Cow hugging: What is it?

People in the West are increasingly taking to embracing the cow for hours as a healing therapy for various illnesses and particular anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic

November 23, 2020 12:55 pm | Updated November 24, 2020 10:46 am IST

A Boy Petting A Calf With Love

A Boy Petting A Calf With Love

Not India, the original land of the holy cow, but Holland takes credit for a simple self-care practice called cow hugging! Koe Knuffelen is Dutch for cow hugging, a wellness trend that was started more than a decade ago. During the pandemic lockdown, cow hugging has apparently grown into a global health movement with the appeal of soothing frayed nerves and calming the body.

A BBC report says the traffic of visitors to cow farms from Rotterdam and Switzerland to the United States is significantly up. Some farms even charge up to 75 USD per hour. The huggers lean against a cow to rest, stoke, embrace, snuggle, or talk to the animal for hours. The wholesome pastime abroad is focused on a good human-animal touch in a clean, smell-free green surrounding.

The benefits accruing from cow hugging are for real, says Bengaluru-based psychiatrist Dr B Girish Chandra. The feeling is akin to cuddling a toddler or pets at home. "A hug triggers the happy hormones oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, consequently reducing cortisol (the stress hormone), bringing down stress levels, anxiety and the symptoms of depression," says Dr Chandra. Cows by nature are calm, gentle, and patient and the huggers benefit from the animal's warm body temperature, slower heartbeat and large size, he adds. All this helps regulate the body’s metabolism, and immune and stress response.

Madurai resident Jitendra Golcha finds peace when he comes to the entrance of his gated community where a water pit and stacks of grass attract a herd of cows every morning. He says he gives them a quick neck and back rub and has been doing so for the past 21 years without knowing about cow hugging!

When the lockdown started, Varun Chirumamilla drove 350 kilometres from Hyderabad to his ancestral home, which he describes as a feel-good animal farm with ducks, geese, hens, guinea fowls, rabbits, dogs and a fish farm. But his three-year-old daughter has taken to the cowshed. "There are 25 cows and she is attached to one named Gowri and plays around her for hours, feeds and caresses her," he says. The farm also gets visitors who come to buy cow milk and Chirumamilla allows them to spend extra time if they wish to pet the animals.

Hopefully the cow will not become what yoga is in the West: a commodity to be marketed and sold. Perhaps we will now learn to pet ours rather than worshipping them at one extreme or setting them out to ‘graze’ on plastic packets from dustbins at another.

Therapy animals are a reality that can lend real comfort in unusual ways.

In this column, we demystify the buzzwords in wellness

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