Embrace the Hug

Today is International Hug Day!  It reminds us to express what’s in our hearts by using our arms and hands to give and receive the warmth of a hug.  Hugs are one of the most primal forms of bonding and yet we often forget to use them as a means of  “connecting” or deepening our interpersonal relationships.   But science is changing all of that by teaching us about some of the most fundamental reasons to unleash the super-healing power of a properly shared healing hug.  What’s a proper healing hug?  It eluded me too for most of my life.  Because like most Americans, I learned at a very young age that hugs were given, mostly on special occasions–like when you see a relative or friend at a holiday event, wedding, party or funeral–and usually held for just a brief moment.  Except when shared with a romantic partner, anything more than a second or two was awkward or inappropriate in a creepy or sexually confusing way.

Also, socially I learned early on that hugs were considered a common and basic  way of greeting one another.  And over time they lost their deeper meaning.  We can all admit to exchanging a quick embrace with someone whom we didn’t honestly like or care for, simply because it was what was culturally expected. I would have continued to miss out on the healing properties of a proper hug for my whole life if not for the findings of a group of German researchers published in the Journal of Neurosciene in 2013.  Brilliantly, they discovered that when a hug is held for up to 20 seconds the pituitary gland releases a powerful bonding agent called oxytocin that results in the feeling of a more meaningful connection.  They also found that these longer more sustained hugs which released the “happy hormone” were also linked to reducing blood pressure and heart disease too.  I believe these findings challenge us all to embrace a new attitude towards the healing power of wrapping our arms around one another.  This is important right now as it seems we may be living in a world where digital devices get touched more than the human beings in our lives.  Increasingly, we are becoming a touch-deprived culture, as evidenced by the emerging service of professional huggers who get paid to do this.  Lets change this trend.  Its days like today and National Hugging Day, which is celebrated every year on January 21st, that remind us to connect with human beings in this unique and special way.  As one person poignantly put it, “a hug is a handshake from the heart.”

Turns out though, there are some important things to consider before exchanging these heartfelt, heart changing embraces.  And they are:

  • Ask people first, since not everyone is comfortable with touch that’s so personal.
  • Hold the embrace gently, but firmly, in a heart-to-heart manner for 20 seconds.
  • Make sure you hug only with people you’re comfortable physically connecting with.
  • Because they can be easily misinterpreted, always be impeccable with your hugs.
  • Try to be quiet when hugging. The body/mind can get distracted by verbal chatter.
  • Be mindful of how around the 15th second, there’s often a deep and peaceful sigh that’s beautifully shared between both huggers.
  • Solidify your bonds.  Give 20 second hugs daily to your spouse, kids, family, close friends –or anyone whose relational bond matters the most to you.

The wellness benefits of  “healing hugs” are many as they naturally pick up your mood, melt away stress, express basic equanimity with natural giving and receiving, and they require being physically present in each others lives,  (you can’t elicit the same healing effect from an email, text or phone call).  But most of all we should give more 20 second healing hugs simply because they feel good!  So embrace the hug and hopefully you’ll welcome the healing benefit of a warm embrace into your life and in so doing, effortlessly spread the benefits on to others as well.  Beyond a formal hugging day, like today, I hope you’ll continue to share the physical, mental, social and spiritual benefits of healing hugs with others–and that you’ll do so for your whole life!