AUTHOR: COURTNEY AVERY
ILLUSTRATIONS BY EVA HILL
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breath is everything, and when you practice awareness of this powerful life force, you gradually gain knowledge and experience of how to use your breath as a tool for relaxation, healing and of course…. enhanced pleasure!
Orgasm & Breath
Your breath is an essential aspect of your orgasm. As discussed in my pelvic floor essay, your muscles tense up around your sexual climax and then release. While a certain amount of tension is necessary to experience an orgasm, relaxing these muscles brings a whole new sensation. Have you ever felt sinus pressure, ringing in your ears, or just general pressure in your head after an orgasm? I sure have. This phenomenon occurs when you hold your breath and tense your muscles to experience an orgasm.
During my yogic studies, I learned that holding your breath and bearing down during an orgasmic experience is extremely common. We naturally do this to assist with pelvic floor muscle tension to send us over the edge. But if we do this too much, we are trying too hard. When you bear down and strain your muscles to try hard to orgasm, your entire body tenses and you naturally hold your breath because your diaphragm is also strained. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this approach. If you’d like to experiment with a different sensation that can travel through the entire body, try this technique when you are bringing yourself to orgasm:
Open your mouth and take deep belly breaths as you feel pleasure building.
When you feel yourself getting closer to climax, continue to pulse the pelvic floor muscles while breathing deeper and faster to stop your diaphragm from tensing and keep the rest of your muscles soft.
When your orgasm begins, try your best to continue the breath and relax your entire body into it. It may feel counterintuitive at first, and the urge to bear down is real, but try to come back to that open mouth belly breathing and keep relaxing through it.
This allows the waves of sensation to travel through the nerves in your entire body so you experience a full-body orgasm. It’s all about the breath, my babes!
The Sphincter Law
During a vaginal birth, the vagina and legs are open and accompanied by beautifully raw guttural noises and varying breath patterns. Sounds a lot like sex, am I right? Breath is KEY to the labor and birth process. As a birth doula, I was taught that when someone is transitioning from early labor into the otherworldly experience of active labor, the one thing they have control of is their breath. The breath keeps them in their body and focused on one thing while surrendering to the rest of the process. Every single childbirth class and birthing method teaches breath techniques to prepare people to deliver a baby.
Ina May Gaskin is a world-renowned midwife and advocate for maternity care. She is considered to be the grandmother of the natural childbirth movement. In her book, “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth,” she describes her concept of the Sphincter Law, which states that if one sphincter in the body is open and relaxed, the rest will also open and relax. For childbirth, the ‘sphincters’ of concern are the anus, vagina, cervix, mouth, and larynx (throat).
If a birthing mother is met with fear and uncertainty, they tightens their muscles and the sphincters respond in the same way-- the mouth tightens, vagina and anus clench and cervix shuts. To counter this response, Gaskin says, “open mouth, open vagina!” and uses the principle of “as above, so below.” Gaskin advises to open the mouth and make deep noises to keep the throat open, staying connected to the breath. When one starts to feel more comfortable and in control here, the vagina will want to open, and the cervix will dilate to allow the baby through the birth canal.
The sphincter law can also apply to straining for a bowel movement or straining to push an orgasm into existence. Open the mouth, let noises arise naturally, relax the body, and breathe, allowing all sphincters in the body to dilate, open and release. Regardless of gender, you can focus on finding the breath and keeping open channels in the top half, so the bottom half can respond the same way for optimal health.
Erica Chidi Cohen, doula, author and co-founder of LOOM, an educational center for periods, sex, pregnancy and parenting in Los Angeles, tells us, “the best advice I can give to partners trying to support a pregnant person during labor is to match their mood. Breathing or sounding in unison, can help a pregnant person feel more confident and less self-conscious about what they're doing. The permission to be more primal, present and the encouragement to tap into their vulnerability can transform the birthing environment.”
Breath and Energy
In yogic philosophy, we use the Sanskrit word prana quite often. There are many ways to interpret the meaning of prana. One definition translates as, “life force” and another as “breath,” with “pra” meaning movement and “an” meaning constant.
Yoga is made up of eight practices, one of which is pranayama, the term for controlling the breath (prana = breath or life force energy, and yama = control). When pranayama is combined with another yogic practice, like asana (or physical postures), the effects are powerfully felt physically and energetically. You may have experienced these grounding sensations at a yoga class when your instructor paired poses that lengthen or expand your body with an inhale, and with opposite movement of compression, exhale. Whether you’re combining breath and poses, or just doing pranayama alone, the practice can have a transformative impact on the energetic body. The energetic body is comprised of seven energy centers, commonly known as “chakras,” that span from the top of our head to the base of our pelvis. The Sex Ed will be featuring essays on other yogic principles like the energetic body and chakras in future, so for our purposes, think of the energetic body as a web of interactions between your energy centers.
