Something seems amiss: Millions of us now click into our social lives each day, count 100, 300, even 500+ friends in our networks, and yet somehow move through the entire day without having experienced one human-to-human, warm-bodied hug.
Indeed, when Megatrends author John Naisbitt ushered in the notion of “high tech, high touch” in the 1980s, it seemed to many to be more of a hip catchphrase than reality in the making. But as he famously foresaw, the more wired we become as a species, the more we tend to desire—crave, even—the feel of warm, comforting, inviting, and sensual interaction.
That’s one reason why, from coast to coast, snuggle, cuddle, and hug therapy sessions and practices have sprung up over the past few years.
You can find The Snuggery in Penfield, New York, near Rochester (“Take a Break, Have a Snuggle”), where Jacqueline Samuel charges clients $60 per hour for healing, clothed, therapeutic, nonsexual touch. On the West Coast, at San Francisco’s Cuddle Therapy, Travis Sigley, 29, a former male strip-club dancer, offers comforting, sensual, but decidedly nonsexual spooning and clothed hugging with clients in “a safe, loving, trusted environment” at the rate of $75 per hour.
The Indian spiritual leader known as Amma the hugging saint has embraced millions of Hindu and other followers on her world tours to promote compassion and selfless love. In the U.S., her meditative and hug-filled tours have been covered by the likes of Rolling Stone and PBS.
In Boulder, Colorado, Chris DeCicco, a former software sales exec, recently opened a snuggle company called Be the Love You Are. (There are six other hugging partners who offer services alongside DeCicco.) It offers clothed, nonsexual hugging sessions for $60 per hour. Snuggle parties are held at a yoga center on weekend evenings, in which participants engage in this new form of social-somatic networking. Pajamas (or yoga pants) are welcome.
In one-on-one sessions, “we do some breathing together, maybe some eye gazing; and maybe set an intention,” DeCicco said. “We’ll have clients say the intention out loud: what specifically they’d like to happen in the session. As in: ‘I’d like to feel more trust; I’d like to heal my wounds from my divorce.’ A simple, powerful statement of their goal.”
DeCicco, a kundalini yoga practitioner and tantra student, is also affiliated with the ManKind Project, a men’s mentoring nonprofit. Following a divorce, he began to work on personal and intimacy issues, and says only then did he realize how much therapeutic touch had both healed and changed him.
Hugs for Health
Hugging has been shown to boost helpful hormones and reduce the level of harmful hormonal effects, at least in controlled environments. In a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine and in related work, psychologist Karen Grewen, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, has found that:
- The heart rate among subjects who had no contact with each other increased a full 10 beats per minute in a study after couples were asked to discuss anger-inducing topics. Couples who discussed the same topics but hugged for 20 seconds showed a rise of just five beats per minute.
- Levels of the hormone oxytocin (the “pleasure” hormone) increased markedly among the couples who hugged.
- Levels of the so-called stress hormone, cortisol, which can have damaging physical effects, dropped more markedly among women than men in measured hugging sessions.
- The blood pressure of subjects who didn’t hug each other rose significantly more in the experiment than that of those who hugged on cue.
As for benefits that may accrue to those who try hugging therapy, all snickers and winks aside, Sigley (the Cuddle Therapy hugger) has seen—and felt—profound change among certain clients who have brought complicated pasts with them into their sessions. Guided meditations usually signal the start of his hugging sessions. Following an initial intake plus a face-to-face, seated ice-breaking period, Sigley shares that on repeated occasions he has helped wounded, weeping clients (ranging in age from 19 to 60) recapture a sense of safety and warmth following instances of abuse or rape that may have occurred long ago.
“There have been times after sessions I’ve walked away with a sense of disbelief,” Sigley said. “It’s amazing the amount of trust…once we’re in each other’s arms, once they feel I’m not there to do anything [hurtful].”
Among clients whose pasts may not be as complicated, “there is a demand to reinitiate touch into someone’s life,” Sigley said. “It’s not necessarily about the cuddling: It’s more about the experience of being able to develop a relationship of trust and empathy in a stranger—so much that you can be wrapped up in them.”
At this level of human connection, “high touch” takes on new meaning.