From goat yoga to sound baths, the world is full of wellness trends designed to soothe and calm both body and spirit. Now, a self-care practice hailing from the Netherlands is promising practitioners serenity, and perhaps a smile or two.
Dubbed “koe knuffelen” in Dutch (literally “cow hugging”), the practice is centred on the inherent healing properties of a good human-to-animal snuggle. Cow cuddlers typically start by taking a tour of the farm before resting against one of the cows for two to three hours. The cow’s warmer body temperature, slower heartbeat and mammoth size can make hugging them an incredibly soothing experience, and giving the animal a backrub, reclining against them or even getting licked is all part of the therapeutic encounter.
Cow cuddling is believed to promote positivity and reduce stress by boosting oxytocin in humans, the hormone released in social bonding. The calming effects of curling up with a pet or emotional support animal, it seems, are accentuated when cuddling with larger mammals.
This wholesome pastime emerged in rural Dutch provinces more than a decade ago, and is now part of a wider Dutch movement to bring people closer to nature and country life. Today, farms in Rotterdam, Switzerland and even the United States are offering cow-hugging sessions and promoting the activity’s joy-inducing, stress-busting properties.
The cuddling experience can even be pleasurable for the cattle themselves. A 2007 study in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science states that cows show cues of deep relaxation, stretching out and allowing their ears to fall back when massaged in particular areas of their neck and upper back.
It seems that heartfelt bonding with bovines may just be what the doctor ordered.
(Video by BBC Reel; text by Yasmin El-Beih)
This video is part of BBC Reel’s Healthy Living playlist.
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