“As long as you do not feel the serenity in the body, in each and every joint, there is no chance for emancipation. You are in bondage. So while you are sweating and aching, let your heart be light and let it fill your body with gladness. You are not only becoming free, but you are also being free. What is not to be glad about? The pain is temporary. The freedom is permanent.”
– B.K.S. Iyengar
Brad Sagarin, lead researcher of The Science of BDSM & professor of social psychology at Northern Illinois University, studies the altered states of consciousness that may be achieved by tops & bottoms through BDSM activities.
In a recent article, Sagarin stated “BDSM can give Bottoms a temporary relief from the stresses of selfhood. Descriptions of it sound like just a wonderful escape from, you know, the kind of higher-level processing that we do all the time as people…The fact that somebody is a top executive or a mother, all the different roles that weigh a person with a lot of responsibilities…These temporary reliefs can actually potentially lead to better functioning at other times.” Regarding tops, Sagarin stated “Tops really need to keep their wits and abilities about them, so that they can make sure what they’re doing is being done with appropriate care and safety.”
Cara Dunkley, a clinical psychologist at the Sexual Health Laboratory at University of British Columbia, recently published a study examining mindfulness among BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) practitioners. While the sample size was limited, the preliminary research supported a link between BDSM & dispositional mindfulness in that the pleasant states of mind achieved through BDSM may foster a state of mindfulness.
In that same article, Dunkley stated “The many factors around BDSM that come together — a positive emotional and interpersonal context, a possible change in neuro-chemistry from sexual arousal that releases dopamine and oxytocin, positive anticipation of pain rather than negative anticipation — it may all be what leads to these altered states of consciousness or mindfulness, which then impacts the extent to which pain is perceived as pleasurable.
Dunkley stated “The mindfulness method of observing refers to the ability to attend to internal & external experiences, like sensations, emotions, thoughts. Bottoms must be very aware of their own internal experiences & emotional states in their moment-to-moment response during a BDSM activity, & to physical sensations, because they need to differentiate between safe pain & pain that could be indicative of real harm…Similarly, Tops must be externally attentive to the emotional & physical responses of the Bottom through very controlled focus, & consciously adjusting their actions accordingly to keep it pleasurable.”
Mindfulness & meditation are concepts traditionally thought of as someone sitting cross-legged in deep transcendental mediation. We discuss breathing through “right pain” within the context of the earth element. Transforming “right pain” into pleasure can be brought through mindful awareness & acceptance of pain as part of the experience. Pain, for good & for bad, has the ability to thrust us into the present moment. To deal with what is in front of us, here & now. By cultivating acceptance of “right pain”, we are sometimes gifted, biologically & meditatively, with the beautiful experience of pleasure. In the rope scene, many refer to this experience as rope space.
“Subspace” is sometimes described as a trance-like state experienced by rope bottoms during a BDSM scene. Researchers believe this to be induced by the body’s release of natural chemicals like epinephrine, enkephalins, & endorphins, a response signaled by the sympathetic nervous system because of the inclusion of both pain & pleasure. If warmed up appropriately & slowly, the body will progressively continue to release small amounts of these chemicals while creating the pain-to-pleasure feedback loop. This slow incline of sensation may permit rope bottoms increased pain tolerance, resulting in a morphine-like result.
While the experience varies by individual, many describe a high or floaty feeling with intense feelings & sometimes dizziness. It is also common to experience the situation between you & your rope top somewhat outside of your own body with limited speech or thought accompanied by feelings of flying & euphoria.
Top space is a very different kind of meditation in that the rope top must remain in tune both technically with the rope & physically & emotionally connected with the needs & desires of their rope bottom. This type of high-level concentration requires focus and attentiveness to both their rope technique and ties, as well as continuing to prioritize the care, safety, and general wellness of their rope bottom before, during, and after the scene.
A BDSM scene may contain feelings of intense natural highs & blissful connections of love, trust, and tenderness. During the scene, our body produces those yummy endorphins that accompany the pain-to-pleasure loop. But after the scene, when those aren’t being released and experienced at the same level as they were during the scene, we may experience feelings of isolation, sadness, exhaustion, or a general sense of not feeling grounded. This experience is sometimes referred to as “rope drop”.
Discussing aftercare prior to the rope scene is a fundamental element of the necessary negotiations and communications that take place before any rope scene. It is a vital & necessary practice to ensure all parties feel safe, supported, & taken care of during this vulnerable aftercare time. Something as simple as meal or a cuddle together where both parties can openly share what they enjoyed or didn’t enjoy as much can help ease the fall of rope drop.
Mirroring the endorphins can also help. Self-care activities like reaching out to a friend, getting outside to enjoy the sun, dark chocolate, having an orgasm, getting in a good sweat session, taking a hot bath, or even treating yourself to a massage. Whatever you do, be kind to yourself during this time. Feeling safe & supported during rope drop is an important part of ropes practice that will allow you to recharge physically & emotionally & keep you coming back again & again.
In both practices & simultaneously, we, as humans connecting in a moment of experience, strive to understand, support, respect, & honor each other.
As bottoms, we echo the postures previously examined in our yoga asana practice as we echo & deepen the forms in our rope groundwork practice. As we dance with our tying partner in any given scene, the breath becomes of crucial importance.
As rope bottoms, capitalizing on the expansion of the body on the inhale of the breath & the natural deflation of the body on the exhale of the breath, we not only find fluidity in our practice but are more readily open to receiving the many gifts & pleasures of subspace (a meditative state in which pain & pleasure continue to fuel & nurture each other).
As bottoms, by incorporating anatomical knowledge & understanding into our practice, we are better able to understand the integration of our bodies by first differentiating their various “parts”. In expressing & communicating this Svadhyaya, or self-knowledge, to our rope tops, we create a more informed, safe, & enjoyable experience for both parties.
As tops, we study the forms & patterns of the rope ties as we strive to develop fluency through consistency in our technique. This fluidity, as developed through dedicated practice, not only invites a sense of top space (a meditative state of deep concentration) but also spurs a trusted sense of spontaneous creativity based on foundational knowledge of our skills.
In developing a working knowledge of the anatomical body, we invite a sense of confidence in our skills & abilities. We become comfortable with scene considerations such as where to place the tie, how tight the rope should be, optimal placement on our bottom, how to guide, direct, & communicate with our bottom(s), & thresholds for comfort or discomfort.
This mastery of rope creates a two-way allegiance of trust between ourselves & our bottom(s) as we are better able to facilitate a present, safe, & attentive experience for both ourselves & rope bottom.