Woman’s mission is to hug fearlessly

Rita Chand challenges herself to break out of technology cocoon

Rita Chand has been fearlessly hugging people around the world, including the Monday staff team.

Rita Chand has been fearlessly hugging people around the world, including the Monday staff team.

Rita Chand challenges herself to break out of technology cocoon

Have you hugged someone today? You can bet Rita Chand has. The 41-year-old Victoria resident has started her own personal project — “2011: The Year of Hugging Fearlessly” — in an effort to squeeze out of her comfort zones and into some strangers’ arms.

“I’m a total social media fan, but it’s so easy to get lost behind all that stuff, and I created this project in a way that I wouldn’t be able to hide behind technology,” says Chand. “I think because the goal is to spread joy every day, people have been really excited about it.”

Chand started her project after following San Francisco blogger Judy Clement Wall, who named 2011 as her own year of loving fearlessly. As of press time, Chand has gone 170 days with “making a connection” and hugging at least one stranger and as many as 44 per day — and those loveable hugs are starting to get her noticed. Chand has been featured on CBC, and even helped host KOOL FM’s “hugathon” last month. She hopes to make blogger Wall her 365th hug, but she wouldn’t mind fitting in a few big names, say, Ellen DeGeneres, along the way.

“Right now my dream is to get on Ellen and hug her, but I’ve had so many amazing hugs, and what I’ve found is that hugging and making that connection is something that most people want, but are too afraid to ask for,” says Chand. “I’ve had so many people tell me it really made their day.”

Chand has a point — studies have shown hugging to boost immunity, reduce heart disease, lower blood pressure, increase lifespan, improve your social skills and release chemicals in the brain that can perk you up and make you feel happy.

“Getting hugs is really not as hard as you think — usually, all you have to do is ask. And, if you’re brave enough to ask, chances are that person already wants to give you one anyway,” says Chand. “But this is different from the ‘Free Hugs’ you see around town. I really want to make an entire connection with someone first.”

Chand documents all her hugs with a photo and brief description on her Facebook fan page. In the 400-plus people she has asked for a hug so far, Chand has only had one person turn her down. But when Chand told her she was her only rejection, the woman changed her mind. Chand has also had people come up to her requesting one of her famous hugs, and she spent three weeks hugging her way through Europe.

“To this day, I’ve never had an uncomfortable hug,” she says. “Sometimes you have to tell people to let go, especially some of the men I met in Portugal and Spain, but most people are just so excited to have a chance to give a real hug to a stranger, they jump at the opportunity.”

Chand is currently single, though she says looking has nothing to do with the mission — she’s hugged married men, single women, children and seniors. But it is a great way to meet people, she adds.

The expert also has a few tips for those who want to perfect their hug-ability: first, avoid patting — it indicates a countdown waiting for the hug to be over. Second, beware of the backrub: more than one full circle can become inappropriate and subconsciously make a person uncomfortable. Third, don’t “stick your butt out” — Chand says a full-body hug is some of the most rewarding contact people can have. Finally, don’t forget to squeeze; Chand reminds this to children especially, who have a tendency to hang off adults and let them do all the work.

The Monday office was treated to a round of hugs, and Chand offered her post-squeeze critiques to staff, but said there was little to improve upon: “I think it must be great to work in an office of such great huggers,” she says. Who knew? M

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