Did you know that there’s an art to hugging? Some people have the ‘hugging art’ naturally. Everyone can learn skills to hug better. My first tip is that aiming to give a hug is a much more successful approach than aiming to receive one. ‘Success’ will arise in a loop of pleasure – through giving a good, satisfying hug, we’ll receive one back.
Our first experience of a hug and why we need them. The art of giving a good hug is underpinned by a primitive reflex – the Moro ‘clasping reflex’. There are two phases to Moro reflex – the first is a startle response emerging before we were born. In response to being startled, the foetus/new born begins extending and widening from the fingers, then through arms and the rest of the upper body. Ideally the stress/startle response is then resolved through closing and embrace. The Moro reflex is usually inhibited during babyhood, however it embodies our first experience of an involuntary ‘hug’ and is necessary for our ability to embrace and to survive emotionally.
My idea to teach the art of giving hugs came about in a conversation with one of my students. As we chatted, I realised that some skills I’ve learned through Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy training, could lead to the art of giving good hugs. So a few weeks ago I led a hugging themed class, here’s a description of some of the things I included and why:
Feeling breath into the back of the body – specifically the back of the lungs.
Students choose a partner to work with. One student sits behind the other. The student sitting behind is the ‘giving person’ and places hands around the back of the ribcage of the ‘receiving person’. The ‘giver’ aims to cultivate a quality of touch that can resonate with the lungs of the ‘receiver’. The ‘receiver’ feels the touch of the ‘giver’ and this helps brings awareness to the breath in the back of their lungs. The ‘giver’ focuses on the breath movement in the back of the lungs of the ‘receiver’ and simultaneously notices the breath movement in the back of their own lungs. After a while the partners have a discussion about the experience and then swap roles.
This partner breathing exercise is a favourite in classes at Harrogate Yoga, students say they become more tranquil and centred. Through doing this exercise we’re also learning about our bodies in an experiential way – it can be easy to forget that our lungs have volume into the back of the body and that breath moving in and out of the lungs isn’t just happening in the front.
Support for the arms from the lungs. Focusing on the breath movement in the back of the lungs can continue in asana practice. For example it can be very satisfying to feel breath into the back of the lungs in Parsvakonasana. In the picture here I’m breathing into the back of my left lung to find support for my extended left arm.
Seaweed Game is a great way to warm up towards giving a good hug. It’s a partner exercise which aims to bring a more fluid quality to movement. We practised this in the hugging themed class. More info about Seaweed Game and how to do it.
Bring awareness to the heart. It’s good to pause for a moment, visualise your heart nestling between the lungs and feel how the filling and emptying movement of the breath gives your heart a gentle massage. Then let the intention of kindness towards the recipient of your hug come from your heart. It’s a two way process. As Brene Brown says ‘Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart.’
Checklist for great hugs:
1. Aim to give a hug.
2. Bring awareness to your heart, allow your heart to fill with kindness towards the person you’re about to hug.
3. See if you can feel an energetic connection from your heart through your arms.
4. Feel breath into the back of your lungs. As you raise your arms let the breath support them. Visualise or sense breath movement travelling through your widening arms, all the way through to your fingertips, as you reach for your partner.
5. Complete the hug!