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BDSM and bodywork (2020)

What do BDSM and bodywork have in common? As a bodyworker, I learnt early on that the body carries a story. If a client has pain in their neck and shoulders, then the pain is merely an indicator of an underlying problem. For instance, the underlying reasons for neck and shoulder pain are most often forward rotated shoulders, that are pulled by too-tight chest muscles. At first sight, the story is told in the body but with further investigation, it often leads into the mind where it becomes more personal and complicated; because the simple truths are gone. For example, shoulder pain from forward rotated shoulders can tell a story about a protected hear; but what does this mean?

The answer is much dependent on tradition and culture. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has developed this furthest, with a comprehensive university education dedicated to a symbolic language that consider both body and mind. One can argue that this is just mumbo-jumbo, but research exists – take a look at PubMed yourself. After the Chinese revolution (1949) there was a reformation of the health care system, and to guide this massive change, they compared TCM to the eastern tradition of surgery and medication. To make a very hastily generalization, in the cases related to accidents and violence, then western medicine was better, but when it comes to lifestyle, then TCM was the winner. I’ve heard it said that a Chinese doctor is paid when you are healthy, while a western when you are sick. In western medicine, this link between lifestyle and health, especially when it moves into the more spiritual and psychological aspects, was kind of dropped when Descartes (1596-1650) declared the mind and the body separated. But as a bodyworker, I’m curious about all traditions aims to explain the body-mind connection – because I have seen so much pain reoccur over and over again after I’ve addressed only the physical problem.


So how does this relate to BDSM? In BDSM, there is a lot of body practices to access the mind. Okay, some people like flogging for only sensations in the skin, but most I would argue that most are in it for an emotional experience as well. It can be in connection with another person, or to themselves – by the way – this is the difference between submission and surrender, read more about it here. But as we are still using the body, to access the emotional being, it is interesting to study how the mind express itself through the body; and here it reconnects to bodywork.

Another peculiar thing in the human experience is normalization. I mean, anything that persists somewhere between three weeks to a few months is then the new normal. So it is troublesome to know oneself through oneself. Through BDSM, one can hand ourselves over to someone they trust and re-experience themselves through their actions; this is a kind of explorative bodywork. For example, there is an idea (that is very popular in hippie circles right now), that tension concerning sexuality can express itself a tightness around the muscles in the hip area; more precisely in the psoas and abductor muscles. If one wants to explore this themselves it gets complicated for several reasons. We often trust ourselves more than others; hence we won’t react on our touch. And moving our body creates tension in our muscles; that’s why massaging oneself is almost impossible. And how should it be?

Before I go on, I want to put out a note of warning, about deeply pushing into (what you think might be) the psoas muscle, as this is often talked about and shown in videos and workshops. I studied muscle anatomy for almost three months, full-time and hand-on, and I find it very hard to know if I’m pushing into the psoas muscle, or the intestines, or the spine. Physical strong touch in that area can be damaging. For a non-professional, there are very safe and non-violent methods for releasing tension in the psoas muscle. My recommendation is to look into TRE (Trauma Release Exercise).


Anyhow back to BDSM, because there is an aspect of this that I find extra interesting. That is consensual non-consent and milder version of the same concept. Within a predefined frame, we often play and get turned out by things we usually avoid, or even despite; so how can the body know the difference? Or is it that one use the already existing tension in the body (that might be the result of old trauma) and releases that into something positive? And will that release be permanent, or does the tension come back again? Just like massaging the pain out of a pair of shoulders, only addresses the symptom and not the underlying problem. To these questions, I do not have a clear answer, but I have many stories and experiences to share. For example, I hear stories about the progression through a particular kink, by first learning to barely touch it, than to fall in love with it, and finally to move beyond it.

I have two favorite models to understand the body-mind connection. One is the Meridian System from TCM, but it is too extensive for causal use. So I prefer the Chakra System from Yoga and Tantra. They both talk about the concept of energy that in my western head translates to tension, attention and flow. How either too much is stuck somewhere, or there is a lack somewhere; and ultimately how the body should be balanced. Using bodywork techniques, everyone can learn how to move “energy” around the body. For example, in TCM, the method of cupping is often referred to as “old grandma” medicine, that is something straightforward that everyone can use. And it is also something used in BDSM when playing with body sensations. I believe that many other tools from the BDSM toy bag work just as well, like floggers, clamps and similar.


Maybe I’ll end with saying that this relationship to one’s body and mind is uniquely personal, so having this interaction with another person is all about discovering shared ground. I like to think about (more emotional) bodywork as a frame that is shared by both giver and receiver, like a story. It also means that one can’t copy an existing model (like the Meridian or Chakra system) without establishing personal contact with it. For example, when growing up in China (I have heard) that everyone learns that a cold is caused by excess in dampness. My western relationship to a cold would be; not building a robust immune system makes one more susceptible to a virus. So approaching this knowledge from a western place, one needs to discover – what is this for me.

This was written as an introduction to the first of a series of fifteen workshops on theme of #the in-between space. Also on this subject, I can recommend reading my article about bondage and pressure points.