Those of you who have participated in any of my kids' yoga classes might recall that I like to close each class with a Shine Your Light challenge. Often that challenge is to go out and give three people a hug that day. Hugs, just like laughter, are a very powerful tool.
From a scientific standpoint, hugs make us feel good largely due to the release of oxytocin, also known as the "cuddle hormone". Studies have shown that the act of hugging also slows the release of a major stress hormone, cortisol. Hugs can melt away anxiety, help to lower blood pressure, and promote calmness. Hugs also build trust and a sense of safety. Researchers have even shown that a hug can act as a protective force against illness. After all, hugs can reduce stress levels, and reduced stress allows your immune system to perform better. More in-depth reasoning suggests that hugging puts gentle pressure at the solar plexus chakra (sternum), which stimulates the thymus gland--the gland responsible for regulating the production of white blood cells in the body--thereby keeping you healthy.
As you can see, the science behind the power of hugs is extensive, but what about the benefits of hugs on a more personal level? I didn't grow up in a very "touchy-feely" family. Far from it, actually. It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I started to understand the power of a hug. As a children's product designer, I had already learned a lot about the science of touch--specifically the importance of the 4th trimester and bonding with baby through touch. On an intellectual level, I had it figured out. My heart first grasped the power of a hug when I lost my mom at the age of 26. While the kind words that friends and family shared with me were always appreciated, it was the hugs that had the most healing power. That's when I began to understand that a hug was so much more powerful than words--and often more appropriate. Have you ever found yourself trying to find the perfect words when faced with a friend going through any type of loss? Life has a way of inflicting wounds that cannot be eased by even the most heartfelt sentiments. I know I've been there many times. My words always feel empty, even when I am speaking them with the utmost compassion.
So what do you do if you live too far away to give a hug? I'm still trying to figure that out, as I have many dear friends scattered across the globe. Sometimes it's just a text to check in, to say "I'm thinking of you". Maybe a call out of the blue some evening. Just listening on the other end of the phone with a mix of "I hear you" and "that sucks" can help someone to know you truly care. You could send a small gift in the mail or a handwritten letter to express your sentiments. And, depending on the gravity of the situation, you might even want to book a flight or hop in the car to be by their side.
Writing this is a great reminder to myself. When a friend comes to me with something weighing on their soul, I don't need to find the right words to "fix" the problem. I just need to be present, to listen, and to give them a long hug. The same is true with parenting my kids. When my three-year-old has seemingly lost her mind, and no amount of threats or pleas to straighten up are going to solve the problem, I will just hold her and love her. When my older daughter has a bad day at school and words are not helping, I will just hold her and love her.
I'll leave you on a lighter note. My three-year-old thinks she gives "superpower hugs". One day while we were playing, I stubbed my toe. I sat on the floor with a sad face. My little girl instinctively came over and gave me a hug. I couldn't help but smile. I said to her, "Wow, I didn't know you had superpower hugs to make me feel better!". Ever since that day, she believes she gives "superpower hugs", and I've encouraged her to use her superpowers to make others feel better. Sometimes I even pretend to be sad, just to get one of her special hugs. I like to think of it as her practice session. Such an important lesson, born out of a moment of togetherness, that we will forever cherish.
Hugging is all-natural, organic, naturally sweet, no pesticides, no preservatives, no artificial ingredients, 100% wholesome, and free. So go shine your light and give three people (pets count, too) hugs today.
Peace & Play