ABOUT TOUCH PRACTICE
by Kevin Smith
Touch Practice has come to describe an intentional, mindful, 60-90 minute exchange of non-sexual touch between men. The practice is based on hugging, holding, and being held, and it is accessible to men of any sexual orientation, relational status or religious belief. The word “practice” signifies that our intention is to explore, to repeat and rehearse the experience of touching and being touched with an eye towards increasing awareness and skill. The more we practice being mindful in our bodies, the more skillful we become.
The key structural elements of Touch Practice, summarized from the accumulated practice experiences of hundreds of individual men and our teaching/learning experiences in group workshops, are these:
- The primary vehicle for Touch Practice involves holding and being held by a practice partner. While men tend to think of this purely in physical terms, the power of the practice actually derives from the energetic body, through the intention with which we approach each other, our awareness of our feelings, and our ability and willingness to be compassionate and present with each other. We are actually “holding” each other energetically; touch is just one of several different ways we communicate this.
- A Touch Practice session typically lasts a little more than an hour. It follows a prescribed form, like a ritual, with an introduction, a main section and a conclusion, yet each session is as unique as the individuals who co-create it. There are vertical, sitting, and horizontal postures within which we practice, “poses” similar to yogic asanas. I refer to two men engaged in Touch Practice as “practice partners” or “the partnership,” rather than leader-follower, teacher-student, etc. Even when one partner has significantly more experience than the other, like a game of tennis, it’s about skilled partnership.
- Touch Practice provides for a non-sexual engagement between men regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status, and because of this, appropriate boundaries vary from individual to individual. Each individual defines for himself the scope within which he wants to touch and be touched so that he feels safe and comfortable in his own body. Partners make explicit advance agreements about where and how they do or don’t wish to be touched, for example, “not on my chest” or “only above the waist” or “not on my left leg.” Maintaining and respecting boundaries is the basis for the safety which allows for genuine practice and skill.
- Boundaries can be as restrictive as necessary to provide a sense of safety for each partner. For example, a Touch Practice partner may wish only to have contact between our hands, and no other parts of the body. On the other hand, partners may also explore full body touch up to and including genital touch. Some Touch Practice partnerships explore erotic energy, and others have no erotic interest.
- Regardless of the presence or degree of erotic energy between partners, Touch Practice as we define the phrase here never becomes sexual behavior. There are specific “absolute” boundaries which are always operative, superseding any other agreements between partners, that put limits around erotic engagement. The principles are very similar to tantric practice in this regard. This is not a statement that sexual behavior between men is undesirable. Rather, it comes from a desire to create a safe practice space for those who wish to engage the body for explorations other than sexual. There are plenty of realms (teacher/student, therapist/patient, masseur/client) where we categorically proscribe sexual behavior; Touch Practice is one of them. It allows for a safe, powerful and non-sexual exploration of the physical body.