Mindful Sex & Meditation
author: Courtney Avery
ILLUSTRATIONS BY Eva Hill
As a yoga teacher and birth doula with a master’s in public health, my work is primarily focused on helping people connect with their sensuality through body awareness, movement and sexual health education.
I train my students and clients to consider their overall sexual wellness from the perspective of mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply bringing your awareness to the present moment to find peace and acceptance of your thoughts, physical sensations and feelings.
When you apply mindfulness, meditation and yogic principles to your sex life, things begin to shift in a fantastic way. Combined with prana or “life force energy” flowing through our bodies, our tissues are physically more capable of promoting blood flow to promote sexual arousal and pleasure. Staying mindful helps us shift our perspective of how we feel, a key part of giving and receiving pleasure, so we can fully embrace the present moment.
No matter what kind of sexual experience you prefer-- solo, with a single partner or multiple partners, kinky or vanilla—being mindful and present can change any experience into a transformative and eye-opening one on a physical, mental and emotional level.
In the following piece, I share useful knowledge and effective tools so everyone can “sexplore” the infinite possibilities of their body and mind. To truly discover what a healthy mind and body feels like for each of us is a special gift!
Mindfulness & Sex
Think of your morning routine: You’re in a rush to get your day going, make coffee, answer emails, reply to text messages and get your first social media post up on the way to the car. Sounds productive, right? This is what you missed: The air was thick with dew and the clouds were like fresh paint across the blue-gray sky. Birds were chirping their sweet morning songs as the sun rose higher in the sky. Pink flowers bloomed in the bushes by your car. There is recognition that your body is healthy and your legs are strong, allowing for a quick morning stretch… seems like a lot to miss, but hey, you got things done!
While I am a get-stuff-done kind of woman, I constantly have to remind myself to be present. From here I can appreciate and acknowledge the beauty and sensation of each moment, no matter what life presents me.
When you are fully present, it is like experiencing life for the first time, over and over again. You can fully appreciate the chaos, the feelings and the sensations of being alive. When you are mindful, you act with intention. Mindfulness is the difference between acting and reacting to a situation. Reacting is responding without thinking, and acting is moving with awareness of the present moment.
Mindful sex is the practice of focusing your mind completely on the present moment throughout a sensual experience. This practice allows you to improve your ability to connect with yourself, your emotions, your body and your partner(s).
When you apply mindfulness to your sexuality you are training your mind to focus on the sensations you are feeling as they arise. Consider orgasm: What are you thinking of when you climax? Nothing! Most often, the climax of your orgasm brings you to the height of the present moment while physical sensation travels powerfully through your body. And that feels good. So, if you’ve ever had an orgasm, then you’ve already practiced mindfulness-- you’ve reached climax and a deep meditative state.
From students and clients alike, I often hear “I can’t meditate because I’m always thinking.”
I want to be very clear about this. Just because you are thinking does not mean you are meditating the wrong way! Every person has the capacity to meditate because it is a practice. Just like any other skill, you have to work at it and cultivate it over time. I don’t expect a beginner yogi to jump into a handstand at their first class, and I would not expect someone to achieve their deepest meditative state upon their first meditation sitting.
There are many meditation techniques, so if you’re a beginner, it’s helpful to try different types of practices to find one that resonates with you personally. (I include a few options for you to explore at the end of this essay.)
The Science of Meditation
Meditation directly affects the autonomic nervous system which regulates sexual arousal.
There are two main parts of your autonomic nervous system that control your body’s response to stress: The sympathetic nervous system, which triggers your body into “fight or flight” mode, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates “rest and digest” mode.
Here’s how the sympathetic nervous system works. Let’s say a tiger is following you. You kick into “fight or flight” mode and signals to the adrenal glands release stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine. These hormones essentially shut down unnecessary bodily functions so you can make fast decisions and move quickly. Your blood pressure and heart rate soar; your muscles tense up to guard you from injury and pain; your breath becomes fast and shallow to take in more oxygen; your liver produces more glucose, a blood sugar to give your body more energy in an emergency and, so on. Your sexual desire dramatically decreases because no one has time to have sex when a tiger is chasing you.
When you feel relaxed, free of the threat of danger, your parasympathetic nervous system signals the body to return to “rest and digest” mode, releasing acetylcholine and slowing your heart rate to normal. Your blood vessels dilate sending blood to your extremities, allowing for adequate blood flow to erectile tissue in the genitals. Your mouth produces saliva, stomach cues digestive juices and intestines activate. Your lungs support longer and deeper breaths. In this state, the nervous system allows the ejaculation of semen, and can stimulate lubrication in the vagina.
