Happy Healthy YOU

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Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU

(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga and meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)

This past Saturday, after a busy but wonderful morning, I ran up town to pick up a few items from the mall. The rain was falling swiftly with dark and gloomy skies, but the mood of the town was not as dark.

As I stepped out of my car in the underground parking, the first thing I encountered was an older gentleman happily approaching a couple of approximately the same age. After a friendly greeting they all hugged each other.

I continued on my shopping travels into the mall and as I reached the top of the stairwell, I witnessed two mid-aged women walking toward each other as one cheerfully claimed “it is so great to see you!” As they arrived into each other’s presence, the meeting was sealed with a big two-armed hug and smiles of contentment.

I arrived at the store intended and as I entered there was a young teen couple standing in an embrace. They weren’t talking. They simply stood, holding each other, oblivious to the outside world beyond the complacency of their moment.

I had witnessed several hugs within a time frame of no more than four minutes and I was smiling. The amusement of how happy I felt as a spectator to these ample acts of endearment had me inquiring: just how healing is hugging?

Hugging therapy is being shown to be a powerful healing tool. Research shows that hugging (and also laughter) is extremely effective at healing sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress.

Just how does this ordinary and simple act of affection keep us healthier and happier?

Studies have shown that the act of this human touch in common greetings actually relaxes muscles. Hugs release tension in the body. When we can release some of this tension it can soothe chronic aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues. This stress reduction can assist to lower our blood pressure as well as cortisol levels. Cortisol sometimes called our “stress hormone” when lowered can help us feel calmer, which in turn can promote better sleep.

Hugs balance out the two parts of our nervous: parasympathetic and sympathetic. Sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the flight-or-fight response while the parasympathetic is responsible for activation of the tranquil functions. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system - parasympathetic.

Hugging induces oxytocin production in the body, a powerful hormone that not only fortifies bonds with our loved ones, but also has the capability to stimulate solidarity between total strangers. A boost in our oxytocin levels can diminish feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger. Holding the hug for just a bit longer for an extended embrace is shown to lift one's serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating feelings of happiness.

Studies have shown that the healing practice of hugging can boost our immune system and keep us healthier. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body's production of white blood cells. Our white blood cells are the cells of the immune system that are involved in protecting the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders.

There is a natural balance of life that hugs represent. It is a reciprocal act with both giving and receiving. Hugs, teach and remind us of the harmony in balanced reciprocating exchanges and relationships.

Hugs create trust and safety. From the moment we are born, we are handed over from the womb to our mothers embrace. Our small infant bodies passed from loved one to loved one, swaddled and swooned over. We are shown early that a hug is associated with being important and special. Those early experiences stored in our cellular memory are gently awakened by squeezes of fondness, promoting healthy self-esteem and confidence.

There is a saying by Virginia Satir, a respected family therapist, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

Isn’t it time for us all to embrace the healing of hugs more often?

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