February 12, 2015

Let’s hug it out

I assume that we have all heard about this new fan-dangled cuddling service, right? Ok, if you haven’t here’s the scoop: you pay someone to crawl up next to you for an hour and cuddle. Sounds simple right?

Although there may be many benefits to cuddling with someone (see part 2 next week), having a cuddle session with an unknown individual (clearly) has its deterrents. Everybody wants someone to love them, to be around when they need a shoulder to lean or cry on, or to just hold them when things are going down the toilet. But what if that person you are leaning on is a stranger? Do you react the same way as you would if you were snuggled close to someone you trust?

Well, let’s take a look at the brain for a quick second. What happens when you are embraced by another human being? When we experience touch, a hormone called Oxytocin is released which our bodies and brains looove. Oxytocin has many benefits: it gives us feelings of love, reduces pain, reduces social anxiety, reduces depression and can even reduce stress. All great things. 

So really, it sounds like a good cuddle with someone would be beneficial. But it’s not just full-body contact that releases Oxytocin; it can be released when you give someone a handshake, a hug, or from a touch on the arm.

Not surprisingly, being massaged releases that feel-good hormone too. So really, why choose massage over cuddling if they both release Oxytocin? While cuddling can make you feel good, I believe that massage can make you feel even better. As Massage Therapists, we help to release the tense muscles which are causing you pain; less pain equates to less stress. While massage can’t eliminate all of your stress, it can play a big role in helping you create balance in your life.

Now we think back to a previous question I posed: would you react the same way with a stranger as you would if you were snuggled close to someone you trust? Although I have no evidence of this, I truly believe that if you trust someone, you let down your barriers and let them in. This allows for a more positive flow of energy and thus a greater release of Oxytocin. So cuddling up with someone you love or getting a massage by someone you trust would be of greater benefit than cuddling up with a stranger.

Bottom line: hugs get the good hormones flowing.  Massages do even more so.  Both are excellent feel-good options.  Which one do you choose?


Melissa Beals is an RMT with Whole Therapy. Melissa works extensively with athletes of all levels with a goal in mind to increase their athletic performance through education and understanding of their bodies. See more about Melissa here.