5 Tips for A More Mindful Sensual Experience
We live in a society that is constantly pushing us to go harder, faster, longer. And no, I’m not just talking about sex. Whether it’s our jobs, at home, or even our hobbies, we are continually striving to get better, to go further. We are inundated with messages that tell us to progress, to do more, more, more! It may feel sometimes like we need to be superhuman to even keep up. Often, we get so caught up in reaching our goal that we forget about enjoying the journey, only to find at the end, we’re still not happy. So we set another goal and start the process again.
As it turns out, our hectic lives are a pretty good indication of what’s going on behind our bedroom doors too. Is it any wonder we feel we haven’t found time to really connect with our partner? Is it any wonder sex seems like just another item on the to-do list? That we are too stressed/distracted to achieve that big ‘O’? Is it any wonder we worry we will never feel satisfied or experience a deep and meaningful pleasure?
Luckily, I can offer a few words of comfort and five practical tips to help explore sexual pleasure in a more meaningful way. The good news is that none of us are broken, nor are our intimate relationships in ruins; they were simply set aside as we got caught up in the whirlwind of life. Secondly, adopting these five mindful sexuality strategies will help promote a more mindful and pleasure oriented experience in all your day to day activities.
Yes, it is that simple. When was the last time during foreplay or sex that you really connected with your breath? During sexual activity hormones are flooding our nervous system, blood is being pumped ferociously to our erogenous zones, and we start to quicken our breath. While this is an excellent way to detox the lungs, sometimes we are trying so hard to reach climax that we stop breathing altogether (kind of like when you are holding triangle pose during yoga for the first time and you forget you even have lungs). Before you know it, sex is over and you’re wondering if it was even any good! It was quick, to the point and utterly devoid of mindfulness. Focusing on your breath during sex can help you reclaim that sense of connection to your body, mind, spirit, soul and even partner. Breath, physiologically speaking, is integral to a pleasurable sexual experience; it relaxes our muscles and actually increases blood flow to the genitals, which can result in a more intense and longer lasting orgasm. However, emotionally and spiritually speaking, focusing on our breath reminds us that sex is a beautiful journey; a time to connect, renew, relax and indulge. Try this: During foreplay, lay in spoon position with one of your partner’s hands on your belly and the other on your heart center. Breathe slowly and purposefully. You will feel the day’s tension melt away and you will feel the breath flow to where you need it most. If at anytime during your sexual encounter you start to feel that mad rush to get somewhere, stop and start breathing mindfully with the rhythm of your bodies. Delight in the sensations that you never even noticed before.
2. Look. Don’t touch.
Our eyes are powerful and magical; looking into someone’s eyes can tell you their life’s story, their greatest sorrow or their biggest desire. Eyes are often cited as the most erotic part of the human body, and can offer you the most intimate sexual experience you have ever had, without even getting physical. When was the last time you really looked at your partner? When was the last time you let your partner look at you – with the lights on?Perhaps you have forgotten what a beautiful and magnificent creature you are. Allow me to remind you of your absolute perfection. Really looking at one another during foreplay or sex will force you to ignore the nagging or critical thoughts rushing through your brain and will immediately center you in the present moment. The beautiful moments spent looking into your partner’s eyes gives you access to their soul, allowing you to experience the love and desire they have for you, in turn allowing you to relax and enjoy the moment. Try this: Undress slowly for your partner. Let them look at you. Let them marvel at every inch of your body. Once naked, sit facing each other and spend one minute staring into each other’s eyes with out breaking contact. Allow the feelings of vulnerability to surface, acknowledge them, and let them pass. Maybe you will feel intense desire or maybe you will begin to laugh uncontrollably with your partner. Either way, you will experience an intense sensuality that will likely be more rewarding than a quick-fix romp session.
