PART I - Love and Romance
Chapter 1: The Love-Lust Dilemma
Feelings of love can kill libido. Today's big relationship challengessexless marriages, low desire, infidelity, compulsive use of pornography, chronic conflict, and marital boredom are all linked to this unfortunate reality. It's a basic dilemma for the contemporary man or woman. It manifests in different forms, but what's common in each instance is this: as the emotional attachment in an intimate relationship grows, the sexual desire often dwindles, yet without desire, the relationship is at risk of failing.
I call it the love-lust dilemma. There's a wealth of scientific data from research in brain biochemistry, sexual science, anthropology, and sociology to support this assertion. As a therapist with more than thirty-five years of practice in couples therapy and sex therapy, I also have plenty of anecdotal evidence to offer.
In my view, the love-lust dilemma is not an inherent aspect of human sexuality but rather an artifact of a society that unwittingly primes us from childhood through adulthood to separate love from sexual desire.
Sexless Love as a Social Phenomenon
Consider the plight of so many couples: the well-publicized trend of sexless marriages or lack of interest in sex. Low sexual desire reached national prominence several years ago when Newsweek ran a cover story titled "No Sex Please, We're Married." The article proclaimed the number of sexless marriages to be a problem "of epidemic proportions," and it suggested that the level of sexual activity in a marriage serves as a reliable measure of whether the relationship will last.
We might expect this problem from couples who have a lot of stress in their lives or from older people who have been in the same relationship for decades. But as a therapist with a specialty in sexual concerns, I can tell you that this development is just as true for couples without much stress and for twenty- and thirty year- olds in relatively new relationships. Some men and women lose their desire for their partners even within days of moving in together.
One frustrated young woman in her twenties wondered what she could do to jump-start her sex life with her live-in boyfriend. Ever since they had moved in together only eight months earlier, their love had grown stronger but their sex life had died. She loved cuddling with him and considered him cute, but the passion was gone.
A despondent man in his thirties was crushed when the only woman he ever really loved left him because he lost interest in her sexually. She said it wasn't good for her self-esteem that he couldn't see her as a desirable woman. Whenever they went out, she could see him lusting after other women. He said it had been that way with every woman he'd ever cared about.
Loss of Desire at the Earliest Stage
Then there are individuals who lose sexual interest in someone practically within minutes of merely liking him or her. One good-looking young man in his early thirties came to see me about his late-night habit of computer sex. His high-paced business kept him on the run and stressed-out with ten-hour days. He lived alone, and his way of relaxing was to come home, eat something, and get into the world of Internet porn. He called for an appointment right after a sobering experience with a woman. It was the only time he had ever been fixed up with a woman in which the two of them had really hit it off on the first meeting. They saw each other a few times that week for coffee or a drink and made out one time briefly in his car. A week later she invited him over to her place, and he went. They kissed for a while on the couch and moved onto the bed. As he turned to put his arms around her he had a sudden realization that he felt nothing. What he really wanted was to get home, relax, and cozy up with the screen and keyboard.
In this instance and others like it, people in new relationships are complaining about a sexual issuea loss of libido in one or both partnersthat we usually associate with long-term relationships.
In Lust but Not in Love
Whereas one side of the love-lust dilemma is the inability to desire the one you love, the other sidethe inability to love the one you desireis equally limited. Some people throw away the possibility to have what they say they want mostsexual excitement and true lovebecause they find it hard to love the person they're in lust with.
I've heard some men and women say that the people they are most turned on to are not the type of people they care to love. I heard it from a young woman who was holding back sex from someone who could be a potential mate while gleefully giving in to the seductions of a man she never wanted to see again.
One man began therapy because he was seeing a woman he had a great sexual relationship with but didn't feel capable of loving. They had been together for more than a year, and she gave him an ultimatum: make a commitment to her or she was going to move on. He didn't want to give her up, but he couldn't commit, either. When he talked about her, he said she was a good woman and he didn't want to hurt her. But then he seemed reluctant to acknowledge her good qualities, like her intelligence and kindheartedness, and he even faulted her for her high sex drive. When these men and women come for therapy, they are often well aware of their disconnect between love and desire, and they recognize it as a pattern that keeps them from committing to a relationship.
Low Libido in Loving Couples
Finally, there are the poster children for sexless marriage: people who love each other but have lost interest in sex. They may feel emotionally close and even be affectionate with each other, but for one reason or another the sexual part of their relationship reached a low point and never quite picked up again. It can happen at various stages in a relationship, such as in the early years, with the stresses of young children, or after a decade or two together. Mature couples may take a loss of interest for granted as something to be expected even though they still miss the sexual side of their relationship. Same-sex couples are not immune. Two gay men in their forties, celebrating nearly five years together, mourned the loss of their passionate sex life that had turned into a deep bondcozy but sexless. They came for therapy, they said, because they loved each other and wanted to avoid the "easy" solution of having sex with others.
