Weaving and therapeutic touch
An investigation in the therapeutic effects of touch through the different mediums of Reiki and weaving. Both practices share the very similar goal of assisting the explorer in the process of discovering themselves by engaging the senses.
Gloria So is a textile designer trained in sound healing, Reiki and holistic tarot reader. Through her work, Gloria casts light on the ways somatic practices enhance self-understanding by leading to confronting one’s repressions that might have been avoided in the past, of both sensorial and psychological nature. Her dissertation for her Master’s at the Royal College of Arts explores the healing properties of touch through weaving and Reiki.
Anxiety provoked by social platform is not an uncommon source of distress for people’s wellbeing. Algorithms designated to catalyse the quick release of dopamine and serotonin into the brains, programmed to learn from habits, eye movements, soft spots and aversions are keeping many entrapped in a vicious circle of empty stimulation. Gloria has been struggling with the force of social media herself, feeling that her sense of self and identity are being diluted as she is becoming engulfed in the trap of instant gratification.
One day, she found herself absorbed by ‘Pick a Card’ tarot readings found on YouTube.
“As a tarot reader, whenever you give a reading, it demands a lot of energy from you. Occasionally I wish I could switch roles and be the one on the receiving end of the reading. I do not know anyone in my circle who practices tarot, so one day I just came across a “Pick A Card” tarot reading video on YouTube and, as expected, it became addictive. The question topics range from “What is coming for you this month?” to “How is your person or soulmate is feeling about you?” and the somewhat less popular – “How can you reach your full potential?”.
I realised that these “Pick A Card Reading” videos prey on our vulnerability of wanting to know how other people feel without any direct communication. The content creators of these videos have indirectly become the “drug dealer” of the emotionally vulnerable people who are in a position to be manipulated by being fed false hope through romanticisation of relationship dynamics with labels such as “soulmate” or “twinflame”. They do not encourage anyone to truly face the real problem behind their pain or start a real conversation.”
The reason for which we avoid facing the problem face-front is because of the high emotional risk we set ourselves up for when awaiting for others’ reactions. We open ourselves up leaving our vulnerabilities up for grabs, ceasing control over the situation and are left at the mercy of the other party. The sensitive, raw and bare position in which our identity is placed when doing so, leaves many content with distracting themselves with these ‘Pick a Card’ videos.
Enhanced by the Covid-19 lockdown and the increase of screen-time caused by the lack of social content, Gloria’s social media addiction quickly aggravated. She resented the restlessness induced by pseudo-spiritual content capitalising on the Forer effect and decided to approach holistic practices and craft therapy. She found the source of powerlessness in the face of deceptive algorithms to be caused by the lack of touch.
“Touch is essential for humans, consciously or unconsciously we experience micro-touch on a daily basis from the barista who hands over our coffee to the more intimate and soothing touch of close friends and family. It is also proven to be crucial for child development. However, the work of Mark Paterson shows that the sense of touch has been ranked on a lower hierarchy by philosophers historically and overlooked by the modern visual-driven culture, despite touch being just as complex as the other human senses” says Gloria.
“Constance Classen notes that “Our hands and bodies learn to “speak” a certain language of touch, a language shaped by culture and inflected by individuals. We learn what to touch, how to touch, and what significance to give different kinds of touch.”
Distance has temporarily disabled the non-verbal communication we used to express care or affection, such as a hug, a pat on the shoulder, a handhold or even sitting side by side next to someone. Social distancing reminds us of the value of the human interaction that we might have taken for granted before. This is the first time I have experienced “skin hunger” or affection deprivation. According to a research paper by Kory Floyd, a professor at Arizona State University, affection deprivation happens when “one wants more tactile affectionate communication than one receives”. This is associated with conditions such as loneliness, anxiety, depression and secondary immune disorders.
This is the first time I have experienced “skin hunger” or affection deprivation
“Touch therapy has been used to promote relaxation, reduce pain and accelerate the healing process.” In eastern traditions, people believe we process life force energy within us as it is running through our body. According to the International Association of Reiki Professionals the word Reiki “comes from the Japanese word (Rei) which means “Universal Life” and (Ki) which means “Energy”.Reiki is a hands-on touch therapy which was first discovered by Japanese Mikao Usui and later introduced to the West in the late 1930s; it is a practice that engages both mind and matter.