Take a moment and think about your own body’s response to stress. Personally, I get heartburn and muscle tension among other uncomfortable sensations and feelings.
When stress triggers occur in daily life, they can easily incite a chronic reaction, preventing your parasympathetic nervous system from returning back to rest mode. Think of it like this: If you only drive your car 60 MPH uphill, you’ll wear your engine out. The same principle applies to your body.
This constant response can take a serious toll on your health, especially on your sexual and reproductive health. Chronic stress can lead to depleted testosterone and a lower sperm count, as well as cause irregular periods, and make PMS, menstrual symptoms, and menopausal symptoms worse. Impotence is common with chronic stress because your body is stuck in a high gear, not ready to come down and let life flow.
So, as the science proves, when you are able to find a calmer state of being, you can tap into a deeper expression of connectedness, pleasure and intimacy.
Bring It Back To You
If you can train your brain with meditation to respond differently to stress, you’ll be able to recognize when it is time to bring yourself back to rest mode in a more efficient way. You have your breath and your body, so you already have some powerful tools to help find the calm. Simply taking slow, deep breaths and gently moving to release built-up tension can stop your body from producing stress hormones, improving your health.
An alarming number of my clients have difficulty experiencing orgasm, or even sexual arousal, especially after birth. It makes sense! Making time for yourself to come out of high-stress-mode and back into living-mode is possible if you create the space and time for the essential practice of mindfulness.
Another Kind of Meditation
Yoga is comprised of many practices, and the physical poses (or asanas) create a moving meditation that can help us live life more mindfully. The word “yoga” means “union” or “to yolk” in Sanskrit. We unite the body, mind and breath. Yoga promotes an equal balance of strength and flexibility along with meditation, allowing blood and energy to flow to wherever it’s needed in the body, including our erogenous zones, like the genitalia.
Yoga also promotes body awareness, which is how you know when to say, ‘yes that feels good’ or ‘no I don’t like that.’ Yoga trains your mind to be aware of your body’s reactions to stress. You’ll know when it’s time to take a deep breath when you are aware that your body is reacting to everyday situations. I’ve gone an entire day without thinking once about my shoulders because I was too stressed out, only to realize they were tensed up toward my ears creating a tension headache. With heightened body awareness, you are able to feel more in each moment, rather than anticipating the next.
Here are a few easy meditation practices you can try out on your own:
Three Simple Breaths
Choose something that gets your attention and turn it into a signal for you to take 3 deep, mindful breaths.
Examples: when you get a text message, when your calendar alarm goes off, when you get out of the shower. Get creative!
When this happens, stop. Close your eyes. Feel your feet on the floor, or your hips grounding down. Straighten your spine and relax your shoulders.
Take 3 deep, slow breaths in and out.
Open your eyes and continue with your day, mindfully!
Use walking as a way to ground into your body. Short or long, turn your commute into a way to focus your mind for the day. Get creative!
Take a moment of stillness before you move and feel your feet grounding down into the earth. Take a deep breath in, and a deep breath out.
Slow your pace with this meditation and sync your steps with your breath. 4 steps with a slow inhale, and 4 steps with a slow exhale.
With each step, feel how your foot touches the earth, what muscles you use in your legs, and how you seamlessly lift your foot off the ground to replace it with the other.
When you notice your mind drifting off, like to the destination of this walk, bring your awareness to the present and focus on each step again. The journey of getting there is the only place you need to be in this moment.
The things that will keep you in the present moment are only what you can feel, see and smell during the walk. Focus on how the air feels against your skin, the color of the sky, the scent of your environment, the feel of your muscles and bones working to move your body.
Finish your walking meditation by taking a slow breath in and a slow breath out. Thank yourself for the focused time and attention on your mental wellbeing!
Orgasmic Light Meditation
This can be done alone or with a lover. Make sure everyone involved is aware of the meditative mindset behind the experience.
As you begin foreplay with yourself or someone else, keep your mind focused on every physical sensation. While fantasies are an amazing way to feel aroused, try to fantasize about the present moment for this exercise.
Focus on the area of your body being touched. With every inhale, imagine blood and oxygen are flowing to this area as it fills with light from the inside out.
Continue your meditative focus on this healing touch, all through your orgasmic experience. Inhaling healing energy and light; exhaling tension, negative thoughts, or anything dulling that light.
As you climax, feel the light exploding out of you, lighting up the entire room, house, city and beyond. Let the light overflow from your cells out to the rest of the world! Imagine yourself as a source of light and revel in the afterglow.