“A hug promotes relaxation by lowering cortisol, relieves tension, and boosts feelings of self-compassion” - Give yourself a big hug: that’s what we all need right now, writes Victoria Jackson
Give yourself a big hug — I find myself saying frequently in class these days. It used to be an expression that was limited in scope, most often just a tip to help students loosen the upper back ready for eagle-arms.
Nowadays the idea of hugging peppers my language throughout the class, from warm-ups to mobilise the shoulder blades, through cuing teepee twist, and finally as a gentle exit from Savasana, tucking knees up to the chest.
Maybe I should rebrand my classes as ‘hug yoga’! But I’m not doing it as a cutesy gimmick, of course. The experiences of lockdown underline how genuinely important touch is to our wellbeing. If we can’t get a hug from anyone else, sometimes we need to give one to ourselves. It might feel a bit silly at first, but it does actually self-soothe — and there’s science to prove it.
Even when you’re just giving it to yourself, a hug promotes relaxation by lowering cortisol, relieves tension, and boosts feelings of self-compassion. It turns out a simple hug packs quite a punch when it comes to increasing feelings of wellbeing!
I consider myself fortunate that I don’t live alone and so I can still get hugs pretty much on demand, but even so I find I’ve been missing other forms of physical contact.
And not just hugs from family and friends, I also miss the less intimate, everyday moments — the hairdresser helping me into my coat, shaking hands with a new colleague at work, maybe even being squished against strangers on a crowded bus. Not to mention those skilful assists from my teacher in yoga class.
Meanwhile, I’ve been limited to ‘clinical’ settings only for close physical contact.
Recently, I had a really painful trapped nerve for which I needed help from my physio. As he turned my neck this way and that and poked into the muscles in my upper back, I realised that this was the first proper touch from non-family that I’ve felt in nearly a year.
While treatment from my physio in full PPE was certainly not in the same category as a hug from my mum, it was kind of nice... in its own way! It got rid of the pain at least. I was so grateful for that I would have given my physio a hug in return if I’d been able to!
Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a Vinyasa yoga teacher.