Q: WHAT DOES A TYPICAL TOUCH PRACTICE LOOK LIKE?
It is different with each person, because it is partly a response to them. I typically begin with a fully clothed, standing, gentle hug. We hold that for three or four or five minutes, long enough to practice breathing together. Once we breathe together for a few minutes, the typical heart-thumping which happens when two people meet dies down, and there’s a sense of relaxation and ease that I call “getting into each other’s physical space.” This often begins to settle within 3 or 4 minutes. I often begin with “wiping down” strokes–starting on the front of the chest with flat hands, wiping down the torso and the arms in long, smooth strokes. I often will wipe down the head and neck, gently down the face or the sides of the head including the ears, which often elicits childlike smiles and giggles. Once the initial 3-4 minutes have passed there is often a noticeable softening of the bodies, as though they have become friends and dropped a certain amount of shielding that we carry towards each other.
I alternate standing, moving, sitting and lying positions to control the yin/yang energy–if things get too relaxed or sleepy we can stand; if things get too agitated or excited we can sit. There’s an excellent position where we sit on pillows facing each other, very close, legs overlapping, torsos touching. Sometimes it’s possible to get close enough that our first chakras (just below the navel) are touching. In that position, there’s a very nice hug/hold that is possible and again, practicing coordinating breathing, it’s possible to feel that you are completely one with the other person. A typical practice lasts about 60 minutes, more or less.
Q: I HAVE TOUCH TRAUMA. CAN I HEAL?
I have practiced with people who were very averse to touching, and who had physical trauma, like assault, sexual abuse or surgery, that they were trying to heal from and where this kind of contact was extremely difficult for them (but something they really wanted to pursue.) The boundaries can be wherever they need to be. I once practiced with a young man by sitting on the floor, fully clothed, back to back, just letting our backs lean in to each other and breathing for 20 minutes together. We met two weeks later to do the same thing again. It was as much challenge as he could take, and he said it helped him a great deal. I never push anyone in any direction–your boundaries are yours to set and keep, and there’s no need to get to any particular goal or position. We do only what feels safe, good and natural. If someone asked me to sit in chairs and put our palms together for 30 minutes, and that’s it, I would do it.
Q: IS MUCH TALKING INVOLVED?
The great thing about TOUCH is that it is a language itself! So, it is possible to do touch work and almost not speak at all! That is a beautiful thing about it— we can communicate using just the language of the body. Do not be at all nervous or shy about your language. I can work with you from beginning to end almost without sharing a single word.
Q: DOES THIS PRACTICE ALWAYS BECOME EROTIC?
No, it doesn’t need to, and it is possible to structure a practice with very minimal engagement of the erotic. I work with practice partners of all sexual orientations, so I’m very sensitive to limits around erotic energy. I can structure a practice that will fit within any limits around erotic engagement you may have, including fully clothed, non-genital-contact practice. Hugging can be completely non-erotic, and completely satisfying that way.
On the other hand, if your desire is to explore erotic energy within a safe container, I balance energy and support grounding of both partners so that erotic energy is contained within boundaries. Regardless of the amount of erotic energy, this particular practice, as I have defined it, does not end in sex or ejaculation. At the same time, it closes very completely, without frustration, and with a deep sense of relaxation and satisfaction. The energy is simply redirected and grounded, not ignored.
Q: WHAT IF I GET AN ERECTION. DO WE STOP?
An erection is something to celebrate, not be embarrassed about! Erections come and go through the practice. You will find that you get aroused one minute, then all of a sudden it is gone, then back again. This is all normal and natural and a result of being close. It is nothing to be worried about or ashamed of. I try to be completely non-judgmental with people when I sit with them. Your body’s reaction is your body’s reaction, period. An erection happens to perhaps 90 percent of men, regardless of orientation, and I treat the penis just like any other part of the body. A somewhat typical pattern for both partners is they get hard, get soft, get hard, sort of comes and go the way the breeze does. No predicting it and no controlling it.
If you prefer that I stay away from the genital area then I do; if you are open to being touched there, the touch is gentle and careful, the way you would hold a sacred object. You would be surprised that it is possible to be touched or held there without it being so much of a sexual experience as it is a deeply spiritual one. The touch is specifically intended NOT to provoke sexual feelings or increase any sense of erotic energy, but just to acknowledge that part of the body the same way I would acknowledge your ear, your elbow or your leg— a touch of blessing and acknowledgment, rather than intended as something to get you riled up.
You can also decide you don’t want to be touched there at all, and you can change your mind as many times as you like while we work. I will respect your boundaries wherever you set them.
