Apples and oranges are good for health, a smile goes a long way, exercise has numerous advantages, an occasional glass of red wine is encouraged, but what about the benefits of a straightforward, all encompassing, tight hug?
It is natural, easy, doesn’t cost a thing and its rewards are miraculous — it releases “oxytocin’, the ‘love hormone’ that lowers anxiety and blood pressure quickly, generating a sense of wellbeing and happiness. A simple hug has the power to reduce anger, restore confidence, and reconcile differences.
Frowned upon by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud as a slippery slope, a hug or touch between patient and psychologist was discouraged for obvious reasons of sexual connotation and misinterpretation, because it could lay the ground for unforeseen complications among weak and susceptible patients. Today, though we still may be standoffish about something as intimate as an open embrace, psychoanalysts promote it as a means of healing and nurturing.
A firm touch on the shoulders, clasping of hands, a bear hug between friends, lovers, siblings, parents or even acquaintances is gaining widespread recognition as a simple yet powerful way of bolstering confidence, increasing longevity, and giving both the hugger and the hugged a rush of happiness.
Kangaroo Care, a new method for the care of preterm babies is gaining popularity worldwide. It The mother is required to sit for a length of time daily with the infant on her chest, with skin to skin contact, akin to marsupials, giving the baby a feel of the womb. This has lowered mortality and induced quicker, healthier growth in weak babies.
My brother in Delhi has a young maid from Jharkhand, whom her family sold for being sickly. After numerous heartless and mean employers, she reached my brother’s house, a motherless waif, emaciated and forlorn. Over the years, given love and affection, she is today all grown up, a sober and quiet worker. Whenever I am in Delhi, I always greet her with a tight, long hug, and can feel her beaming. The rest of the day she hums and goes about her work so cheerfully that I like to believe that my simple gesture has boosted her self-esteem and given her something to smile about.
Even inanimate touch helps. My niece, as a toddler, trailed the same dog-eared and wornout blanket for years, refusing to let it out of her sight; and much to our surprise and horror would insist on hugging it while asleep, even in summer. I understand today the reassurance and sense of security that a familiar piece of cloth gave her probably, in a huge household swarming with children of various age.
Cradling a cup of tea and inhaling the aroma, letting the comforting steam of tomato soup waft over our faces, caressing the thick petals of a rose, or burying our noses in its silken, scented whorls — all simple gestures but have the power to heal and comfort us, provide us with succour in times of stress and despair.
I wonder if there is a World Hug Day? Even if not, how about giving it a try and surprise yourself with the heady flow of goodwill and sense of complete well-being that will accompany it surely!
The writer is a Jalandhar-based freelance contributor