3. Touch. Don’t look.
Your skin is your largest organ and it is filled with tiny nerve endings everywhere, ready to fire off messages of pleasure to the brain. But often times, most of these sensual spots go unnoticed or unused. Back of your elbows or knees? Fingertips? In between your fingers and toes? Behind the ears? The base of your neck or the top of your bum? When was the last time any of these places received the attention they deserve? Our genitals, nipples and lips get their fair share, but surprisingly, our finger tips are just as packed with nerve endings. I also know of people who cannot get aroused until the backs of their legs are gently stroked. Is it possible that you have a hidden hot spot waiting to be discovered? If we spend the time to explore our naked bodies through touch, we are giving permission to the world around us to slow down. We are proclaiming that our body, our temple, is worthy of pleasure. Try this: Ask your partner to blindfold you (if you feel comfortable with that) and allow them to explore your body through touch. Ask them to massage you, to trail their fingers or tongue all along your body, allow them to kiss your finger tips (and yes even toes) slowly and sensually. Allow them to explore all your nooks and crannies and to keep you guessing as to where they will go next. This results in your whole body entering a heightened state of arousal. You may get goose bumps, and you may make some interesting discoveries. When you are done, be sure to return the favour (bonus points if you use different objects and textures like soft skin brushes, pearls, feathers etc.)
4. Smile and give thanks.
This is a simple one, but it is all too often ignored. We may spend countless dollars on the latest magazine promoting explosive sex, only to be left feeling inadequate and dissatisfied at the end because it fell short on it’s promises. Our insecurity, fueled by the mythical stories of people finding nirvana between the sheets because they finally mastered reverse cowgirl, coupled with unrealistic Hollywood narratives of intensely passionate and ferocious encounters, only leads us into a deeper sense that we are somehow missing out on some big sexual secret. You may start to think you are the only one having slightly awkward functional sex with your socks still on. Hint: you’re not. The only difference between people having miserable sex and people having amazing sex is that the latter half is appreciating their experiences for what they are. It’s no secret that a positive outlook will attract more positivity into your life. The same goes for sex: smiling and giving thanks after each encounter will remind you that there was a part of it that really was enjoyable (you were just too busy focusing on what you “did wrong” and comparing yourself to unattainable ideals). Next time try focusing on all the enjoyable bits of the sexual experience. Reminding yourself about all the possible joys in each encounter will enable you to engage in sexual experiences with less pressure, which in turn will enable you to redefine what it means to have meaningful sex.
5. Don’t orgasm.
You must think I am crazy! Trust me on this one – nothing takes you out of the present moment more than trying to reach a goal. Inevitably, if you are trying to get somewhere, you are likely not paying attention to what is happening in the moment. This is ever so important during sexual activities simply because orgasms can be such powerful experiences; so much so that the smaller pleasures that we experience along the way get ignored and downplayed. This is especially true if we struggle “achieving” that goal; we feel let down, frustrated, guilty and we forget about what a wonderful experience we just shared. When orgasm becomes a by-product of sex, rather than an outcome, we are opening ourselves up to explore our sexuality in a more in depth, all encompassing, curious, and ultimately, more meaningful way. This is especially helpful for people who don’t feel in the mood, are tired, or feel performance anxiety and so avoid sexual intimacy. Try this: Do all the above tips, or pick your favourites, and then make a commitment with your partner to not have a sexual agenda. Instead, focus on sexual play: try new positions, try different paces and rhythms, try different locations, toys, or games, or simply try meditating together during sex by letting your bodies enter into their most intimate position and staying there still and silent until they merge into one. When you don’t have to get anywhere, you learn that exactly where you are is incredibly satisfying.
We all deserve to indulge in sexual and intimate pleasure no matter how busy or rushed we feel. Perhaps we can’t all move to a tropical island to get away from it all, but with a conscious effort, we can create our own paradise or oasis in the comfort of our bed. Allowing ourselves to enter into a sensual sanctuary from time to time will remind us that we are all worthy of pleasure and pampering. No matter how overwhelmed we may feel in life, no matter what we hope for our future, real time only exists in the here and now. Practicing mindfulness in the bedroom gives us the tools and ability to press pause in all aspects of life so that we may actually be able to enjoy the smell of the roses along our way.