There are also people in long-term relationships who love their mates but have never really had any sexual interest in them. One woman said she loved her husband of nine years, that he was a good man and a good father to their six-year old daughter, but she had never had an orgasm with him. She was considering having an affair with a man she desired who, she was convinced, had the mojo she needed to climax. When I suggested that with some focus she might be able to achieve the elusive orgasm first alone and then with her husband, she cried out in horror, "Oh, no. I don't want it with him!"
I have also seen long-term relationships break up after one person confessed to the other, "I love you, but I'm not in love with you." It's as though being in love is tantamount to being in lust, but just loving is platonic: warm and friendly and, by definition, nonsexual.
Obviously, none of these seemingly uninterested men or women really had a low libido. Rather, their libido was just not directed toward their committed partner.
All of this is so opposite to what we have been led to expect or would want. How can it be that so many find it easier to turn on sexually to a complete stranger or a figure on a computer screen than to the man or woman they love or could love?
The Love-Lust Dilemma
The answer lies in the fact that although our beliefs, attitudes, and values about sex have changed a great deal in the last fi fty years, how our bodies are programmed to respond to sexual feelings hasn't changed much at all.
In our formative years, most of us learned more about stifling our sex drive than about celebrating our desires, particularly in the presence of family. The paradoxical result, contrary to what society or our family intends, is that once a romance turns into an emotional attachment, our brains and bodies are wired to inhibit sexual excitement in ourselves.
There is now a great deal of neurological, biochemical, and psychological evidence to show that feelings of love and sexual desire often operate antagonistically and drive us in opposite directions. It all starts with our earliest programming.
Love and Attachment
The first stage in our ability to love is what neuroscientists who specialize in infant development call attachment. We begin life with an undeveloped brain and nervous system and a need to bond with one person only. Usually that's the mother, who feeds, holds, and rocks us in her soft, safe arms. At this point, only the right hemisphere is activethe emotional, intuitive, nonverbal side of the brain. The left hemisphere, associated with language and logic, doesn't begin to function until about the eighteenth month of life. It's in the interaction between mother and child that the right brain and the nervous system begin to forge neural linkages in the brain that activate or calm the nervous system.
This early bonding experience is our first intimacy. It's a nonverbal interaction, with mother and infant mutually attuned to each other's bodily rhythms.
At one end of the spectrum, the closeness is based on need: the mother's warm, intuitive responsiveness alleviates the infant's discomfort. When the infant grows hungry, fearful, or stressed, the mother's breast, soft cooing voice, and attentiveness calms and soothes the baby.
At the other end, it's a closeness born of playfulness: the mother and the baby gazing lovingly into each other's eyes, kootchy-cooing, smiling, and laughing together. Their play energizes them both, and the mother's presence helps the infant to tolerate and enjoy high levels of playful stimulation.
When Attachment and Desire Disconnect
As the attachment system comes into play, another inborn motivational system is making an appearance.
We know that babies are born sexual. Male babies have erections in the womb, and soon after birth they can have erectionswhich they take obvious delight inwhile being bathed or diapered. Female babies exhibit vaginal lubrication within the first three days of life. Anyone who spends time around babies and young children can't help but notice the enjoyment they take in discovering their bodies and stimulating and playing with their genitals.
With all of that holding and touching, it's natural for an infant or a toddler to direct sexual feelings toward family members. But parents can become uneasy when a child shows any sign of sexual interest. We live in a society that believes that babies and children are not supposed to be sexual and that parents should not encourage children's sex play.
It's a legitimate dilemma, and even the most well-meaning parents are likely to give off tense messages in their facial expressions and body language whenever a child shows any interest in sex. The parents may reflexively hold their breath, purse their lips and look away, or suddenly cut off physical contact. Parents who believe the cultural myth that children are sexually "innocent" until puberty may be even more overtly disapproving. A client recently told me about a time her mother was visiting and watching as she changed the diaper on her six-month old son. The little boy was obviously enjoying the process and grabbed his penis, cooing and giggling. My client was horrified to see that her mother had instinctively raised her hand to slap the baby's hand away. She grabbed her mother's hand just in time and believed that she had just protected her son from a sanctioned form of sex abuse.
We do want children to channel sexual energy outside the family. Yet the effect of disapproving or harsh gestures can be not only to cut off sexual feelings in the presence of family but also to associate any sexual feelings with fear or shame. When we are adults, any sign of disapproval or discomfort in a partner can trigger old sense memories that can shut down sexual responsiveness. Commitment itself can initiate a process of projecting unresolved emotions from our original family onto our new attachments. Once that starts, the same sexual inhibitions we felt for family are reactivated in our adult bodies toward our partners. All of this takes place to a large extent on a nonverbal, unconscious, and physically numbing level.