One of the balancing points of my work is to redirect erotic energy into grounding energy so that people feel sexual AND conscious at the same time. I find that once someone has an erection, the penis is the only place they focus, and the entire body goes abandoned; redirecting erotic energy so that it is firmly grounded in the feet and the belly and the breath has an amazing impact. For example, sometimes the erection goes away but a sense of ecstasy, almost like an orgasm but involving the entire body, replaces it.
Erections work very differently in 21 year olds than they do in 71 year olds, and I work with the energy quite differently depending on where someone is in their biological life. And truly, each person is completely different and unpredictable in this regard. Some men have erections from the moment they walk in the room, some men can lie on top of me naked and not have an erection. My practice is completely non-judgmental and accepting. We’re in the room to work together on forming a bond and a closeness on a spiritual level; your body will do whatever it wants to do, and we just do our work.
Q: IS THERE A CHARGE FOR THIS WORK?
Absolutely not. I always get as much back as I put into it. It is a way of blessing others and being blessed by them in return. This is a mutual practice for me, a way of opening spiritually to others and a way of practicing compassion on a physical level. It has become a way of keeping myself well, and sharing wellness with others.
Q: WHY DO YOU OFFER THIS PRACTICE?
It’s a way of furthering my compassion practice, my ability to open to other people and to connect deeply with them. It has become part of my spiritual practice. It is related to forms of yoga and yogic practice (specifically tantra and pranayama). It is also a variation of an ancient tribal practice called cradling, where we actually hold the person for whom we are praying. It emerged from my practice in yoga and a deep sense of connection to others. The practice can also extend to skill-building; specifically, the definition of boundaries, and practice of sensing, respecting and defending touch boundaries in ourselves and in others.
Q: I IDENTIFY AS STRAIGHT. WHAT ABOUT ME?
Dividing the world into “gay” and “straight” men not only lacks any scientific basis, but does a significant disservice to all men by depriving us of the healthy, caring, non-sexual contact that men need and deserve from one another. I seek to create mutually supportive, mutually respectful communities of men where the perception of sexual orientation does not create a “we/they” dynamic. I strive to create an environment within Touch Practice where any man, regardless of sexual identity, can find safe, supportive touch that stays within his personal boundaries and comfort zones. READ MORE >> Homophobia Hurts Straight Men Too ~ Christian Science Monitor
Q: WHO COMES TO TOUCH PRACTICE?
- A Catholic priest who has gone without caring touch for many years. He wanted to be held in his clothing but needed to have his strict sense of appropriate touch—and his beliefs—respected and honored
- A married husband and father of five, CEO of a middle-sized company, responsible for everyone and everything else in his world. He never gets to be the “little” one, never gets to be the one taken care of, never gets to fall asleep exhausted in someone else’s arms. He’s always carrying others, never being carried. His entire world involves being the ‘responsible adult.’ When I hold him, he most often goes to sleep, often within 10 or 15 minutes. He calls it “nap therapy.” I sometimes wrap him in a blanket.
- A Mormon college kid in the rural northwest who wanted to take the first step in cautiously exploring his own body and erotic energy towards men but needed to know it wasn’t going to go anywhere he didn’t want it to go, anywhere he couldn’t handle, and that it would respect his personal beliefs and boundaries.
- A gay guy in his 30’s who realized that he’s having sex all the time, but feeling less and less connected to others—the more he hooks up, the lonelier he feels. He came to experience a connection of physical and energetic bodies which didn’t involve sex, didn’t have a required outcome, and wasn’t about performance, just a chance to “be” with another.
- A man who lost his partner after a long illness, was adjusting to living and being alone, missed being held, and wasn’t finished crying and grieving. He wanted some company as he continued along that path.
- A straight guy in his early 20’s with powerfully conflicted feelings about the whole idea. Half of him was attracted to being held caringly by another man, especially with no sex involved; the other half thought the whole idea was crazy or dangerous. (Engaging that conflict ultimately proved to be very productive for him.)
- A soldier who recently returned from Iraq. As he describes it, after he had seen enough people killed in front of him, he went numb. He doesn’t feel bad—he just doesn’t feel. Anything. It’s as though he left his body and it’s walking around on its own now. When I hold him, it’s not very pleasant for him, and in fact, it can be quite challenging for him—but at least he feels something. He describes it as “getting rubbed back into his body. ”
- A Reiki master who recognizes something similar in the kinds of work we do with our hands, who comes because he wants to experience what I do and draw comparisons with other forms of healing by touch, as well a number of other licensed massage therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and others, who come for similar reasons
- A seminary student fascinated by the historical intersection of erotic and spiritual practice, curious about touchpractice as a way both to explore God and his own body, the sacred and the earthly, the physical and the spiritual