Hug Virus Epidemic

There was a lie that spread through our community this year like a virus.
This mistruth was far more insidious than any fake trash fence concert, under-Playa tunnel system or elusive “dark rave.”
It continues to affect the way we interact with one another. (You may even still believe the information to be true.)

But I am here to set the record straight:
There is nothing wrong with a traditional hug.
By “traditional” I mean that you lean to the left as you embrace.
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This year I was ”corrected” close to 100 times by people who explained that the right way to hug was “heart-to-heart.”
This was usually followed by some version of a story about how the traditional hug aligns our livers and therefore creates a toxic exchange of energy. Whereas the heart-to-heart aligns our hearts and therefore results in a more loving exchange.

Now, let me be clear: I think a heart-to-heart hug is great. And if you want to suggest we do a right-leaning hug after we do our traditional hug, that sounds super to me. The more hugs the better.
But what often happens is that people stop me mid hug and “correct” me during the approach.
“No…let’s do it heart to heart!”

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.17.35 AMYou may have even done this yourself. I get it, you meant well. Who wants to spread toxic liver vibes?! But what ends up happening is that the loving process of a hug abruptly becomes “wrong.”
1) I see someone I care about.
2) Our eyes light up.
3) We approach one another, arms outstretched.
4) Then as I am beginning to surrender into their warm embrace I hear, “Wait, no…” I am chastised and corrected. NO! BAD! BAD BOY!

This is the exact opposite intention of a hug.

PRO TIP: If you would like a heart-to-heart hug, first complete the traditional hug, then ask for a second, heart-to-heart hug. Don’t bring any judgment, correction, or mistakes into the process.

Now, to address the root of this virus:
There is nothing toxic about a traditional hug.
Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 8.59.30 AMA traditional hug is AWESOME.
A hug is the most basic expression of connection that exists between two humans. If you prefer them right-leaning, fine. But a full body embrace is a beautiful thing that has nothing to do with the alignment of organs. (A sexual embrace is much more organ-dependant…but that is an entirely different topic.)
I’m not sure who started this idea virus about toxic hugs. I’m sure it was someone well-meaning, heart-centered, chakra-balanced, and micro-biotic. Or maybe it was a whiskey-swilling trickster.

But I am here to set the record straight.: All hugs are good.
Seriously. Let’s think about this.
How many of your (left-leaning) mom hugs while growing up filled you with profound comfort and safety?
How many of your past lovers’ (left-leaning) sunset embraces left you buzzing?
How many (left-leaning) hugs have you given your children that washed away their tears?

I don’t mean to pull rank here, but I have hosted the weekly podcast, “Hug Nation” for 13 years. Online friends send me every article on hugging that gets published. People are eager to share every new hug technique they learn with me. (Cinnamon Swirl, anyone?)
Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.16.58 AMI have literally hugged 10’s of thousands of strangers – nearly all by learning left. And the connection has always been pure, beautiful, and love-filled.
Heck, we may have even hugged at a festival in the past. If not, hopefully it is just a matter of time. If you are unconvinced by my ranting here, we can plan on doing both a traditional and a heart-to-heart when we meet.

In some circles of friends, the heart-to-heart has become the norm. I have no issue with that (although I have had my share of “head bonk” near misses). Some people have even perfected a hugging approach that severely exaggerates the right lean to ensure they get a heart-to-heart. That is a fine solution if you can do it without making the recipient feel awkward. What I feel called to address is the demonizing of the traditional hug and the act of correcting people as they enter an embrace. There are so many things that need fixing in this world – the hug is not one of them.
So, while I am thrilled to see people excited about any type of hugging, I ask that a heart-to-heart is done *in addition* to the perfect traditional hug that we have all grown up with.
And while I do consider myself a hugging expert, I admit that there are those who know far more about hugging than I. So I humbly bow to the wisdom of Amma, the greatest hugger on the planet – perhaps ever to inhabit a human body. She has hugged over 33 million people. I once waited in line for a full day to receive one of here profoundly love-filled hugs. Guess how this living saint hugged me? Yup. Liver-to-liver.

But this isn’t just about hugs.

It is about how easily we believe what we’re told – and how quick we are to pass it on.

Remember: Experience is truth. Everything else is stories.

We must be in a constant state of evaluating the stories we are told. Believe whatever you want, but do so by choice. Do so with awareness. Do so with a degree of inquiry.
Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.” And in this area, I agree with him.
Caution is becoming exponentially important as faux-news sites are being blindly shared in social media among our community.

