8-Step Guide to a Great Hug

November 22, 2013


A truly great hug is a rich experience that has you pull another human body deliciously tight into yours as a way of saying, “I so deeply value your presence that I’m taking this exact moment to feel you, smell you, breathe with you – essentially stamp your being into my cellular memory so that even though we may be soon apart, you will in fact always be with me in the living fabric of my existence.

Also, hugs are tangibly healthy for you – ocytocin, dopamine, bonding, decreased stress, etc. So …

1. Hug like you mean it.

Hugging some people is like embracing a telephone pole. Now, I can literally hug the hell out of a telephone pole –  I’ve done it (pic below) – but a truly great hug is definitely a two-person co-created gig. However, some people just aren’t ready for a truly great hug, for whatever reason. They might not be comfortable with affection, might be in a rush, or they simply might not trust you, regardless whether they have good reason. A great hug can quickly turn creepy hug when you feel your partner initiate the disconnect but you won’t let go. So hug like you mean it, but if you feel your partner moves to let go, then let go and live to hug another day. However, if you suddenly find yourself in an embrace with truly great hug potential – or if you’re uncomfortable hugging others and would like to experience a truly great hug – read on.

2. Be willing to be vulnerable. Open your arms.

The act of hugging is an inherently vulnerable act. As we open our arms, we expose our chest, our very heart, to the person before us. It’s a complete gesture of vulnerability, letting the other person know that we trust them enough in this moment to grant them passage into our personal space. You can’t experience a truly great hug if you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable. That’s why so many hugs these days are stiff and unsatisfying. Too many of us are afraid to let each other in. So if you’re with someone you know will behave respectfully inside your embrace, take the risk and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Open your arms and …

3. Close your eyes.

4. Breathe into the embrace

Once the embrace has begun, rather than immediately unplug the hug before an authentic embrace has even happened, simply take a deep breath. Allow yourself at least one deep breath before you even think about releasing. You might find both bodies spontaneously synchronize to each other’s breathing. Breathing in harmony with another body pressed against yours is a wondrous experience. So often, we quickly disconnect our hugs because we’re afraid of holding the other beyond their comfort zone. But you’ll be amazed how many people in our world are completely starving for affection. We don’t lovingly touch each other enough. We’re literally dying to be touched. That longer, deeper embrace you’re willing to share just might be medicine to the person you’re embracing.

5. Lean into the embrace.

I’m not a fan of the “tent hug,” that hug where we create a tent by sticking our butts out so far because we’re afraid our genitalia might touch. Look, we’re creating a non-sexual hug here, but it’s ok that our bodies touch. In fact, the most delicious, satisfying hugs are those where two bodies really meet each other, our chakras all lined up and zapping each other with good vibes. Unfortunately, because we live in a culture so sexually screwed up (so to speak), a truly great hug does risk jiggling repressed sexual hot buttons we don’t want jiggled. So find the balance here. There’s little less satisfying than hugging someone so afraid of hugging me back that I can feel them exiting before we’ve even begun. But there’s also little more icky than hugging someone I’m not attracted to who starts writhing in my arms and pressing her pubis up against my groin (it’s happened). Just find the balance.

6. Squeeze, but don’t suffocate.

A true hug is an embrace, an encircling, a loving act of surrounding another to let them know they are safe, accepted, loved. Beyond the superficial world available to our mortal eyes, a genuine embrace is a deep form of embodied communication by which one beating heart can whisper to another, “I see you.” A great hug is definitely NOT an imposition on another. We do not temporarily imprison another in our arms. Rather, it’s firm enough to say “I’ve got you” and loose enough to say “you’re free to leave whenever you want.”

7. Just BE with the person you’re embracing.

A truly great hug is a deeply mindful practice. It’s a moment to really be with another human. The very gesture itself is a curious, even if ultimately futile, attempt by two bodies to occupy the same space at the same time. We’re literally pressing our bodies together as if to say, let’s just both be here together, as one body, in this one place, at this very moment in time. It’s an extraordinary gesture. Give yourself to the experience and really be here, in this brief moment, with this one person. Drink in the scent of their hair, notice the pressure of their body pressing against yours, notice all the thoughts that arise in your mind, and then simply let them pass. Be here now.

8. Let go. Smile. Breathe.

Absolutely nothing in life is meant to last forever. A truly great hug ends with the simple act of letting go. Letting go is one of the most powerful lessons we can learn in this lifetime. It’s our way of actively participating in the Life’s evolution, for there can be no new creation if we hold on to what once was. But if you do it right, that great hug will linger with you like sweet perfume for a brief moment, and you’ll be able to recall it in your mind whenever you want to. Nonetheless, it’s time for you both to let go and return to your separate journeys. Just know that the electrical magnetic fields of your two heart beats intertwined in that embrace and so you are, indeed, now indelibly marked by each other’s being. You literally carry information about each other in your bodies. And that’s no woo-woo metaphysics! That’s for real! (** see below)

9. * Bonus Technique for the ambitious – The Massage Hug

This is a real fan favorite. Sometimes when I’m hugging another, I’ll use my hands and fingers to gently massage their back. It’s just amazing how starved we are for touch, and this little added gesture can take a great hug and make it absolutely unforgettable. However, I suggest you attempt this only once genuine trust is established. And you probably shouldn’t attempt it with your co-worker in the hallway. You’ll know when it’s right. (thanks to my dear brother, Moses Love, from “I Love Yoga” for teaching me this one)

Now get out there and hug somebody like you mean it! Lives may very well depend on it … and Love definitely does!

p.s. No one to hug? Just wrap your arms around yourself and give it to you. Yeah I know it’s better with another human being. It just is, let’s not kid ourselves. Still, hugging yourself, if nothing else, is a great way to stretch your shoulders! Whatever you do … have fun doing it!!





** The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Communication Within and Between People Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. Chapter published in: Clinical Applications of Bioelectromagnetic Medicine, edited by P. J. Rosch and M. S. Markov. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2004: 541-562. (http://www.heartmath.org/research/research-publications/energetic-heart-bioelectromagnetic-communication-within-and-between-people.html)

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  • I don’t even know where to begin. This is packed with so much wisdom and emotional intelligence. Oh, and science too. Bryan, you are love rolle in a hug rolled in chocolate…with frozen grapes on the side.
    Love you!

  • I forgot how to hug for THREE YEARS recently. Rediscovering the power of a hug has been completely transformative for me.
    I’m excited for my next hug and will keep the spirit of these tips in my heart until then.
    Thank you!

  • “But there’s also little more icky than hugging someone I’m not attracted to who starts writhing in my arms and pressing her pubis up against my groin (it’s happened).”


    I find your writing(s) inspiring, healing and massively entertaining.

    I live in both Paradise on Earth (Bali) and the capital city of a country with the largest moslem population in the world (Jakarta). I’ve been spending more time in the capital city and just can’t wait to go back to the paradise to get the long overdue YUMMY HUGS. Thanks for the reminder!

    *still laughing*

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