ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Maintaining safe social distancing practices has been tough during the year-long pandemic, but for professional cuddlers, it has forced them to change their entire business model.

Professional cuddlers are people who provide cuddle therapy for patients in need of the healing benefits of human contact.

What You Need To Know

  • Therapeutic cuddling is a safe space for people who are looking for not only comfort but also a connection

  • The pandemic has forced Ishka Shir to offer a new form of therapy,"Virtual Pillow Talk"

  • After the the pandemic, Shir expects to host in-person cuddling sessions again

Ishka Shir, the owner of HoldmeAVL, is looking to heal the mind — one hug at a time.

“Imagine themselves being held, where I can encourage them to hug themselves and hold themselves and feel their own touch,” Shir says.

Shir has been a therapeutic cuddler for five years.

“I have clients who basically want to have a talk session and talk the whole time, and other people just want to lay down and relax and be cuddled and be caressed,” Shir says.

Shir had been a massage therapist.

“I remember in boarding school I would sneak out to cuddle with friends and not to have sex," she says.

And that connection is what forced Shir to pursue her passion.

“It is what people are needing, but since it’s not a thing, and people think where society offers as normal, it's not a thing people know to look for," Shir says.

Therapeutic cuddling is a safe space for people who are looking for not only comfort, but also a connection.

Because of the pandemic, Shir is no longer taking in-person sessions but instead is offering “Virtual Pillow Talk."

“The virtual connection is not the same as in-person. A lot of times in-person clients just lay there and receive touch and are able to relax in my embrace,” Shir says.

And even though her clients can’t feel Shir's embrace, she uses each hour-long session as a sense of healing.

After the the pandemic she expects to host in-person cuddling sessions again, including where a group of 20 or more try to connect and hug.