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Mindful hugging

Many years ago I visited family living in South America and discovered that they have a very prominent hugging culture there. Every time you met or said goodbye to someone, a big hug was part of the process. Often you could meet up to ten people at once, and a "hugathon" would ensue. When I returned to Australia, I was left with a lingering longing for those regular hugs from numerous people. I have "self-diagnosed" myself as having "hug deprivation syndrome".

Since that time a lot has been discovered about the hug hormone, oxytocin. This hormone is released when mothers are breastfeeding babies and also when anyone has a prolonged hug. It creates a sense of belonging and well-being.

When Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk came from Vietnam to the west, he was coming from a culture where there was hardly any hugging at all. When invited to hug by Westerners, he decided to practice hugging mindfully. He discovered that when he really hugged the person he was holding with full loving awareness that person would be nourished and bloom like a flower.

A fuller description of this practice can be found here.

*A note of caution:

Of course, hugging can have a lot of other connotations for many people. Most typically it can be overlaid with sexual feelings. It is probably because of the need to maintain boundaries in this regard that many cultures do not hug so much.

It has certainly resulted in a dramatic change in counsellor’s and psychotherapist’s behaviours over the last 20 years. Hugging clients to control or validate them used to be common practice. Now it is hardly done at all because of fear of accusations of unprofessional behaviour.

That is a real pity! Perhaps as we become more mindful with our hugs, we will become better able to discern a really healthy hug from an empty hug and from a sleazy unwanted sexual hug.

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