Remember that wonderful feeling of your mother stroking your head or back when you were young? How calm it made you feel? How somehow even if you had the worst day or felt really sick, everything felt better thanks to her loving touch?

Do you want to feel that again…even though mom’s not around or you feel like you’re too old to ask her to stroke your head?

Let me introduce you to something called Havening and my friend Hilary Russo, a holistic health coach, Havening practitioner and creator of the Hug it Out system of self-care!

Havening is a super-simple and accessible self-care practice that combines gentle touch with pleasant thoughts. It helps the brain rewire from pain to pleasure, allowing you to change thoughts and moods that might otherwise interfere with your day.  Much of our stress and anxiety comes from deep-rooted thought patterns. Havening helps to preempt those old patterns and create new positive ones. In fact, the name of the practice, “Havening,” literally means “to put into a safe place,” and that’s what users experience when they do it.

My mind is very busy, and I often have a hard time getting to a place of calm and quiet—that can be good and bad. The good part is that I am highly engaged in everything I do, thinking of new ideas and constantly asking questions to satisfy my desire to understand “why.” (I actually wrote a blog several years ago on the importance of asking “why.”)

The bad part is that even during quieter times, my inquisitive thinking can turn those “why” thoughts into “what-ifs,” causing me to worry about everything from potential health challenges (why is my back sore?) to bigger problems, such as whether rising crime in certain places will put loved ones at risk. I know that I am not alone in having needless worries—and through much work and many years, I no longer allow those concerns to victimize me.

Nonetheless, I was very excited when Hilary offered me a Havening session. Here’s what happened…

Step #1: Hilary asked me to think about something that bothers me. Once I had chosen the challenge I wanted to address, she had me think about something or someplace that made me calm or gave me joy.

Step #2: Take a few deep breaths, and close your eyes.

Step #3: This is the “secret sauce” of Havening—the soothing self-touch. You can do one of three things—gently rub the palms of your hands together…or cross your arms, and stroke from your shoulders to elbows…or touch your face, rubbing across your eyebrows, along your cheek bones and up your jaw and cheeks. While working through the mental process (which I will talk about in a moment), the gentle touch distracts you from from the negative while your brain downshifts into a calm and receptive Delta wave state, associated with the deepest levels of relaxation and restorative, healing sleep.

Step #4: Visualize a calm or happy place in your mind. As I did, Hilary asked me to repeat the word out loud that I was experiencing—calm…calm…calm…. Then she had me allow my brain to follow a path from that word to whatever it brought me to next.  Given my love of the mountains, I started with a calming image of a local mountain range, but my brain and heart didn’t stay there.

I found myself moving away from that mountain and to the remote mountain location of my daughter’s wedding last year…and then through that day and evening, including the assorted emotions of love, connection, pride and joy. With each mental movement, I repeated the emotion I was feeling several times until a new one came to mind. Then I repeated that one, mentally meandering through a trail of positive emotions, all the while stroking my arms and easing my brain into a state of calm and receptivity. Calm, calm, calm…beauty, beauty, beauty…connected, connected, connected…fun, fun, fun…touch, touch, touch…smiles, smiles, smiles…and so it went. After about 10 minutes, Hilary had me “return” to her and share my experience.

The combination of words, visual imagery and touch actually put me in a different state. The only thing I can compare it to is when I have been meditating and gone to a similar different state…or when I’ve awakened from a dream. Even several weeks later, when I think about my havening session, I can still quickly feel and be in that lovely state of calm-joy-connection.

The great thing about Havening is its simplicity. It’s easy to learn (though complex in its scientific basis) and can be done anywhere anytime—even in public. The only thing people will think when you stroke your arms is that you’re chilly or when you rub your hands together is that they are dirty.

Depending on your needs, you can easily learn to self-haven with a few coaching sessions (either live or online) with a trained practitioner such as Hillary. Then you will be able to use it to preempt everyday upsets, stress, anxiety, fear and frustration. For more significant issues, Hilary and others use deeper and longer sessions to release the powerful connections wired into the brain from past traumas and rewire them for peace and productivity.

Since my session with Hilary, I have self-havened to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night…after a frustrating phone call…and even before some hard workouts. I’ve even been able to go to that happy, calm mental state during a long, hard drive—of course, I had to keep my hands on the steering wheel so I just reconstructed the calm in my mind…but to me, this is a demonstration of the power of connecting mind and body.

Beyond simple stress and anxiety, Hilary’s clients use self-havening for mild depression, PTSD, chronic pain, weight loss, relationship issues, fear, clarity/focus, addiction, test taking, public speaking, grief and more. If there’s an emotional challenge, Havening can help.

Small world: Hilary is one of the first 150 people to be trained in Havening…and she trained with cofounder Dr. Ron Ruden, a longtime Bottom Line expert. In fact, I remember being at one of our monthly expert dinners with him years ago, when he proudly shared with the group that he had successfully mapped the brain.

If you want to learn more about Havening, check out Hilary’s website at or go to

Rub those hands…stroke those arms…and feel the joy or calm or strength.

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