Radar: First, what exactly is the “Ecstatic Embrace” and where did the idea come from?
Steve: I had a meditative vision during my morning meditation about 12 years ago…a simple visual image of myself hugging a friend for what seemed a long time. When I tried it with a willing friend, I was blown away by the experience, which lasted over 2 hours. The experience of connection and open-heartedness was life changing. I’ve never gotten over it.
Hug Therapy: Happy Haptics
by Shane Bruce, MA, IMFT – Frontiers Magazine Article
Hug therapy. What could be bad about that? Everybody could use a hug, right? Except, I remember my Aunt Petunia with her nauseating perfume and bad breath as she came at me with clammy paws. Yikes! “Give your auntie a hug,” my mother chided. I cringed as my smelly aunt squeezed my frail and fragile frame, nearly suffocating me. It was enough to lead me to take pause. As an adult, when offered a hug, I’d hear myself say, “No, I prefer to shake hands”. I explained it away culturall, pointing out, “I’m a WASP. We don’t hug.” My family gave cardboard hugs that say, “Why bother! I REALLY don’t want to hug you, but I will because it’s expected…” Okay, so maybe you came from a really affectionate family, and you love hugging. Good for you. You’re ten steps ahead of me. But I’ll get there–thanks to Steve Maher.
Steve Maher discovered a secret of the ancient Greeks called Haptics, the “science of touch”. Like our ancient ancestors, today’s scientists tell us that touch is essential to a process called myelination, the bulding of proteins in our bodies. Scientific evidence shows us that touch actually promotes myelin development. Ancient secrets from Eastern cultures tells us the same. So turn off your DVR, close your computer, put your IPOD away, and try something that’s been around for awhile: Hugging! You’ll be glad you did. Science tells us you’ll increase the serotonin in your system, leading to improved mood, reduced stress, and increased productivity.
Steve calls his work “a new possibility for intimacy and personal growth”. Steve discovered what the ancient Greeks knew all along; that prolonged holding and being held facilitates deep relaxation and connectedness with self, other, and the Divine. As a massage therapist cum psycho-therapist, the connection between mental health and touch was obvious. Jungian Analyst, Marion Woodmand has long linked body issues to depression and addictions. Schools of body-centered psycholtherapy, such as Ron Kurtz’s Hakomi focus on the way the body holds tension and its impact on mental health.
In my mid-twenties, I sought counseling to improve my intimate relationships, and develop more confidence so I could move ahead in my career. At the time I was a dancer. I later became a personal trainer and massage therapist, all body-based disciplines. As a dancer I saw a body-work practitioner who did Alexander Technique, an alignment system designed for dancers. I noticed that when touched by my Practitioner, I had strong emotional discharges, one resulting in m crying profusely. I took these emotional reactions to my cognitive therapist and tried to make some sense out of ti. What resulted was an understanding that the body held emotional trauma that had been incurred throughout my life, and that the experience of touch released the pain in a way that was healing. My therapist was able to help me to contextualize this pain, then let it go. Clearly cognitive and body-centered therapies were meant to work together.
When I arrived at Steve Maher’s smart and tidy West Hollwood apartment for my Hug Therapy session, Steve was careful to tell me that he was not a licensed therapist. He set the perameters, explaining that sexual feelings might come up, but that we move through them and let them go- -that the focus was the holding. We tried several configurations throughout the 90 minute session, including his lying on top of me, my lying on top of him, facing each other, spooning. Steve is a handsome, muscular…well, man! I was afraid of getting aroused. I was afraid of crying. I was afraid of letting my guard down with a stranger and becoming vulnerable- and tha is precisely what happened! I was able to quickly go to a place of deep comfort and connection with Steve and connect with some of my own challenges around intimacy. The feelings were frightening at first, then just uncomfortable, and finally exhilerating. I left feeling renewed with a glow that lasted well into the next day. How come everybody doesn’t know about this, I thought…