Cuddle therapy may have health benefits

March 6, 2013 7:19:05 PM PST
Scientific research shows that a good hug can be a great benefit and it may not make any difference whether the hug comes from a friend or a stranger.

"We are not here just to do this for just one another. We're here to learn how to do this with anyone," said Travis Sigley.

Sigley runs Cuddle Therapy -- a service specializing in private and group cuddling sessions, which he started four years ago.

"A hug can do a world of difference if you're just feeling terrible. Giving a big hug, or laying down and cuddling with someone for a while I think will just totally change how you feel," said Sigley.

The rules are clear: no nudity and no sex. Cuddlers must respect one another's boundaries and communicate any discomfort or unwanted advances. The workshops start with a discussion about why people are in the cuddle class. Then participants pair up and cuddle.

Ultimately everyone ends up in a pile, or what Sigley calls a "cuddle puddle."

"Going back and forth between the cuddle puddle and also the individual or the pairing exercises show the broad dynamic aspects of what cuddling really is, and then essentially what it is to be a human being and be in environment of trust," said Wendell Doman, a cuddler.

"I had some major hesitation coming into it thinking, 'OK, maybe I am not going to want someone to touch me or I'm going to feel uncomfortable, but the second I sat down and Travis started talking and we all started our introductions, I felt so comfortable," said Maggie Saxton, a Cuddler.

Sigley says he realized there was a need for cuddle therapy while he was working as a stripper. Clients would offer him money just to cuddle. Today he charges $20 a person for workshops every other week. A one-on-one session is $60 for an hour. Cuddlers liken the experience to yoga or massage.

"I can remember when yoga was some kind of far out exotic thing in America that nobody did or you had to go to India. What is funny is yoga got turned from this mystically, exotic thing into something you can do at lunch time for $10," said James Anthony, a cuddler.

Studies show regular hugging may have health benefits as well. Researchers at the Metropolitan University in England found cuddling lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and generally combats stress. The study also found a third of the population receive no hugs on a daily basis, but 75 percent want more.

Marriage and family therapist Julian Redwood says Travis' cuddle therapy may benefit some people.

"So there is a way in which this is a really great opportunity for people to get something that really calms that system, and soothes them in a way that is definitely therapeutic," said Redwood.

But Redwood warns people should be prepared to work through any emotions they might experience after a cuddle session. Cuddle therapy shouldn't be a substitute for licensed medical care.

"Some small percentage of the people are going to have some traumatic re-enactment or some memory that comes up. That might even be good for them. They can go and realize that and then go to another place where there's a space to be held, where they can actually get the healing they need," said Redwood.

Cuddle therapy is clearly working for some people. Many of the cuddlers in the class keep coming back.

"Everybody should try cuddle therapy," said Saxton.

And researchers from the University of North Carolina found that couples who hugged for prolonged periods, had higher levels of oxytocin -- the so called "cuddle hormone." Oxytocin creates feelings of calmness, eases depression, and reduces stress.

Written and Produced by Ken Miguel


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