What’s new in wellness culture? Professional Cuddling is trending from Japan to the USA! When I read the article in the New York Times this past weekend about the trend of professional cuddling, I had Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘Human Touch’ in my head all week long. I recently went through a challenging experience taking care of my Mom with terminal cancer and had the help of hospice care visiting. The social worker assigned to my case would show up and hug me. At first I found it uncomfortable, but then found out from other nurses that she is known as a ‘hugger’. As time passed, I began to appreciate her hugs and I realize now, her hugs allowed me to feel vulnerable in an important way because I was literally watching my Mom die on a day to day basis. Her hugs probably contributed to my trusting her too, because essentially she was a stranger injected into my personal life under great duress. Touching, and hugging is a basic human instinct and the more we become isolated from each other physically the less the very healthy hormone oxytocin will flow through our bodies.
Love certainly is the answer to almost anything, but hugs literally have the immediate effect of wellness, because the powerful hormone oxytocin is released in our bodies. Is it surprising that a new industry has risen in wellness culture called ‘Professional Cuddling”? Not really! I should note, this trend actually started in Japan a few years ago. When I heard about it, it made sense to me because they have a culture driven by tradition and sometimes rigid tradition. There is a great business book I read years ago called ‘The Culture Code’ by Dr. Clotaire Rapaille. He is is an internationally revered anthropologist, and his book opens your eyes to how different we all are ‘culturally’ as well as how social mores are shaped in our cultures. The book gets into Japan’s challenges, but don’t you worry, we Americans are pretty challenged too! The trend made it here, so we might look at highly ‘industrialized’ or ‘digitalized’ societies for clues.
Once you read the NYT article, you will learn there are a few complications of professional cuddling, and it is much different than the professional massage experience. What of course screams through this growing trend, is how our culture is suffering from a lack of physical intimacy. We certainly can point to so many socio-cultural trends that are challenging our basic instincts as human beings. When I studied psychology and child development we looked at how important it was for a newborn baby to have physical contact with the mother. Here is an excellent article from Scientific American explaining the importance of physical contact for babies and the terrible deficits that occur when they don’t have it.
If touch is important to our development it must be pretty important to our well-being in general. Who loves their hair being washed? Who doesn’t love a massage? How about pedicures? As the NYT article points out cuddling is different from sex and safe boundaries do matter. Cuddling is a form of safe bonding which again is central to our human species. This excerpt below is from Psychology today and it sums up how important human touch is to our survival. Yes, survival. Now we have a whole different context to ‘Professionally Cuddling’ don’t we!
Science tells us that the need for physical contact is present at birth and is an important part—perhaps the most important part—of our species heritage. British clinician John Bowlby proposed the evolutionary concept of attachment, or the innate need for human beings to form strong affectional bonds with others. According to Bowlby, human infants enter the world predisposed to emotionally “bind” themselves to a mom, dad, or other caregiver (in other words, to form relationships), and this predisposition manifests itself in instinctive behaviors which promote physical proximity (and, consequently, enhance survival). This is why all babies cry, suckle, and cling—these attachment behaviors pull supportive responses from and promote physical closeness with caregivers, which helps babies survive.
We know so much about human development and interesting enough, we can also point to other important research on health and longevity, that points to ‘close tight communities’ filled with affection” as one of the contributing factors of longevity. Dan Buettner author of The Blue Zone Solution covers this extensively in his new book. People who live longer tend to have very connective relationships with their family, friends and neighbors. So I leave you with this simple idea. Our basic instinct is to connect and touching is one of the ways we do this. Start by reaching out and touching somebody’s hand and hopefully you don’t have to pay for cuddling. But if you do–it’s okay. You’re only human. 😉