Hugs. What are they good for? Absolutely everything.
A handful of years ago, I was in a downtown Starbucks when a quartet of teenagers breathlessly entered. One of the girls held a sign that read: "Free hugs." (You might have seen the feel-good YouTube videos of people doing this during the past few years.) Impulsively, I stood up, opened my arms and we hugged. It was a good one, too, not one of those half-hearted hugs with a couple of back pats. And it didn't make me uncomfortable. In fact, it had much the opposite affect. I felt about 10 times lighter and happier. We giggled at each other, and the group went on its way.
That moment spoke to me of the healing power of touch.
Diana Adair is a local massage therapist, who also does craniosacral therapy, reiki and lymphatic drainage. She did a lecture on touch earlier this year for CorePower Yoga yoga teachers. That's where I teach. Teachers often give adjustments or assists during classes that are intended to bring your pose into alignment, take you deeper into a posture or simply feel good, like a savasana (corpse pose) adjustment.
Adjustments are one of my favorite parts of class. Ever since I started practicing yoga almost eight years ago, my daily quota for touch has gone up significantly - the more the better. I am grateful to be part of a community that embraces touch, literally. Sometimes I contemplate finding yoga classes to take where nobody knows I'm a teacher, and doing all the poses incorrectly just so I'll get an abundance of assists.
Adair believes we all have a "love tank" that needs daily maintenance. She prefers 10 hugs a day, which sounds like an excellent number to me.
"Emotionally, we connect touch with love, whether we realize it or not," Adair said. "It feeds into our self-esteem and our self-worth."
Human touch isn't just a nice thing when you can get it. It's a requirement for good health. Skin has hundreds of thousands of receptors, she said, and appropriate touch produces endorphins. It's why a massage feels so good.
Touch also helps form the immune and nervous systems, she said. If a baby doesn't receive enough contact, she grows up compromised - both physically and medically. Tests done in orphanages decades ago did experiments on babies (tests forbidden now). Separated into groups, some received a lot of touch, others received none. The ones who had none died. The same tests were done on animals with similar results.
You probably won't die anytime soon from lack of touch, but I have wondered about people who might not have much opportunity for human contact. Adair had some solutions:
- Get a plant. One study showed that an elderly person who cares for a plant will live one year longer than somebody without one.
- Get a pet. The body responds to rubbing a dog or cat just like it does to a human hug. The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region is always looking for animal care volunteers. There are lots of ways to get animal contact.
- Take a yoga class or get a massage or any form of bodywork. Seek out touch through volunteer work at a hospice, hospital or assisted-living home. The touch doesn't have to be complicated. Simply holding somebody's hand for five minutes can help strengthen the immune systems of both people.
Start a Hug Trend
Think about how you hug. If you tend to go left, like I find myself doing, it means you’re hugging liver to liver, Adair says. The liver takes up space in the torso from about the bellybutton to the right hip, beneath the rib cage. Traditional Chinese medicine believes the liver stores anger. Adair suggests we change our hugging pattern and hug heart to heart. Go right when you go in for a hug, so your hearts match up.
Why does it feel instinctual to hug liver to liver? Perhaps, she said, because we’re simply protecting our heart.
Contact Jennifer Mulson, 636-0270, email@example.com.