Gloria has been going to Reiki classes as a means to understand her emotions and the ways to manage them. She found that the Japanese practice succeeded in not only offering support for the distress she was going through, but also in unlocking subconscious repressions she was not aware of. She offers an example of her many experiences with Reiki. “I practiced Reiki on my throat, I simply lay my hands on my vocal cords. I am intentionally directing my intention towards opening my voice. I let go of my conscious mind and observe whatever crosses my mind. I feel tension between my neck and shoulder. I always have trouble expressing feelings or finding the right words to describe what I am going through. Most of the time I bottle up my feelings, ending up with tears streaming down my face and getting my partner at times frustrated, because I can never talk about my feelings without crying. I just cry and have no words as if I had lost my voice. Muted, yet frustrated with myself. That has led me to have a hard time building emotional intimacy with my romantic partners. Some of them did not have the patience to bear with my emotions and concluded that I am just too sensitive in the same manner my parents would have brushed it off when I was a child. Eventually, I believed it myself as well; that I am just sensitive and try to suppress my own emotional needs to avoid challenge.” Through touch and Reiki, Gloria managed to find a healthy outlet for her pent-up energy of which release she can control now.
The “love and light” concept, which is frankly a euphemism for “spiritual bypassing” or “toxic positivity” isn’t always the best approach for beginners who just discovered the idea of wellness practices and might potentially have counter effects.
Although her practices are still considered to be unconventional ways of healing in the medical industry, Gloria understands the cause of this preconception. “There’s a danger in the holistic wellness industry, the word ‘healing’ has turned into a trend, suddenly there are numerous people who present their healing method on social media. The “love and light” concept, which is frankly a euphemism for “spiritual bypassing” or “toxic positivity” isn’t always the best approach for beginners who just discovered the idea of wellness practices and might potentially have counter effects. As argued by John Weldwood “Spiritual bypassing is particularly tempting for people who are having difficulty navigating life’s developmental challenges in an attempt to escape emotions and personal issues.”
The other touch-based activity on which Gloria focused in order to delay her instant gratification impulses was weaving. Gloria firstly started weaving when she started studying at Central Saint Martins; she felt an instant connection with the loom; it was as if ‘she connected to a part of her past life’. Besides the functional and aesthetical function of her craft, she attributes wellness benefits to the experience as well. “I see a chance to use weaving as a healing tool. The process of weaving, the repetitive movement made by weavers when they throw the loom’s shuttle passing through the shed and paddling with its foot, the act of weaving, I see it as meditative. Anni Albers articulates her relation to weaving and the importance of touch perfectly “We touch things to assure ourselves of reality. We touch the objects of our love. We touch the things we form. Our tactile experiences are elemental.”
While interviewing other practitioners of her craft, Gloria has found additional insight which consolidates the truth behind her experience. For privacy reasons, the names of the weavers remain undisclosed. Weaver S found a way of coping with the trauma originating from her childhood by intensifying her tactile experiences; the gaslighting provoked by her parents through her developmental stages make her disbelieve anything said or seen, with the effect reaching to the point of hallucinating sounds and voices. As a way of grounding herself, and finding a point of stability through her amorphous search for the truth, she discovered the powers of touch. If she can touch something, it becomes real for her. However, she is not soothed by materiality, but by the sensorial information transmitted to her. Sound is another way through which she obtains closure with herself and her past experiences; she smells textiles as they give her more sensory data.
Other participants in her research have classified weaving as a very pleasurable and relaxing activity to be engaged in. This is mainly due to the rhythm of the weave, the warp-making process and the ability to achieve ‘flow’ through the previous. Most of them have agreed weaving has helped them to cope with stress and even loneliness. “Csikszentmihalyi considered concentration to be the essence of achieving flow […] the activity has to be easy enough to make you feel satisfied yet challenging enough to keep you interested.” The state is accessible through the rhythmical practice which engages the sense of touch intertwining now with sight as the materialised product comes to life.
Through her research, Gloria explored the concept of using the therapeutic touch of Reiki and weaving in the purpose of healing. Both of these practices involve a somatic element, whilst Reiki is a hands-on technique that directly touches the body, weaving requires the weaver to meditatively throw the shuttle and paddle the paddle. However, they both shares a very similar goal, which is that they assist the explorer to discover themselves by engaging with their senses. Although at first glance the practices seem unrelated, they both engage the principle of flow and aid in bringing solace and self-understanding to the practitioner. Through redirecting her attention to an activity which takes longer to materialise and engages her on a more personal level, Gloria learnt to appreciate the value of delayed gratifications. “I steadily realised that keeping track of our thinking patterns and monitoring our bodies and feelings by achieving flow, helps us in resurfacing buried thoughts and challenging the aspects we want to change in our life.”