10 Ways Yoga Practice Can Lessen Your Holiday Stress
There is no better time to take your yoga practice “off the mat and into your life” than over the holidays! Whether you are a new student of yoga asana (movement) or a seasoned yogi, here’s a handy guide for using all the tools at your disposal–including breath, movement, and mindfulness–to limit stress and maximize happiness in the coming months:
1. Stay healthy.
Chronic health issues often flare up over the holidays, so don’t forget to use your yoga practice as preventive medicine. Keep persistent symptoms at bay with a daily dose of yoga. Drain your lymphatic system and increase blood circulation through postures and movement.
Try combating infections and colds by opening up your chest with a gentle fish, bridge, or bow pose. Don’t skimp on your yoga just because you are busy! Everyone has time for a quick round of sun salutations in the morning, a few standing forward bends at lunch, or some breathing techniques before bed–no mat or props needed. Remember the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Were they talking about yoga?
2. Be worry-free
“I’m so stressed out. My mind is racing. Everything seems overwhelming. I just can’t stop thinking!” Are anxious feelings wearing down your holiday spirit? Politely excuse yourself from the party; turn off the computer – just take a break. Find a quiet, peaceful spot for some yogic mantra or meditation. You can quickly detach from worrisome thoughts by focusing on the individual sounds of the mantra or by simply following the breath – in and out.
Sometimes a longer exhalation or pausing at the end of your out-breath can calm a speedy mind. If time permits, do some asanas – child’s pose to really let go, balancing poses (like tree pose) to connect to earth and sky, or toe squat to stretch your feet and take the focus out of your mind and into your body. A restorative yoga session can be an hour well spent; your worries will literally melt into the mat and leave you feeling clear and refreshed.
3. Increase your concentration.
As if your life isn’t hectic enough, add in holidays with extended family, shopping, school recitals, the annual office party; the list goes on! All these distractions can wreak havoc on our memory, concentration, and problem-solving. In order to stay productive, incorporate asanas that increase mental focus–like warrior I, II, III, dancer’s pose, eagle pose, or shoulder stand–into your practice. Activate your tired brain with a series of breathing exercises. You can do them anywhere, anytime, seated or standing.
Really crunched for time? Take a few moments sitting in a comfortable seat (eyes closed or with an unfocused gaze), or stand in mountain pose with your hands in anjali mudra (palms together in front of your chest). The simple act of remaining still with palms pressed together can help bring you back to your center.
4. Keep your body toned and fit.
Maybe you’ve done one yoga class, maybe one thousand. No matter your strength, flexibility, muscle tone, core stabilization, balance, cardio health, enhanced athletic performance–the benefits of yoga become apparent with that very first stretch or twist. You might have a consistent practice when November rolls around. Suddenly there’s no time to cook dinner, let alone squeeze in an entire yoga series.
What to do? Do something rather than nothing! Try adding a few minutes of yoga before or after a workout, run or walk. Strike a few powerful poses before the kids get up in the morning, or discretely activate your core with tummy toning exercises while sitting on the couch. During the holiday season, concentrate on the target areas most important to you, and the rest can wait. If you need shoulders flexibility, keep up your downward dogs; if your spine is an issue, don’t skimp on back-bends, forward bends, and twists; if tricep strength is what you’re after, practice chaturangas as often as you can during your yoga flow.
5. Keep your weight stable
Everyone knows a good yoga series burns calories, builds muscle, and provides your body with a systematic, holistic workout. More importantly, yoga practice helps you make friends with your body. This is no small statement. When you know your body, you eat more consciously, recognizing the difference between a food craving and actual hunger. You make more sensible food choices, and intuitively eat less because you know when you are actually full.
Over the holidays, even our most thoughtful meal planning can be disrupted, it’s hard to say no to grandma’s pumpkin pie, or your cousin might be eyeing your dinner plate to see if you’ve eaten all his homemade mashed potatoes. Try keeping your “yogi mind” at family dinners. Stay centered, drink plenty of water, and don’t forget to breathe deeply when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. You can also practice cardio yoga styles during the holidays– power vinyasa, warm or hot flow, sculpt with weights–to get maximum aerobic benefits in the shortest amount of time.
