I haven’t always been a hugger. Really.
A while back, I was chit chatting and greeting a few people before my yoga class and in walked in a lady that I hadn’t seen before. I smiled at her and was making my way over to introduce myself and she said, “You’re a hugger. I can tell.” I giggled and gave her a little squeeze and she just leaned into me slightly and politely. We went on to introduce ourselves. She informed me that she’s not one for hugs but I seemed so enthusiastic to greet her that it was okay.
It was looking into the mirror of my former self.
If you’ve only just met me, you’d think that I wrap my arms around every soul around. But, this has been something that I’ve had to learn and develop over the years; the ability to give and receive physical contact.
We talked about this after yoga practice. I thought that maybe hugging was foreign to me because I was born and raised on the East coast. People are known or stereotyped as being cold and territorial of their space because of the lack of it. I’ll admit the go-to greeting was a kiss on the cheek due to my Latin roots or a handshake, which was always too formal and weird to me.
I was caught off guard when I made my cross-country move to sunny California and I was introduced to some new people; I was squeezed, hugged, back patted, you name it. I stood there like a stunned awkward deer in the headlights. I thought, “Geez, these San Diegans are way too friendly and over familiar. Must I be mauled every time I meet or say hi to someone? Won’t a wave and a smile do?”
But, I’ve adapted to the person-to-person contact and my feelings have changed about it. Over the years, I’ve become more open and less suspicious of other people’s intentions. I’ve learned to trust that people respond to affection and love and reciprocate it for the most part.
I did—that’s what changed. Me and my feelings and responses to hugs.
I’ve learned to give more love and hugging is an extension of that love. It feels good to smile and hug someone whether I’ve known them forever or it’s the first time. Over time, my hugs have gotten better and less awkward. I was called on my butt out, back- tapping, not fully committed, hugs a few times. I was like, “Huh? Am I really doing that?”
That person is now a great friend and I’ve gone on to call others on their non-committal hugging too.
I had to get used to lots of hugs after I started becoming part of my yoga community. It became normal and familiar and necessary. My husband would laugh because I would get to yoga class early so that I would have more time to talk to my fellow yogis. He would say hi and go set up his mat. Later, he would shake his head and say, “Did you finish hugging everybody yet?”
Little by little, he started coming around. He didn’t know that he had a lot to do about teaching me to hug. (He’s the best hugger by the way and he doesn’t save those just for me anymore either.)
We both have come to understand that love grows exponentially; it’s not something that you have to save or you’ll run out of. It’s not something that you have to ration because it’ll only last a certain time. Love is infinite.
Hugs are a physical way to say, I love you—I see you and acknowledge you and you are loved.
When I’ve gone back to my beautiful New York City, I’ve seen a few people in Times Square holding Free Hugs signs and I’m the first you’ll see to step up to get my free hug.
Think about it, a smile, a hug, these are free but think about the amazing effect it will have on that person receiving it.
*previously published on ej www.elephantjournal.com