Conscious Hugging

In his book Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh says

Hugging is a beautiful Western custom, and we from the East would like to contribute the practice of conscious breathing to it. When you hold a child in your arms, or hug your mother, or your husband, or your friend, if you breathe in and out three times, your happiness will be multiplied at least tenfold.

Hugging in this way was taught to me by Joseph LePage, founder of Integrative Yoga Therapy. I was attending my basic certification to become a yoga teacher. Joseph held me and whispered “Breathe with me, Catherine.” We took those three slow breaths and my world changed. He also taught me to go to my right when hugging someone I wanted to draw close, aligning our hearts.

My original college major was nursing. In the neonatal unit, we learned to care for premature infants. The medical community was just realizing the importance of touch in the lives of infants. One of our babies fit in my hand – his head resting on the heel of my hand and his feet barely reaching over my fingertips. As a student nurse I was tasked with holding him and whispering to him in the incubator. I remember the head nurse showing me how to slip my hand underneath him and then to let the fingers of my other hand rest lightly over his body. She said “To him, this feels like a hug. He needs our touch to thrive and survive.” I was rotated to another unit but we were told six months later that he was able to go home. He had survived and now could be held next to his parents’ hearts.

We all need to be held, hugged, and touched to thrive and survive. Human contact meets needs deep within us. Mindful hugging is a gift we give to others and to ourselves. I can tell when a person hugs me whether or not they are aware and actually feel me in their arms. I like it when they are. I can tell when I hug another person whether or not I am aware and actually feel that person in my arms. I like it when I am.

Conscious hugging, now this is a practice worth nurturing!


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