Ashleigh: Tell me about Cuddlist and how you became a certified cuddler. That’s a really unique job.
Indigo: Yeah! Cuddlist is a community that provides exposure marketing for touch practitioners, touch therapists, and professional counselors. They provide in depth training around boundaries and consent for practitioners: how to create helpful safe client practitioner interactions.
I found Cuddlist after some friends of mine started cuddling professionally. They mentioned that Cuddlist was this up and coming company! I checked them out on their website and–I love learning new things and growing–so I bought the training. I’ve loved it ever since.
A: If you told me I could be a professional cuddler when I was growing up, I would definitely have signed up! Tell me more about these boundaries. What are some of those boundaries that you set with your clients?
I: Many people see boundaries as walls that prevent connection. I like to see them is as a cell membrane– letting in the nutrients, keeping out the toxins. That actually facilitates a much more nourishing field of connection and sustainable relationships, rather than an interaction that’s painful and stops. The boundaries that I keep with my clients are both those that are just inherent in the profession: platonic touch or platonic connection. Although, whatever one feels, is welcome: sadness, fear, excitement, whatever. In the physical realm, it’s just going to be platonic, shared connection. I also set really explicit boundaries like no bikini areas.
All cuddlists, have the same code of conduct that guides our behavior and that every client must review and indicate, “yes, I agree to this and abide by this code of conduct,” prior to the session. It’s part of the screening process. So, yeah, safety is something that is my responsibility to uphold.
A: Those boundaries are very important. Tell me a little about why cuddling is so important. Like, why do people enjoy it so much?
I: Yeah, so, humans are social creatures and touch—for many or most humans—is a need on the scale of interaction and emotional intimacy. So it’s really important to regulate the human nervous system, to have in-person skin contact, or just to know that somebody is there on a regular basis. That’s something that’s really difficult in these current times with COVID-19 and shelter-in-place. There are a lot of people that find themselves in isolation, even outside of the COVID-19 situation.
I went for two months without any physical touch or without any actual emotional intimacy in-person with somebody. I had Skype calls I had online connection but without the in-person connection, I went into a bad mental health space. I think that’s a really important aspect of life.
A: How did you get through that difficult time and depression? How can others get through that and get a sense of peace?
To change the [body’s] chemistry is to create a shift in what it’s like to be alive…Tweet
I: The body’s chemistry is really important because there’s a correlation between certain experiences—like joy or even falling in love—and the body’s chemistry. So, to change the chemistry is to create a shift in what it’s like to be alive or what it’s like [to be alive] in that moment.
Back then, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just decided to go for a run. I got flooded with endorphins on the run and, afterwards, I popped out of the depression. I started to feel motivated to fill my life with things that were meaningful: exercise, any type of really engaging exercise, some sort of cardio. It could be running. It could be dancing. It could be even be strength training. [Those activities] really increase the concentration of endorphins in the bloodstream.
Meditation. This has been shown show release endorphins. It’s just [about] noticing what’s happening and focusing on the body or focusing on the present moment’s experience. There are lots of guided meditation programs online, on phone apps and stuff like that.
Being in nature, even just having a tree—one tree. Spending time with the tree or having an indoor plant and sitting, being present with the plant.
There’s a term called forest bathing that comes from Japan. It is the practice of immersing, or just being present, with plants, with nature, in a way that can be really calming and regulate the nervous system.
A: I have some fake plants in my apartment. Does that count?
I: I know that like a forest, a tree, like some, some flowers indoors can create this effect I’m not sure about fake plants. *Indigo laughs*
A: I was hoping. *Ashleigh laughs*
Okay, exercise, meditation, and forest bathing.
I: Then, there’s this new field called social health which I’ve been practicing in for like four years now. [There are] ways to have good social health or to have emotional intimacy: authentic connection that you can get on a video call, there are a lot of online events, a lot of the meet-ups you can find especially on Facebook or meetup.com.
A: What has been the most impactful key-takeaway that you’ve learned about social wellness so far?
I: In my experience, and for most or many people, interacting with another human is the best way to maintain a high level of social wellness and to meet these social needs that were installed in our system. But also… [being] empowered to feel [your] emotions and to know what [you] really need.
