Heart-Healthy Hugs

I got to wondering about the etymology of the term “hug.” I found out the origins of the word are not known, but there are two theories about its origin. One used in the 1560s relates it to the Old Norse word “hugga,” which meant to comfort. The other related it to the German word “hegen,” which meant to foster or cherish, originally meant to enclose with a hedge. Both of those origins seem to have layers of meaning. To comfort, cherish and surround with safety seem to be needed at all ages. Research shows that well-hugged babies are less stressed as adults and elderly who feel lonely can feel less so by being hugged.


In certain parts of the world, the hug includes both the left-side and right-side hug and even one more for good measure. Somehow, the left-and-right-hug has a unique quality about it that appeals to me. The left-side hug is definitely sufficient, but when the right side is added, it includes a heart-to-heart connection. I call that a whole-hug.  

Today, when I walked around the corner, I found myself face-to-face with a friend. I automatically opened my arms as though inviting a hug. She immediately responded with a gentle hug. Then, I heard myself acknowledge, “My heart isn’t in a good space right now, so I needed that.” That was a not-so-subtle code for “I’m a bit upset at the moment.” I could feel my tension decrease a bit. I guess there’s a scientific basis for that. According to health research, hugs increase oxytocin and reduce blood pressure [BBC News. August 8, 2005].

May 2018 bring all of us an extra dose of heart-health in its many forms.

Sister Miriam Ardolf (left) hugs Prioress Sister Susan
Rudolph on her installation day. (Photo: Andra Johnson)


Mary Rachel Kuebelbeck, OSB