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Why You Need to Book a Tickling Appointment

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Anyone who’s grown up with the torments of siblings might be skeptical about a body therapy that’s centered on tickling. How could the foremost implement of your older brother’s cruelty possibly be transformed into a vehicle of relaxation, delight, and wellness? Isabel Aires, tickling enthusiast and proprietor of the new tickle spa CosquilleArte in Madrid, Spain, is building what might become a burgeoning empire on the theory that tickling melts stress in much the same way traditional spa services do.

Aires employs trained masseuses, but instead of the usual manual attention to pressure points and muscle tightness, they tickle, running fingers and feathers up and down your body for thirty- or sixty-minute treatments.

Aires explains her brainchild by way of her favorable childhood memories of being tickled. And it’s easy to imagine that a loving, affectionate, or fun encounter with tickling would produce a sense of relaxation and even euphoria—after all, laughter can be the best medicine. But what about someone who hates being tickled? Time writer Lisa Abend, who reported on CosquilleArte in June 2011, is just such a person. While it took a little time to adjust to the experience, Abend writes, “To my amazement, I felt the tension flow out of me. Before I knew it, I was enjoying myself.”

And judging by the brisk business CosquilleArte is reportedly doing, tickling seems to have the same physical and emotional benefits as massage and other wellness undertakings that involve physical touch. Studies show that regular massages effectively reduce chronic pains and can even help symptoms of diseases such as fibromyalgia and Alzheimer’s. But perhaps the effectiveness lies merely in experiencing pleasurable physical contact, whether it be a deep-tissue massage or giggle-inducing graze.

While no scientific studies have been done to support Aires’ tickling hypothesis specifically, a 2009 study from Sweden showed that the simple act of touching stimulates specialized nerve fibers that bypass all other signals, even those registering pain or discomfort, and go directly to the part of the brain that registers warm, comfortable feelings. Furthermore, if pleasant stimulation is repeated often enough, it goes so far as to block out discomfort and replace it with a sense of contentment. All that with the touch of a hand.

Advances in neuroscience and imaging have given us a whole new view of what happens in our noodles at the response of various stimuli. Psychologists are able to hook people up to EEG machines and record the brain’s electrical reactions, showing us more and more about how this complex organ works its magic in our lives. And what they found was this: human touch fires off in the brain the same way a feeling of trust and contentment does. So often we shrink from contact with our fellow humans, when, it seems, we should all be making a point to do exactly the opposite. So book a massage today, give someone a hug, or even better, catch a flight to Madrid and see about the tickle spa.

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