In my experience, there are ways to meet some of the social wellness needs with oneself. There are also certain meditation practices, or practices or methods used in psychotherapy—like parts work or relationship to oneself—that meet my needs for social wellness. I certainly am not enlightened or at the point where I don’t meet other people, but it’s theoretically possible to meet a large portion of [your own] social wellness needs through self-touch or through certain meditation techniques. For most people, it takes a lifetime.
A: For the part of the population who are hunkered down with their spouse or a loved one, how can these couples use this time to find ways to connect on a deeper level through physical touch?
I: First of all, learning oneself. The way that I’ve found that is through self presenting meditation. For some people meditation is difficult, so you can start small. You know, just a couple minutes of a guided meditation or sound or music. That’s the first step to know what I am “yes” to. What do I like? What does “yes” feel like? What does joy feel like? What does “no” feel like? What is sadness or contraction? What does numbness feel like? And for some people, it may take a while of just being with the numbness before they feel a little spark of feeling. That’s totally normal!
Many people have trauma, or have different forms of oppression, or different experiences of needing to numb-out. Or [they were] never encouraged to feel. So, I think that’s the first step is just to feel and learn what it’s like to be in this body—in this moment with yourself. From that self awareness, then you can begin to share, “okay, this is what I feel. This is what I want.” From that place, one can say with certainty, “I’m a ‘yes’ to a hug,” or, “I’m a ‘no’ to hug right now.” The only way that one can feel totally free to connect in the ways that they want is if “no” is an okay answer.
The only way that one can feel totally free to connect in the ways that they want is if “no” is an okay answer.
“No” is a really intimate, powerful word because it’s something we’re taught is not okay, but it is actually one of the most authentic things that can be shared in a connection. I’m being courageous to tell you my truth with a “no”.
Then, transparency with the caveat that a “yes” or “no” has to be okay in order to get an honest answer. Once you have on the table, the more pleasant, the more enjoyable the connection is, the more likely it is to be healthy and to last; or be sustainable for as long as you want it to work.
A: What happens in that transition from youth to adulthood, that can make these conversations about setting boundaries more challenging?
I: It’s a difference in power that isn’t talked about as much in my experience. It’s this attitude that children shouldn’t say “no”. The parent tells the child what to eat, what to wear, how to behave. The teacher says, “you, do this.” You obey. This expands. When the child allowed to say “no” to a hug? Is the child allowed to say “no” to putting something in their body?
There are lessons about bodily autonomy or lack of bodily autonomy. [They] start very young because of how children are brought up.
This is a touchy subject. I am not a parent. I don’t know, on the ground, what it’s like. It’s really hard to be a parent. There’s no manual. There are tons of books, but every kid is different. Something I personally believe is that it’s important to teach humans from a young age that their body is their own body.
It’s been a real process [for me] to reclaim my “no” and also to respect others’ “no” because to some degree, I learned how to be in relationship from my parents.
A: We’re all works in progress. We spoke so much in this conversation about creating your own boundaries, understanding yourself, finding the right kinds of connections for you. I think that it’s equally as important to make sure that we’re thinking about the other person going through those same experiences. They’re also setting their own boundaries. They’re also finding their means for connection. And when you can align with a partner whose boundaries reflect yours, or if you’re on the same page and you have that equal level of respect, it can make all the difference.
I: Yeah, totally respect and trust. Yes, like [those are] the cornerstone of relationship in my opinion.
A: What do you want people to understand about physical touch and connection?
I: I would say listen to yourself. That may be a lifetime project but it’s worth it. This internal compass is going to lead [you] toward healing, awakening abundance and connection that really feels good. Connection that feels good supports everything else. That’s something I love teaching in my workshops. Ask yourself, “what do I need in connection?” Do you need to be seen? Do you need to be heard? Do you need to have your truth received compassionately with acceptance? Do you need touch? Authentically ask and listen for the answer. Even you ask you ask that question over a week, a month, a year. I think really getting to know oneself is so worth it, and [it] will make connections and your life way better.