Skrillex and Diplo did not get booed.
Plug-And-Play camps did not ruin Burning Man.
There is nothing wrong with a hug.


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About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn


Halcyon is a 21-year Burning Man participant and co-founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and coaches people how to be radically self expressed in the default world. You can find his full Playa Tips & Tricks series at

17 Comments on “Hug Virus Epidemic

  • Chromatest says:

    Beautiful words.

    All hugs are good!

    A person who has never been to Burning Man was quizzing me about the plug and play camps and if they ruined Burning Man. I told him that if people want to sit in a secluded camp and have catered meals, well, it’s their burn too. If they don’t want to come out and hug a stranger, it’s their loss!

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  • G says:

    The heart to heart lean right hug is an interesting narrative, I have to wonder where that came from this year.

    Twice at the creatures station, I was told that the hug embrace is best held for 20 seconds because that’s the time needed to get the endorphins flowing. Did that storyline make it to your camp?

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  • G says:

    LOL greeters, creatures, same same.

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  • Kevin Ells says:

    Hugs can go a long way, don’t be afraid to give or accept one, too many people are. –

    Please share this video as much as possible , is an initiative that could change the lives of many people !

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  • Cinnamon Girl says:

    A hugging embrace can last as long as possible, to maximize the endorphin flow throughout the entire body.

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  • JV says:

    The 20 second hug thing is going around, my wife read an article about it that was linked on Facebook. Makes sense to me, and it’s fun. Never thought about the hart-to-heart thing, but I always lean right when hugging. However, any hug is a gift, and for someone to question a hug seems a little rude to me. Perhaps they just need a hug.

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  • Mark says:

    Get a Life Man

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  • Corvus says:

    I’m thinking the anti-vaxxers have found something new to obsess about. Like you, Halcyon, I’d like to see a citation.

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  • Wow! I was under the impression that a hug was about human contact and love, embracing that, and the other person.

    Not once did I ever think about right or left or heart to heart. Now I am thinking the left leaning hug is better than the right leaning hug.

    Hmm… interesting but I choose to forget it all… I will not choose to judge a hug. But instead enjoy it with my very being… created in the moment and the love that flows from it.

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  • simon of the playa says:

    As a Fervant ANTI-HUGGER and Fighter for Personal Space, all i can say is NO.




    fuck yer day.

    and, shake my hand, but don’t come any closer.

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  • simon of the playa says:

    oh, and Diplo GET get booed, Btw…


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  • ian says:

    Is this a statement to stop someones chosen action? I would like to say, if they want to be hug stoppers, let them!
    Those 100 or so hug stoppers are saying something to you, and when you judge their chosen action, you may not be listening clearly. this post rubbed me wrong, and it just hit me as to why. they are just doing them. why stop a hug stopper, and say, “hey you, stop that”. Was it not, their stopping, that grabbed your attention?
    i don’t want to stop your voice, i want to support your brighter future.
    Stopping stoppers, is like 2 wrongs making all left turns.Don’t fight back when people say NO, listen to them. If they don’t want your toxic energy, why judge them for protecting themselves, to the best of their own knowledge?

    the only virus i see is the abuse of a loud voice.

    happy hugs, angry hugs, or even half hugs, paused, and started again.. i love all hugs

    {pro tip: allowing a hug stopper to stop you from getting off, is not a crime. it is an expression, and the desire of that one person}

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  • @Ian – if the intention of a hug stopper is to be a hug stopper, then I’d agree with you. But my understanding is that the hug stopper is intending to create an enhanced experience of connection. In which case I stand by my “correction” of their “correction.” :)

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  • @Simon – Your case is different. Your intention is to impede the connection of ANY hug – so jarring someone during the approach would be appropriate.

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  • Tiahaar says:

    Aw man I’m gonna sound like an antisocial person here but…because on-playa I’m usually mostly naked, covered in body paint/glitter/dust/sweat/who-knows-what-oily-mechanical-fixit-goop/etc., I don’t go in for hugs. Ditto if I’ve just cleaned up and the hugger has not. A friendly wave and greeting and a bow if you must is fine thanks. Hugging requires clean willing participants IMHO, and it gets done to whichever side has a free arm, none of this lefty-righty thing to think about lol.

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  • Shenanigans says:

    My leather jacket is all spikes down the left side. I only get to hug on the right. Unless you are a pushy hugger that hugs me when it’s inappropriate or without warning. Then you get the spikes.

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