The Spiritual Hug

The Spiritual Hug


Hugs are good for you, but do you get or give daily hugs? How long do they last? Up your spiritual hug count and reap the many benefits of this shared connection.

When I was a school teacher, I instituted a process I’d learned from Chicken Soup for the Soul author Jack Canfield called “H or H” which was short for “a hug or a handshake?” The premise was that I would stand at the door and greet each child every day with one or the other—their choice.

Only one student in the class consistently chose a handshake, while everyone else opted for a hug. I loved the practice because it allowed me to connect with every student every day, even the ones who were adept at hiding behind the cloak of being quiet and good; in other words, unseen. I came to see this ritual of shared embrace as essential: a spiritual hug for us all.

I did wonder about the one boy who always chose handshakes, but decided that some people just aren’t huggers. Then one day his mom called and said, “I don’t know what you are doing at school, but every time my son comes home he gives me a huge hug!” I loved hearing that he was getting hugs at home and sharing the “H and H” with his mom, making their interaction more loving.

A Spiritual Hug Is Seen and Felt

Recently, I had a retreat guest for a week. Even though he sought the retreat and showed up to all the sessions, he had an aloofness about him. I discussed the situation with the team of practitioners working with him and questioned whether he was getting what he needed from the experience. This is a rare thing for me as most of our guests are clearly benefitting. When his final session arrived, I checked in with him about how he felt his retreat was going and was surprised to hear him say, “This is exactly what I needed.”

When I checked in with the retreat attendee again a couple months later, I was delighted to hear that he felt his retreat had made a very positive impact on his life. He then revealed that one of the things that made a huge impact was being exposed to hugs. He shared that in his work world and daily life, there was very little personal connection with others. Both being hugged and observing people offering hugs to others as a means of healing, welcome, heartfelt connection, or departure touched his heart. It was surprising to hear that what I considered a side effect of the retreat was part of what was so meaningful to him.

But it shouldn’t have surprised me.

4, 8, or 12: Upping Your Hug Ante

Joseph Mercola points out that there are significant health benefits from hugging. Stress reduction, a boosted immune system, lower risk of heart disease, and less depression can all result from a 10-second hug a day. One study reported that one-third of people receive no hugs per day and 75 percent said they wanted more hugs. Where do you fall on that spectrum? What are your own hug statistics?

Psychotherapist Virginia Satir said, “We need four hugs a day to survive, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth.” My guess is that most of us are falling far short of that quota.

[Read: “My Two-Hour Hug Fest.”]

I invite you to turn your attention to your own relationships and see if you can up your spiritual hug ante. Do you get or give hugs every day? How long do your hugs last? Do you suffer from the “hit and run” hug that is so fast it barely counts or the “burp the baby” hug that is accompanied by several slaps on the back?

Try increasing your hug mindfulness with your sweetheart, children, parents, or friends to include greetings and departures. If you feel like you aren’t a hugger, see what happens if you just reach out and touch, hold hands, or put your arm around your loved ones a little more often. Make it an experiment and explore how increased touch impacts your relationships and your mood.

But before you go throwing yourself onto everyone you meet, hug etiquette suggests that you simply ask, “Are you a hugger?” prior to assuming that the other person actually wants to be hugged. You might even try the old “hug or a handshake?” and see what happens. Mindful touch in the form of a spiritual hug may well be the secret to happier, healthier relationships.

Read more about hugging, cradling, and kissing in “The Science of Touch.”

Enjoying this content?

Get this article and many more delivered straight to your inbox weekly.