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Bondage and pressure points (2019)

I spontaneously offered a workshop on pressure points during the autumn edition of the European Riggers (and models) Exchange, and now in the aftermath, I want to share some notes and references. Maybe you will find it useful even if you didn’t participate in the workshop.

What is a pressure point? 

It’s a point on the body where pressure can be applied to have an emotional or physical effect. I divide the points into five categories.

  1. Muscule points
  2. Nerve points
  3. Bone points
  4. Eastern medicine points
  5. Symbolic points

As the body is a non-digital thing, there is an overlap between the categories, and I will go into the categories in detail later.

Why press them?

Basically, to either raise or lower the arousal in the body. Arousal is defined by how activated the body is. Low activation means (usually) that the person feels relaxed, trusting, or safe. High activation means (usually) that the person feels stressed, horny, or ready to perform. The arousal happens in the nerve system, and the brain interprets it and gives it meaning. Therefore it is highly personal how a pressure point “feels”.

To simplify it massively, I usually try first to lower the arousal of the nerve system to make my partner trust me, later to raise the arousal to have an experience. I often switch between raising and lowering the arousal to create a dynamic session.

Now back to the categories

Muscular points come from built-up tension. If the stress is older than a couple of weeks, the person usually doesn’t feel it unless pressure is applied. It like the mind normalizes the situation and stops complaining. They are used in medical massage therapy to remind the body of the tension, and hopefully allow to release it. The tension comes either from over-usage and stress, or to protect the healing process of tissue damage. Depending on lifestyle, people store their stress and over-use different groups of muscles, and here they start to overlap with the symbolic category that I will come back to later.

You can find typical muscular points around the shoulders, chest, and calves.

Nerve points are places on the body where nerves are exposed. Nerves are fragile and damaging them takes months to heal. So from a safety perspective, I don’t use nerve points in play. It is also crucial for me that my partners learn to associate nerve pain with something negative that they tell me instantly about, and not make it into something that they learn to endure. It is essential in more advanced rope bondage when the tied person needs to learn how to face some kinds of pain.

You can find typical neve points around the neck, elbows, and wrists.

Bone points are harder to explain and often overlaps with eastern medicine points. Looking at it from the perspective of a medical massage therapist, I would guess that bone points are due to the skeleton being pulled under tension by stressed muscles, almost like when you bend a branch that wants to whip back into place. The pain from bone points is usually more emotional because they don’t release into relaxation from pressure. So there is a feeling of inescapability.

You can find typical bone points around the jaw, rib cage, and feet.

Eastern medicine points have been documented and explored for thousands of years. The two most known systems are the charka system from India and the meridian system from china. I’m far from an expert in any of them. Still, I’ve studied acupressure briefly and various yogic, shamanic and tantric practices where these ideas often are used to explain how we experience our bodies. In the western world, we have discarded the more spiritual understanding of the body, and approach it more like a machine (like in medical massage therapy). However, I still find these ancient ideas useful to get a more holistic understanding of a person.

You can find typical eastern medicine points along the spine and the libs of the body.

Symbolic points are our western understanding of how we experience our body. Our heart connects to feeling love, our belly to feeling self-esteem, our lungs to feeling safe, our hips and sex to feeling sexual. It gets endlessly complicated and individual, but that is also what makes it exciting and engaging.

Specifically, how do you use them in rope session?

In a sadomasochistic session, I use them to inflict pain in a non-violent and straightforward way. When playing with sexuality, I want my partner to relax around their genitals because that enhances the pleasure. In intense emotional sessions, I use them to build and display trust. Touching a point that usually is tense but now is relaxed becomes a symbol of control because I can intensely manipulate my partner’s body, in ways they often can’t alone.

I want to end by writing a bit about tension and trauma. We live in a society where almost everyone has some chronic tension in the body. A Swedish health study says that 80% of the population has either upper or lower back pain from over-used muscles. Add to that sexual and emotional trauma that has an essential impact on our sexuality, ability to feel emotions, and establish trust. I believe that life is a balance between accepting who we are and trying to change. Rope bondage helps us to play with, understand and heal the situation that we are in and to find alternative ways of exploring ourselves. So my encouragement is to approach pressure points in a body-positive way to find out what works for us as individuals.

Finally, a list of literature if you want to go deeper

Travell & Simons’ Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual

This book is the bible for a medical massage therapist working with pressure points, but overkill for most people.

In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness

This book goes in-depth on how trauma affects the body by the pioneer on somatic bodywork, focusing on the nerve system, Peter Levine.

Pain is Really Strange 

This graphical comedy book aims to explain pain to everyone, and it does an amazingly good job. Written by a medical doctor that turned bodyworker, Steve Haines.

The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine

This book explains eastern medicine in a western way. Written by a western medical doctor that studied chines medicine, Ted J. Kaptchuk.

Chakras As Explained In a Children’s Show

This is only partly serious but they have a good point.

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