Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Looking to deepen your meditation practice? It turns out that embracing someone in a mindful hug might help you do just that. Hugging meditation, made famous by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, is rooted in the belief that a good hug can have transformative effects.
“When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings,” Hanh writes. “Hugging with mindfulness and concentration can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding, and much happiness.”
Hugging is good for more than just our relationships. In fact, the scientific community has long touted its many health benefits. For one, experts say interpersonal touching decreases stress levels by slowing down our heart rate and production of the stress hormone cortisol. During cold and flu season, making time for regular hugs may keep you healthy, as they appear to boost immune function and protect against the common cold. Hugging is also thought to simultaneously calm our fears and alleviate feelings of loneliness. Remember that next time you’re feeling blue.
The best part is that our everyday interactions can double as opportunities to easily reap these benefits. Mindfulness expert Susan Piver, author of Start Here Now, says that scheduling formal hugging meditation sessions probably isn’t necessary.
“Instead, when you’re hugging someone in your everyday life, make it a meditation,” she says. “Really pay attention because it’s so warm and physical and intimate. When I hug someone, I notice that I find it enjoyable to change my focus back and forth between what it feels like to hug and what it feels like to be hugged.”
See also: What Is Mindfulness, Really?
Ready to Give Hugging Meditation a Try?
To get the most out of the experience, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh advises doing the following:
Begin by recognizing the other person
Start by bowing toward the other person as a way of acknowledging their presence. Then bring yourself fully into the moment by taking three conscious breaths.
Go in for the hug (and keep your breathing in mind)
A quick pat on the back won’t really do the trick here. Instead, hold the other person in your arms for three deep breaths. Hanh writes that the first breath should be devoted to you honoring your presence in the moment. The second should honor the other person, while the final breath should be focused on feeling happy and grateful for your togetherness.
End with gratitude
After you release each other, finish the experience by bowing again to express thankfulness for the other person.