Move From The Heart

With social distancing still very much in place, how can we generate the same sensation and warm feeling after receiving a hug? Caroline Toshack, TRC Edinburgh, talks us through moves that leave us feeling cheerful.

I miss hugs. My arms ache for them. I miss giving them and I miss receiving them. My heart feels a little bit less full, a little bit sadder, for not giving out the hugs that I now realise 8 months ago I was offering out several times a day. 

While I know I’m missing the sharing of the feel good emotion ‘oxytocin’ that we get from hugs, it feels more. I miss showing my love. I try to smile more from my eyes, I animate my face differently and I’m conscious that I’m now verbalising my hugs to friends by telling them how happy I am to see them. These all feel really positive new strategies and yet, my arms feel the undispersed energy of ungiven hugs. 

Our arms could be said to be our first source of expression. In utero, our arms developed before our legs. And they originate from our heart, which was beating and developing before our brain was even on the horizon. Watching the video below of embryo development, it looks to me like the arms express out from the heart and around the body in a big hug. A huge big hug from the heart saying ‘here I am’! 

It makes sense to me now how much our arms are an expression of our heart. 

Notice when someone talks passionately how much they use their arms to add more vigour and depth to their subject. The expression of grief as arms wring or lift upwards or hug around ourself to somehow hold the loss. And the opening of the arms in a hug to express our love in a way that words cannot. 

In so many ways this year we have lost that expression of our arms, whether we are conscious of it or not. We spend even more time on technology working away with great finger dexterity, but keeping our arms quite close in to our body and expressing through our gadgets rather than with our body. And of course, we’re socially distancing, less able to hug, or offer out a gesturing touch or hold to show that we care. We can’t dance together with arms above our heads or around our space connecting with others through our dance.  

I wasn’t always a hugger. I’d class myself as ‘arm-shy’ for many years. It felt too vulnerable, too exposing. I see now that I was protecting my heart. Through my training as a movement therapist I began slowly; first some gentle pushing and pulling and then a little swing here and there, and finally I found fully expressive hugs that I could sink into and fully hold. And now I really miss that. 

So imagine my joy yesterday when Michelle and I were both in at TRC Edinburgh together – the first time we’d seen each other in person since March – and she had an idea! She asked me to take 2 big cushions from the couch, as she did the same. She gave her two cushions a huge big bear hug and gestured for me to do the same. “Caroline, I’m so so happy to see you. It’s so good to hug you” she said as drew the cushion to her heart. “Oh Michelle, what a beautiful hug. I am so very happy to see you too” I said. We hugged our cushions and we felt the connection. I know I breathed a little bit fuller and my arms ached a little bit less for the interaction. Michelle, you are a genius! 

So in this time when just maybe our heart needs our arms more than usual, what can we do to give it a bit of a lift:

  1. Grab your cushions and hug them as you tell your friend how much you care – just like Michelle and I did.
  2. Open your arms wide and air hug with the fullest expression your arms can offer
  3. Place both hands on your heart and feel all the love from your heart flood into your arms and come back round to yourself. The circle of giving and receiving. 
  4. Stretch out in your space – reach out and lengthen your arms as much as you can, raise them above your head and let your heart breath fully. 
  5. Dance with the music on fully, Shake your arms, move them in all directions and let your heart express itself. 

We will hug again, and I look forward to when we do.

Author: Caroline Toshack

Movement Therapist BSc

Caroline Toshack

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