Hugging: A Natural Anti-Depressant and So Much More!

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Hug

“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” ~ Virgina Satir

When I was 13,  I left the Catholic Church of my upbringing and started attending a Unitarian congregation. It was a little like coming over to your childhood best-friend’s house for the first time and realizing how differently other families treated one another.

I was astounded by how much hugging went on at the service and how healing it was to be touched with a loving embrace from virtual strangers. It was an epiphany for me. Growing up in a small town in central Minnesota, hugging outside of the family was usually rare, rushed and awkward (but nonetheless, still good even in its watered down form!).

Touch is a vital part of our human experience. And in our increasingly digital lives, we’re getting less touch than ever before.

Touch can communicate where words fail us, and it can convey more than words. The New York Times gives a powerful example:

“A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched.”

And a student who receives an encouraging pat on the back is twice as likely to volunteer in class.

Now, these are the major effects of just minor touches. Imagine the power of a hug!

“Everybody needs a hug. It changes your metabolism.” ~ Leo Buscaglia

The scientific benefits of hugging are astounding. Recent research has shown that a mere 10-second hug can set off a biochemical and psychological chain reaction:

  • Yummy hormones like oxytocin, “the love drug,” start streaming through our systems
  • The neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin increase in production, which helps elevate our moods
  • Blood pressure lowers, which can help with feelings of anxiety
  • Stress chemicals like cortisol are sent packing
  • Hugging also improves social skills and promotes trust

Millions and millions of years would still not give me half enough time to describe that tiny instant of all eternity when you put your arms around me and I put my arms around you.”  ~ Jacques Prévert

It’s time for a hug revolution! Hug with presence, hug longer and hug every chance you get, because it’s good for you and good for your hugging partner. And by spreading the power of a hug, we can improve our well-being, longevity and make this a friendlier, happier, more loving world. It’s an easy-peasy practical step that doesn’t cost a dime!

Have I converted you to the hug revolution yet? Here’s a hugging meditation for those of you who want to take your hugging to the next level and share the power of this practice in a mindful way:

A Hugging Meditation How-To:

  1. Stand facing your partner and sink into your breath and body. Become fully present. Gaze into their eyes. Be steady and still.
  2. Embrace your partner. Melt into their arms and hug in such a way that your hearts are connected.
  3. With the first in-breath and out-breath, notice that you and your partner are alive. Listen to their heartbeat. Feel the warmth that their body exudes.
  4. On the second in-breath and out-breath, extend gratitude for your aliveness and for your partner’s aliveness.
  5. Continue to breathe conscious, loving breaths. Stay with your partner for 20 seconds.
  6. When the hug concludes, bow to your partner with eye contact, reverence and gratitude.

“Breathing in, I know my dear one is in my arms, alive. Breathing out, she is so precious to me. If you breathe deeply like that, holding the person you love, the energy of your care and appreciation will penetrate into that person and she will be nourished and bloom like a flower.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

There’s no wrong way to do it. Experiment. Try new approaches and let me know in the comments if you have your own favorite ways to hug with presence.

When you are hugging a child, always be the last one to let go. You never know how long they need it.” ~ Author Unknown

Check out this ultra cute how-to on hugging meditation for kiddos:

 

Author: Kristi Kremers

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Image: Flickr

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Kristi Kremers

Kristi Kremers is an author, RYT-500 yoga teacher and academic. With a background in counseling, research and having taught in higher education for over 10 years, she blends the spiritual with a practical what-actually-works edge.

She is a best-selling children’s book author and founder of Lead to Love. Her books include: Who Is A Leader?, BeeYOUtiful which is available for Free download and Yoga for Kids.

Want to go higher? Sign up for free tools and goodies by joining the mailing list here. Her book, The Ten Commandments of Dating will be released on Amazon.com just in time for Valentine’s Day. The book is full of practical exercises for bringing more va and voom into love into your life. Connect with Kristi on her website, on Facebook or Twitter.

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anonymous May 15, 2015 7:56pm

Kremers writes that "The neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin increase in production, which helps elevate our moods." Apparently, she's, in part, making an obvious reference to the serotonin-as-the-happiness-molecule theory.

Yet a rather sizable volume of research studies demonstrated that increasing serotonin (and tryptophan) is linked to brain dysfunction, stress hormone release, cognitive deficits, inflammation, impaired blood circulation in the brain, hypertension, cancer, and the list goes on with less than "happy" events – google/bing "Tryptophan Side Effects: L-Tryptophan Is Far From Harmless"

The serotonin-happiness mantra seems to be almost entirely an all-too convenient invention of the medical-psychiatry business, that then gets widely disseminated by the mass media.

So, it's is unlikely that the benefits of hugging are in part caused by an increase of serotonin.

    anonymous May 16, 2015 9:41am

    Uyako, only a small fraction of the hundreds of neurotransmitters have been identified by scientists so there's still a lot to discover in the realm of neurotransmitters. How exactly these complex molecules work in concert is something we're still evaluating.

    Clearly, serotonin has been linked to an increase in confidence- which as a byproduct, helps promote happiness. The interactions with the other hormones and neurotransmitters are especially complex.

    Tryptophan increases the production of serotonin TOO much. It doesn't mean that serotonin itself is causing those problems- it's that too much of it is. Even too much water can lead to an overdose. I think in general, many anti-depressants who have worked to keep serotonin trapped in place have many other negative side effects. But that doesn't negate the powerful role that serotonin plays in boosting confidence- especially in this soothing chemical cocktail induced by the power of a natural hug.