realise the importance of it and begin to naturally groom (ie care for) each other again, humans will become much healthier and at peace with each other.”

The heart of the holistic care technique is to simply connect and spend time with each other in a positive way, so it touches on the basic needs and instincts that we have perhaps forgotten because of the surge in chemical solutions and self-medication. Just taking a few quiet moments to care for each other can be a wonderful way to rejuvenate ourselves. For, as we all know, sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are ultimately the most meaningful and pleasurable.

For more information on Tapping Touch: www.tappingtouch.org

Pet therapy

Tapping Touch has been applied in caring for animals. Domestic animals such as dogs and cats sometimes show troublesome behaviours, particularly if they have been neglected or undergone some form of trauma. Through the application of Tapping Touch on animals, Dr Nakagawa found it has similar effects as when applied to humans, with the receiver becoming less anxious and troubled. The animals that experience Tapping Touch also became more at ease and sociable with their owners.