A Quick Guide: Hugging for Health

Amigos de Verdad by MurielleSW


Hugs are the universal medicine ~Author Unknown

I've got a question for you, dear reader.

How many hugs did you give or receive yesterday? (include everyone - 3? 7?)

OK. Make a note of that number. Now make a note of how many hugs you have given out or received today, so far.

Would it surprise you to know that around 30% of people* do not get a chance to hug each day? That makes me feel really sad, I don't know about you. 

It is such a wonderful gift to give and receive hugs (huggles in Callie-speak). Apparently I give excellent hugs, wrapping people up in a genuine, heartfelt embrace. Maybe I should offer hugging therapy. Now there's an idea!

Yet research has consistently shown that hugging (along with laughter) is a super-effective way to charge up those healing batteries, and ease poorliness, loneliness, anxiety, depression and stress. Hugging definitely gifts us a healing touch - either as giver or receiver: Dr David Hamilton shared the science behind a hug so eloquently in The Power of a Hug.

So let's take a quick look at how hugging for health can make a real difference to your health and wellbeing.

How to hug

The Official Hug Guide via Saying Images

I think this chart says it all: just open your arms and embrace with your whole heart (or not, as the case may be with #6). If you can, get some daily practice in. Starting from today! Go on - don't be shy. 

Why hugging is good for your health

We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. 
We need 12 hugs a day for growth 
- Virginia Satir, Psychotherapist

The physiological benefits of hugging are so important, and the result of giving or receiving hugs is akin to gifting your body with a wonderful natural cocktail of happiness hormones. Who wouldn't want that in their diet each and every day?! In an article titled 'Physiological benefits of Hugging', the author shared the following 8 key points about the physical effects of hugging on our body:

1. Hugging reduces the worry of mortality 
In a study on fears and self-esteem, research published in the journal Psychological Science revealed that hugs and touch significantly reduce worry of mortality.

2. Hugging stimulates oxytocin

Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts on the limbic system, the brain's emotional centre, promoting feelings of contentment, reducing anxiety and stress (which) has also been linked to social bonding.

3. Hugging lowers your heart rate  
Embracing someone may warm your heart, but according to one study a hug can be good medicine for it too: In an experiment at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill , participants who didn't have any contact with their partners developed a quickened heart rate of 10 beats per minute compared to the five beats per minute among those who got to hug their partners during the experiment.

4. Hugging stimulates dopamine 
Dopamine is responsible for giving us that feel-good feeling, and it's also responsible for motivation! Hugs stimulate brains to release dopamine, the pleasure hormone.

5. Hugging stimulates serotonin
Reaching out and hugging releases endorphins and serotonin into the blood vessels and the released endorphins and serotonin cause pleasure and negate pain and sadness and decrease the chances of getting heart problems, helps fight excess weight and prolongs life. Even the cuddling of pets has a soothing effect that reduces the stress levels.

6. Well-hugged babies are less stress as adults  

An Emory University study in rats found a link between touch and relieving stress, particularly in the early stages of life. The research concluded that the same can be said of humans, citing that babies' development - including how they cope with stress as adults - depends on a combination of nature and nurture.

7. Hugging and the parasympathetic balance
Hugs balance out the nervous system.

 8. Hugging enhances the immune system
Research shows that the hug hormones above are immuno-regulatory. Hugs promote the relaxation response -- they help to change the way your body handles both physical and social stresses, thus boosting your immune system naturally to do the job it was designed to do!  (c) Josh Richardson, Sott

And did you know that ...
Just ten seconds of hugging can lower blood pressure and after this time elapses, levels of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin increase, while the amounts of stress chemicals, including cortisol, drop. [Daily Mail]

Make hugging part of your daily routine 

So how can you add hugging to your daily routine? 

You can start, first of all, by hugging yourself every morning and every night. Go on - try it now. No-one is watching, I promise. Just cross your arms, almost as if you are trying to reach your right hand across the front of your body and stretching out towards your left shoulder blade. Great! Now do the same with the left hand, reaching across to your right shoulder blade. Squeeze ... hold it, hold it, hold it. Keep that for 10 seconds and really 'feel' that hug you are gifting you. Doesn't that feel great?

Shall we aim to try to find 8 hugs a day?  You've already done one right there. Yay! See, this is an easy healthy thing to add to your routine, hey?

Try the hugging meditation

There was a wonderful article in Brain Pickings a few days ago, sharing writings from Thich Nhat Hahn, a Zen Buddhist monk, in his book, 'How to Love'. He describes a lovely meditation which he calls the hugging meditation.  
According to the practice, you have to really hug the person you are holding. You have to make him or her very real in your arms, not just for the sake of appearances, patting him on the back to pretend you are there, but breathing consciously and hugging with all your body, spirit, and heart. Hugging meditation is a practice of mindfulness. - Thich Nhat Hanh

This makes perfect sense to me. You need to be really present and in-the-moment to give a really good hug that will quickly help to heal heart, mind, body and soul. For both you and the other person. So the hugging meditation fulfils the requirements for a good health-boosting, healing hug : real contact, real presence, and because we are maintaining the hug for a period of time, we are definitely going to hit the 10-second marker for each hugging meditation we practice.


Do you need more people to hug in your life?

Join the Free Hugs Campaign - isn't it worth it, just to see how happy hugs make people? Even those who aren't being hugged in these videos (below) are smiling ... and yes, smiling is great for you and your health, too. Don't be shy, you will be truly amazed how responsive your friends and loved ones will be when you consciously choose to add hugging to your daily routine.

You can also send virtual hugs to your friends around the world ...
Virtual Hug - Image Source WiffleGif

You can also give yourself an aromatic hug, too. When I feel low in spirits, or need a 'hug', I grab my hugs-in-a-bottle (usually Geranium) and apply liberally to my pulse points and also add to an aromatherapy pendant, similar to the one below:
handcrafted aromatherapy pendants created by Callie Carling
Our handmade, unique pendants - we would recommend
Geranium or Lavender as your hug-in-a-bottle

May you be blessed with many hugs today, and each day going forward - and welcome to a hugglingly-good healthy practice that is free and takes only a few seconds out of your busy day. You are worth it.

When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings. 
- Thich Nhat Hanh

How many hugs did you note down, dear reader? Please do share with us below your tally, and let us know your hug-goals for tomorrow!

Article resources

Image source: Amigos de Verdad, MurielleSW
Image source: Saying Images - Official Hugging Guide 
Image source: Virtual Hug (gif), WaffleGif

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  1. I'm going to have to remember spread more hugs. It won't be easy I'm not the hugging type but :) it seems so beneficial

    1. I have the exact opposite issue, Jennifer - my body and mind think anyone is fair game for a hug! x

  2. Good hugs are so awesome! great post!