by Alexzandria Baker, World Association of Sex Coaches Certified Sex Coach
If you could improve your sex life by just taking a deep breath, would you? That may be an over-simplification, but chronic stress is a significant driver behind sexual dysfunction and I would like to introduce you to some ways for addressing stress to improve sexual wellness.
“Mind-body medicine is a revolutionary 21st-century approach to health care that includes a wide range of behavioral and lifestyle interventions on an equal basis with traditional medicine intervention” (Moss, 2003, p. 3). A key perspective of mind-body medicine is that the patient is more than simply the sum of his parts. Another fundamental tenet of mind-body medicine is that the patient plays a primary role in her own health care. The general umbrella of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) includes such modalities as acupuncture, biofeedback, exercise therapies, herbal therapies, hypnotherapy, massage, yoga, and manual therapies such as massage.
What does this mean? It means that sexual wellness is not all about the sex part but rather your whole life. It is a piece of the greater whole that is you. When you come home stressed from a long day at the office, that affects your sexual wellbeing. When the kids have to be in 10 different places this week and it is your turn for carpool, that affects your sex life. When you have time for a nourishing meal and a bubble bath, that affects your sex life.
How many times have I heard the tale of erectile dysfunction presented as a problem of age, attraction, or a physical ability just to uncover that there is a soul-crushing 60-hour per week job involved? Is there any wonder that a woman might have problems reaching orgasm when the whole time she is compiling the shopping list, reviewing her mental calendar, or chastising herself for not getting to the gym this week – not because she is uninterested in sex but because every moment is filled with pressure to perform?
As I said, Mind-Body Medicine covers a wide range of modalities, but I want to present two that are simple, safe, and effective for improving sexual wellness: breathing and mindfulness.
Breath has been said to be the “bookends of our life.” It is the first thing that we do as we start our life outside of the womb and it is the last thing we do before we die. Most of us tend to keep our bellies tight throughout the day – either from stress or out of vanity. This constricts the lower sections of the lungs and restricts our breathing to the upper sections, in the chest cavity. This shallow breathing can raise blood pressure and heart rate and increase anxiety. When we learn to notice our breathing – turn off the autopilot – and begin to breathe consciously, we can control how we breathe. We can change this tension-producing pattern of shallow breath to a more relaxing, effective pattern of deep breathing. Deep breathing (either slow or fast) improves the body’s ability to bring in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. It lowers blood pressure, slows heart rate and improves cardiac function. Deep breathing also calms the sympathetic nervous system, which is helpful in improving stress-related conditions such as diabetes, intestinal problems, asthma, chronic pain, depression, anxiety – – and sexual concerns either directly related to stress or caused by any one of these other conditions.
I invite you to get comfortable in your chair, sitting erect, with feet on the floor or maybe you would like to lie on the floor… just settle into a comfortable position with your spine straight … and your shoulders relaxed … this helps to open up your lungs and allows the breath to come in …
Maybe you would like to close your eyes, and that is fine, go ahead and let your eyes close whenever you are ready …
Breathe deeply, in through the nose … and out through the mouth. Imagine your belly is soft. This will deepen the breath and improve the exchange of oxygen, even as it relaxes your muscles. … You might say to yourself “soft” as you breathe in and “belly” as you breathe out … maybe you prefer to think “this” as you inhale and “moment” as you exhale … that is fine.
If thoughts come, let them come and let them go.
Gently bring your awareness back to “soft” (pause) “belly” . . . “this” (pause) “moment”
If you feel tension anywhere, imagine the in-breath going there and the out breath taking the tension away with it. As the tension leaves, bring your attention gently back to soft…belly. In through the nose … out through the mouth … soft … belly … this … moment … Continue for several minutes…
Mindfulness meditation involves simply relaxing and becoming aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise, without focusing on any particular object. We just sit here and noticed our presence in the room, our breath, and our bodies. You can also do this meditation as you take a walk, just noticing the trees, the air, the sensation of moving, and so on. You can do this meditation anywhere, anytime really. It is a way of “checking-in” with yourself and becoming aware of the current moment and where you are in that moment. Mindfulness is a wonderful introduction to “being.”
Try these two methods of reducing stress and becoming present to yourself in the moment and see if it helps you be present with your partner and better able to enjoy a fuller sense of sexual wellness.
Moss, D., (2003). Mind-body medicine, evidence-based medicine, clinical psychophysiology, and integrative medicine. In D. Moss, A. McGrady, T. C. Davies, & I. Wickramasekera (Eds.), Handbook of mind-body medicine for primary care (pp. 3-18). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.