What is cuddling?
For many of us, when we think of cuddling, we probably think of this.
You may already be shifting uncomfortably in your seat, thinking back to countless cramped, sleepless nights, crushed beneath the weight of a partner, lover or friend.
But touch—non-sexual touch—is absolutely crucial to our health and well-being as humans, so read on.
Last week, my partner and I drove close to 14 hours to attend the Rootwire Transformational Arts Festival in Terra Alta, West Virginia. Not quite Burning Man, not quite a music festival, Rootwire combined workshops, performing arts and musical acts into an intense four-day marathon of exploration. In the “Ceremonial Center” sat two glowing white structures that looked to me like enormous igloos. Outside one of these “igloos” a sign read, “CUDDLE DOME.”
I was sold.
We ended up spending a good deal of our time using the cuddle dome as a private nap space.
We also attended one workshop. The leader, Ziel, had long curly hair and bright red leggings. Printed on the name tag around his neck were the words, “CUDDLE DOME LOVE LEADER.” In another incarnation, he runs the “Orgy Dome” at Burning Man, but that is a subject for elsewhere. The Cuddle Dome focuses on providing a “safe, comfortable space for platonic intimacy.”
In his workshop, Ziel did not necessarily say anything I hadn’t heard before, but what he said was important, and worth repeating.
Science generally agrees that touch causes our brains to release Oxytocin.
Oxytocin, sometimes called “the love hormone,” is really more of an all-around feel-good chemical. Its release lowers Cortisol (stress) levels, slows our heart and blood rates, and leads to feelings of well-being and calm.
Touch is directly correlated to Oxytocin, and Oxytocin directly improves our happiness.
Even more interesting, the more intentional and caring we are with our touch, the higher the levels of Oxytocin released. That is, a passing touch from a stranger will release a small amount of this hormone, but a hug from a friend, or even a stranger, can multiply its impact when it is offered with compassion and love. That is pretty remarkable, when you think about it.
So, how do we go about capitalizing on our bodies’ natural Xanax?
First, recognize that “platonic intimacy” is a real thing. Intimacy doesn’t have to be, and usually isn’t, sexual. We have platonic, intimate relationships with our family, friends and lovers, too.
This intimacy is rooted in trust and compassion. It grows from empathy and mutual respect. It is both the foundation and the product of a strong relationship. Touch, like intimacy, must arise from a place of connectedness and trust in order to be most effective.
Surrender is a crucial step in this process.
To be truly receptive to the healing, calming and restorative potential of touch, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable with another human being. Vulnerability is a natural state that we unlearn as we grow and become adults. Children know, instinctively, how to surrender into a hug.
Once we accept our need for intimacy and human connection—that is, our vulnerability—we can be open to its fulfillment.
Now, for the actual cuddling.
Cuddling is not a competition to see who can hold out longest. It is not a sacrifice to be made to a loved one. It is a mutually giving, mutually beneficial act of love.
Platonic, romantic, fleeting, life-long; it doesn’t matter, so long as all involved are committed to offering, as well as receiving, this gift.
We can’t fully give or receive when we aren’t comfortable. Find a quiet location where you can both (or all—cuddling, after all, is not limited to twos!) relax and settle in.
Move around until you find a position where you can release (much like svasana). Remember that you are not signing a contract with that configuration of limbs; you can move again.
Focus on the person (or people) beside you, and think kind, loving thoughts about them. Our minds are incredibly powerful, and we really can express thoughts and feelings through touch.
Our heads and shoulders are hot-spots of pressure points, and caresses fit cuddling like butter on toast. (They go together.)
Continually focus back on the other person and on yourself.
Be aware of your heartbeat, their heartbeat—of your breath, their breath. Keep coming back to thoughts or feelings of love and empathy. Watch for a deepening of connection between you and the other person.
And that is it. There are very few steps to this process. Intimacy, touch and cuddling are human nature. There is nothing to learn; only instincts we have forgotten. Through compassion, trust, surrender, love and awareness, we can learn them again.
At the end of the workshop, Ziel gifted me my very own “Cuddle Dome Love Leader” tag. It is attached to a pink rhinestone lanyard, now hanging from a doorknob in my home. As an honorary “Love Leader,” I am honored to share this knowledge with you.
May it be of benefit to you and your partner.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Carrie Marzo/Editor: Travis May
Photo: Matt Anderson / Flickr