Bodywork RPGs

What’s bodywork?

When I talk about “bodywork”, I’m not necessarily talking about it as a form of alternative medicine or therapeutic practice, though it can be that for many people (and definitely I’m influenced in that direction due to my training in somatic experience). However, I’m talking about bodywork as a form of nondual animism that rejects the mind-body split and also as a series of personal development techniques to bring your awareness deeper into your body.

Half the time, we’re going to be working on something called “interoception”, a fancy English/Western term for being able to feel and describe what’s going on inside your body. This “sense” helps you figure out the range of pain and pleasure, different temperatures, itchiness, ticklishness, nervous system reactions, and digestive experiences.

The other half of the time, we’re simply going to be working with the body by applying body-based practices that we want to encourage more in our life, whether that’s more stretching, or hydration, or deep breathing when we’re anxious.

I think what I’ve added beyond traditional bodywork is also connecting the body to the land around you, which is similar to the bland concepts  of “cultural ecosystem services”, and is more closely aligned to the radical queer position of “ecosexuality”. Though in many nature-based cultures, this is just the regular way of relating to the interconnected web of non-human beings.

What’s a roleplaying game (RPG)?

When I talk about roleplaying games, I’m talking about creating fictional settings and building character roles. The players then act out or narrate what these characters are doing in their fictional settings. This is the main “roleplay” aspect, when you can act or describe a being other than yourself. The “game” part of it is usually played out through a system of rules built on chance, most often the roll of dice. In a lot of games, people want to feel the thrill of winning and the threat of losing, without the high stakes of our “real lives”. This usually means that there’s a mechanic built to simulate those feelings in a “low stakes” environment.

The story aspect of RPGs is all about creations and imagination. You’re channelling some kind of inspiration or vision that you then articulate into this world. Even if it’s influenced by other fantasy or fictional works, you’re adding something to the world, adding more wonder and adventure. You build connections and learn something new.

The acting part of RPGs allows you to shapeshift, to learn more about yourself by becoming not-yourself, or usually, your hidden-selves, your forgotten-selves, your rejected-selves. These characters return home to you when you embody them. Something is released and processed.

Lastly, when we play with luck in RPGs, we’re actually testing ourselves on equanimity– how we can experience joy and grief, triumph and loss, without losing ourselves in the process. It’s practice for what we actually have to navigate in our day-to-day lives.

So what’s a bodywork RPG?

The idea is to build stories and games about your body so you can connect deeper into your body and the land around you. Of course we’ll learn some standard interoception grounding techniques to help us feel into our body and find inspiration for our stories, but there will also be a lot of world-building, character creation, and games of chance.

For example, in HAWAK, each player will create their own world map, a fictional and probably fantastical setting, based on the shape of their body. Perhaps your mouth becomes the Lake of Whirling Winds, and your armpit hair the Sweltering Swamp. Is your navel the Forbidden Well and your ankles the Fragile Hills?

Next, you create characters– Spirit Champions, in fact, each representing body-based practices you want more of in your life. These characters require a Summoning Circle to enter the game, which always involves doing the practice and then tapping on living human and non-human supports. So, Aquathallia the Naiad’s Summoning Circle involves drinking at least eight ounces of water while sitting beside one living human (other than the player) and a body of water. If a body of water isn’t nearby, a tub or aquarium will do.

You further grow the story by “embracing Mystery”, where mysterious happenings in your own body are translated into your fantastical setting. Your stiff ankles become “the mysterious statues that appear in the Fragile Hills”. Your low tolerance to heat becomes “the mysterious second sun, the Ruby Titan, that brings about the burning cataclysms”. Your snoring and sleep apnea becomes “the mysterious Wailing Hunt that withers crops in moonlight”. These Mysteries help to grow our curiosity in regards to what happens in our bodies, beyond the duality of “this is good” or “this is bad”.

Lastly, the game mechanic of the Payaso (Clown) Rolls helps to come to terms with the triumph or loss that embracing mystery brings. This is determined by six-sided dice (d6) and twenty-sided dice (d20), which are then added or subtracted, to come up with a number that represents how your luck has played out. Each Mystery has a level of intensity that is represented by a number from 1-20. That number can be chosen or rolled through a d20. Each Summoning Circle has Buhay (Life Force) represented by at least 1d6, but more are added based on how many beings (human and non-human) are part of the Circle. For example, the Mystery of the Ruby Titan has an intensity level of 15. Aquathallia the Naiad’s Summoning Circle has 3d6 (one d6 for Aquathallia herself, one d6 for the living human in the circle, and a third d6 for the body of water). There’s a chance that rolling 3d6 will meet or beat the level 15 of the Ruby Titan, but unless the player summons other Spirit Champions, this will not be enough dice to even the odds.

But we then return to the story– whether Aquathallia brings 7 or 18 Buhay (Life Force) towards the Level 15 Ruby Titan, how does that play out? Does rolling a 7 mean that Aquathallia becomes transformed into a flame spirit, until Sirena of the Sea or Salty Santiago can be summoned to assist? Does rolling an 18 mean that Aquathallia douses the second sun but the world has now become flooded (to represent drinking too much without replenishing electrolytes)? The Payaso (Clown) Rolls bring about unexpected change that should be used to explore the story and characters deeper.

Interested in learning more about bodywork RPGs? Do you want to test out HAWAK with me for the first time? Come out to my free mini-retreat on the weekend of July 29 & 30, 2023.

Early registration is from now until July 14th: