“Mom, come here. I want to say goodnight.” That’s the cue. Whatever I am doing, washing the dishes or sitting by the computer, I know its is time, drop everything else. I go in to my 10-year old son’s room, slide under the cover, put my arm out so that he can rest his head on my shoulder and he puts his arm around me.
He is an extremely active kid and does generally not take a lot of time to talk about what is going with him, but this is the time, when I get to hear about it. It might be silly stuff from school, or some deeper questions about family and life. Anything really. It is warm under the cover and his arm around my body gives me a deep sense of love and safety.
Outside from the fact that hugging makes us feel protected and loved, this touching gesture can also do wonders for our well-being.
According to research, when we hug, oxytocin is released, making us all warm and fuzzy inside. The hormones that are released are not just good for happy feelings, they actually also impact our physical health and are linked to lowering blood pressure and a healthier heart (having people around us to hug seem to lower our heart rate).
If you feel stressed, go and hug someone! When we hug, we reduce the amount of the stress hormone cortisol. And human contact also seems to become increasingly important with age, when we become more fragile physically. Loneliness, particularly with age, can increase stress and have reversed health effects. By hugging someone, we instantly feel closer to that person, and decrease the feeling of loneliness.
I read this beautiful piece on hugging by the legendary Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. In the 60’s, while travelling in the US, he was saying goodbye to a friend at an airport and she asked him if it was alright to hug him. He said yes, even though this was not the way he was used to express himself. It was a stiff hug and on the plane back home he decided that if he was going to work with friends in the West he wanted to embrace the culture of the West. So he did come up with a East-West fusion of the hug practice, “the hugging meditation”.
“According to the practice, you have to really hug the person you are holding. You have to make him or her very real in your arms, not just for the sake of appearances, patting him on the back to pretend you are there, but breathing consciously and hugging with all your body, spirit, and heart. Hugging meditation is a practice of mindfulness. “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. “
After a while, my son becomes quiet. The world, the planets and the universe seem to make perfect sense in this silence. For a moment, before I leave his bed, I feel that we come into the world for these precious moments.
“I have learned that there is more power in a good strong hug than in a thousand meaningful words.”