From October 2nd to 4th I had the great joy and honor to be a part of one of the world's first online global festivals for queer men* and folks exploring masculinity, the queer heart festival.
It was organized by three beautiful beings located in Vancouver, Canada, Berlin and Singapore, with more then 90 workshops and 700 participants from all over the globe. It was a really wonderful experience to be able to share a virtual space with queer people from North to South America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. The workshops were very diverse, covering topics like yoga, meditation, self touch, mindfulness, body- and breath work, to erotic and sexual workshops exploring wholesome self pleasure. There were also political workshops, presenting activist groups, their work and struggles for instance from Beirut and India. Also there were special spaces and workshops for black folks and queers of color and workshops on white supremacy, structural racism, gender diversity and how people holding privilege can be able to support marginalized folks. We hope that it will happen again next year. Follow their homepage or social media.
How did I come up with the "self cuddle experiment"?
I decided to offer something online at the festival, since I explored myself how and if bodywork can work through a screen.
Before the pandemic, I thought that offering bodywork online is non-sense. How could you facilitate something around touch, embodiment and connection, without being in the same room? Something would always be missing, right?
Then lock-down hit us and forced us to be creative. Being a touch enthusiast and body worker, the physical distancing and closing of social spaces, that were important to me, were quite tough on my mental health. At that time some colleagues and friends of mine in Vienna organized an online support project, called Corona connect by the queer bodyworker's Vienna collective. Different people offered classes and aspects of their work in a way to teach simple things, that people can use at home as well. I offered a guided relaxation there, which you can listen too as well here.
In this setting I also took part in a workshop around conscious self touch, offered by the wonderful sexological bodyworker Eva Weaver, based in Brighton. I really connected with Eva's way of bringing people together and inspired by her, I started to research more on conscious self touch. I also became aware that I started touching myself more and moreduring the lock down. During my morning meditation and yoga practice, I would start massaging my hands and feet, but also caress my whole body, from head to toe. I started reading up on scientific work on therapeutic touch and found out that scientists, like Cem Ekmekciouglu, Martin Grunwald or Buno Müller-Örlinghausen research on how touch works, what happens in our brains and that in fact self touch is a way to reduce stress, sooth ourselves and occurs spontaneously all the time.
I was really fascinated and integrated more and more conscious self touch into my daily practice. At the same time I learned that it is important to acknowledge that the lack of human touch and cuddling is in fact very real and can't be replaced by self touch. That is important to keep in mind. If you feel more anxious or depressed because you miss human touch, that is a totally normal and valid response, that has to do with you being a human being. There is nothing wrong with you. However, we all need to think how we can strengthen ourselves in these times, when many of us, have less touch, cuddles and direct connections, then we would need.
Exploring our inner capacities for soothing and healing
So this was the story and motivation for me offering a workshop around this question: Can we cuddle ourselves? How and what nourishes and soothes us within ourselves. How can we connect with our body and innate capacity for pleasure, that doesn't depend on another human being and touching somebody else.
It was really interesting to explore this question together. In the workshop there was space for small break out rooms to share about our feelings and acknowledge the difficulties that come along with the pandemic. We explored dancing and cuddling with a plush toy, journaling and had time to connect with a feeling of being held and connected with the earth in a guided meditation.
One of the heart pieces of the workshop was an exercise I got to know a couple of years ago and rediscovered again in my cuddle therapy training with Angeline from Kuschelraum.de. There is a great exercise from the inventor of the wheel of consent and intimacy coach Betty Martin, called "awakening the hands". It is a tool to learn to reconnect with our own capacity to feel pleasure, just by feeling and exploring surfaces with our hands. It is a very powerful tool and resonated as well with the participants.
I had a lot of joy teaching this workshop. One of the funny things was that since participants lived from western Canada to Europe, to India and South East Asia, some people joined the workshop at 6am, in the morning, whereas others did it at 9pm before bed time. It was super interesting for me to hear, how other people practice soothing self touch, outside of genital masturbation and to hold a space for all feelings that come along here.
I plan to offer the Self Cuddle experiment again. So stay tuned or follow me on social media to stay up to date!