6. Lift your mood and maintain a positive outlook.
Yoga practice is a great way to boost sagging spirits and tame your depression. Yoga raises your heart rate and gets the blood flowing throughout the body.
If you are feeling blue, try stretching your arms overhead and spreading your toes wide in a simple raised arm mountain pose. Backbend in bridge or cobra, opening your chest, rib-cage, and heart. Any inversion that gets your head lower than your heart–supported headstand, legs-up-the-wall pose, shoulder stand, or handstand–can have a positive effect on mood. If the holidays have really got you down, remember to take care of yourself.
Relax and rejuvenate in your favorite restorative pose; don’t skimp on any blankets or props needed for extra comfort. For mental stimulation, use a breathing exercise like bellow’s breath to stir your prana – it’s better than a cup of coffee! Let your yoga practice serve as a physical reminder that your mood won’t stay low forever. Change happens all by itself if you stay on your mat, breath, and follow the sequence of poses.
7. Sleep more
Work is stressful and your parents are coming for an extended holiday stay. You’re worried and anxious so it’s hard to fall asleep. You toss and turn all night, and now you’re cranky and irritated at breakfast. The sleep deprivation cycle begins and with it all the troubling symptoms; insomnia, exhaustion, overstimulated nervous system, chronic stress, sensory overload, muscle tightening, tension headaches, and more.
How can yoga help? Get in a rigorous session during the day, so your body is tired by nightfall, or try a gentle yoga series before bed. Deep exhalations allow your nervous system to relax and your breathing to slow down. Use poses that relieve physical tension such as spinal twists (seated or supine), plow, or a gentle forward fold (let your head hang). Turn out the lights, turn off the day. Climb into bed and let it all go with a final savasana.
8. Improve your vitality and energy
What happens when you follow a sequence of yoga movements choreographed to the rhythm of your breath? Your blood flow increases, more oxygen gets delivered to your cells and tissues, red blood cell and hemoglobin counts rise. You feel rejuvenated. What about when you’re tired? A series of sun salutations can warm and stimulate both the body and the mind. Chair and eagle are also energizing poses you can do anytime; hold them longer to generate more heat and internal energy.
Be sure to make an extra effort to keep your yoga practice going over the holidays; you’ll be rewarded with more vibrancy and stamina to enjoy the whole winter season. Did you overindulge in turkey, stuffing or green bean casserole at Thanksgiving dinner? You’re not alone. Intestinal symptoms like indigestion, acid reflux, bloating and constipation can sap your energy. Wind removing pose (wide leg, legs together, or one leg at a time to target different segments of your colon), twisting poses (to massage your abdomen), reclining bound angle pose (for all your abdominal organs), or some gentle cat-cow movements can offer instant relief for intestinal distress.
9. Maintain your mind-body connection
First, you cut your thumb chopping walnuts for the holiday cookies. Then you trip in your new high heels, twisting your ankle, and minutes later you spill wine on the carpet. Why are we so clumsy and accident-prone during the holiday season? Blame it on the stress- feeling overwhelmed can make you move too fast, lose your mind-body connection, and react with a fight-or-flight response to ordinary situations.
After bandaging your thumb, soaking your ankle, and cleaning the wine stain, cut the cycle of mindlessness- come back to your yoga! Try breathing exercises, balancing poses, or seated meditation. The mindfulness coupled with the physical embodiment your yoga brings can help you recover faster, protect you from further injury, improve your coordination and reaction time, and help you balance better (especially in those heels).
10. Be centered, present, and in the moment
Your commitment to yoga practice is the most precious gift you can give to yourself. Don’t hesitate to use all of your yoga tools– breath, movement, and mindfulness– to keep your holiday season stress-free. Enjoy. Appreciate. Celebrate. Mourn. Rejoice. Connect. Forgive. Extend. Radiate. When you are centered, present, and in the moment, you can give and receive, love and be loved, touch and be touched back. Happy Holidays and Happy Yoga.