Whether or not you are open to the idea of energy, breath is a scientifically proven method to help bring the body into an optimal state of being in the parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest mode.” Try these techniques at home with an open mind and a relaxed body:
My favorite pranayama technique to teach is “Orgasmic Breath,” also known as a sushumna nadi pranayama. I like to teach a form of this practice that is easy for everyone to digest. It essentially pulls energy from the base of your pelvis (where your sexual energy sits) up through the rest of your energy centers along the spine, filling you with life force.
The benefit of this form of pranayama is that you will work the physical muscles of the pelvic floor, while bringing the rest of the body into the exercise physically and energetically. Like any breathwork technique, it focuses your mind on the breath and the physical body to concentrate the mind on something tangible in order to reach a meditative, or orgasmic state. Like I mentioned in the Mindful Sex and Meditation essay, the more you practice meditation, the more you train your brain to come into an orgasmic state. When you add the physical muscles and breath (energy) work into your sex life, magic happens. The potential to bring yourself into an orgasm with only the breath and muscle engagement becomes possible!
Orgasmic Breath Step-By-Step
Find a comfortable seat, be sure to sit upright, and take a regular deep breath in and out to prepare.
With your next inhale, purse your lips like you were sipping through a straw. This allows you to control the air as it comes in.
Sip air slowly in, and engage your PC muscles at the very bottom, like you are stopping a stream of pee. Avoid the urge to clench your glutes.
Continue to sip air in and imagine you are zipping up the muscles around the energy that is lifting through the spine, keeping them engaged as you go.
Pull in your lower abdominal muscles.
Suck in your belly button.
Draw your shoulders back and widen your collarbones.
Tuck your chin in and lengthen the back of your neck, looking down gently.
Once you are full of air, seal the lips and hold your breath with all muscles along the spine are engaged.
When you’re ready to release, open your mouth slightly and imagine energy pouring from the crown of the head, down the front of the body, now softening each muscle group on its way down…
Relax the neck.
Relax the shoulders.
Let your belly hang out.
Rest your lower abdominal muscles.
Lastly, release the PC muscles completely and surrender. Repeat up to 13 times. Imagine your backbone filling with energy and coming into balance as you continue to move the breath (prana/energy/life force) with your muscle engagement.
When you are done, BE SURE TO RELAX and breathe normally for a few breaths while remaining in a state of surrender.
Optional: You may want to move your hands out in front of you, up and down with the breath as a tangible guide to trace the energy and muscle engagement as it moves. Some people prefer this, others find it distracting when it comes to engaging and relaxing the shoulders. Try both and see what you like.
This breathwork is great to add to a practice to strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor, to awaken stagnant energy in the body, and to help come into a meditative state. I try to do this each morning as a way to feel centered, strong, and confident in my sexual energy. I do not do this pose if I need to release my PC muscles, like when I’m on my period, or experiencing pelvic pain.
Frog Pose to Energize the Legs
This is a pranayama technique with a yogic pose that’s focused on the legs. Take the modification if you have sensitive knees. This breath helps to realign your sexual energy, bringing it up through the spine and chakra system, using gravity to assist the rise of energy.
Squat down, standing on your toes with your feet a few inches off the ground, heels touching. Your feet will make a V-shape and your knees are in a wide V.
Keep your fingertips on the ground in front of you, between your legs.
Inhale strongly through your nose while lifting your hips up, straightening your legs, and keep your head down facing your knees now.
Exhale strongly through your nose and sink your hips back down into the squat.
For the full-routine, repeat this 26 times of the up and down.
To finish, stay in the squat and apply mula bandha (squeeze your PC muscles) with your inhale and hold it for 3 seconds. Then completely release with the exhale and relax.
If you are new to this, try it 11 times, and work your way up.
If you have sensitive knees, do not squat all the way down, keep your hips as high as you need them to avoid any knee pain
Synced Partner Breathing
This is essential when you need to take a few grounding breaths on your own to come back to your own body after a long, stressful day. Doing this breath with your partner before any act of intimacy, or really any moment, will help your sexual energies to align, dance and fill each other up.
Face each other and make sure your bodies are connected somehow: hold hands, touch foreheads, hold each other in a hug, or even press your backs toward one another while seated or standing. You can also do this lying down, embracing.
Clear your breath with an exhale to let everything out.
Slowly inhale together, filling the lungs and belly all the way up, until you are both full.
Pause together at the top of the breath, feeling full of air, life, and love.
Slowly exhale together, becoming completely empty.
Pause together at the bottom of the exhale and feel safe within this emptiness.
Slowly fill back up together with the inhale.
As you breathe, imagine your energy centers filling up one by one, igniting each other with energy.
Repeat as necessary. You can even try to continue your breath into your love making and see how this calm, steady, in-sync breath effects your intimacy.