Parenting: A Big Risk Factor for the Sex Drive
When two people get married and have children together, they really are parents. She's not his mom and he's not her dad, but seeing each one act as a parent can easily shut down the partner's sexual responsiveness. Witnessing him or her scolding the children or setting rules for them can be a big turnoff, especially if it brings up old feelings toward one's own parents. When the partners disagree, they are unlikely to be aware of how they may be acting out their own parents' relationshiptreating each other as their parents treated each other when they were under stress. Many parents, especially decades ago, were often careful not to show any signs of sexual interest in front of their children, modeling a proper, nonsexual interaction. However the partners' parents behaved when they were children becomes triggered in front of their own children. The less time they spend alone, or show any signs of affection or playfulness toward each other, the lower the libido drops.
By the time a couple gets to the point where the kids are grown and parenting is less of an issue, the partners may have neglected the sexual side of their relationship and fi nd it hard to get it back. That's especially true if they've gotten into the habit of treating sex like an occasional nighttime ritual, a sleep aid to help them doze off.
Seeing all this intellectually is one thing. Recognizing the projections and how they affect the body is the real challenge.
Better Communication Is Not the Answer
For all of the people I've described, talking about their concerns with me or with their partners was very helpful. Certainly there is a clarity that comes with being able to articulate your feelings and to understand yourself and get your partner to understand the difficulties you're having. But while talking about it is necessary, it's not sufficient for breaking the body-based inhibitions to feel love and desire for the same person.
When two emotionally attached people start to treat each other like family, one or both of them may notice a loss of sexual interest. But what's causing it is happening on such a deep levelrelating to how the brain and the nervous system are programmedthat it's typically not something anyone can put into words.
Research shows that automatic body-based inhibitions are triggered at the neural level in nanoseconds and are often experienced as faint visceral sensations. At the same time, they are communicated to the partner at an implicit or unspoken level, revealed primarily through micro-expressions on the face and in subtle body language: a dry versus wet kiss, a pat on the back instead of a suggestive caress, or a sudden discomfort with nudity. We may not consciously know what our brains are responding to; we just know we're getting turned off. Some of these factors may even limit how good the sex can be for partners who do have good sex. Understanding the issues that limit sexual arousal is a good start, but that alone is not enough to increase desire. Telling your partner what you like sexually is always good, but that's not enough, either.
The problem with words is that they keep you focused in your head. What inhibits desire is not just a mind-set but also a body-set, habitual tensions that can numb the sexual body even as your affection for someone grows. No amount of talk can unlock a closed-off pelvis, particularly when the minute reactions to a sexual possibility are too subtle to be consciously registered, let alone verbalized.
What's a person to do? If talking about it doesn't go deep enough, what will? Once we get comfortable with each other, is it possible to bridge the gap between the nurturing calm of love and the thrills of a lusty appetite?
Changing Our Programming
I say it is possible to love the one you desire or to reignite sexual desire for someone you care for, but not by resorting to superficial gimmicks and quick fixes. Years of rote practice have gone into keeping love and lust separate, not just in our own lifetimes but also culturally for centuries. Changing our programming is nothing short of a personal sexual revolution, an intentional sexual
The process of personal evolution is very different from "curing a sexual disorder." You don't call something that occurs naturally a disorder. As we're finding, it's rather common to lose your libido for your partner as your emotional attachment grows. It's natural to find your heart race and your juices fl ow for sexy strangers. It doesn't serve us to deny it.
The love-lust dilemma may be natural, but it's (literally) not desirable. Twinges of excitement for sexy strangers can be fun and exciting, particularly if those people remain strangers. But we want to be able to unite affection and passion in the same personideally, for the life of the relationship. When the sex is good, people rate the nonsexual aspects of their relationships as more satisfying than people who say that their sex lives are lacking. Partners who love each other but don't express it sexually know that having a passionate sex life together would do them a lot of good. It would enhance their love, put more spring in their step, give them energy for each other, and even engender a more positive personal outlook.
Women who are turned on by sleazy guys they would never marry yearn to have sexual passion with someone they respect and admire. They just don't think they can. Men who spend at least an hour or two a day with Internet porn have intense sexual experiences and explosive orgasms with themselves. But it bothers them that they can't have that with someone they care for.
Partners who have been together forever, or what feels like forever, in their heart of hearts would love to have scintillating sex with each otherespecially if it was better than ever before.
The Evolutionary Process
The truth is that we can have it all, but to do so we have to be willing to break through centuries of old programming that's wired into our brains and nervous systems. Recognizing this takes us beyond the narrow perspectives of treating loss of libido as a sexual dysfunction or simply requiring greater imagination in bed. This is about breaking free from a socially induced affliction and evolving as individuals and as a couple. It's especially about how we love and how we experience sexual feelings, in our bodies and not just in our heads.
As we explore the research, you'll get a clear sense of how love and sexual feelings are linked in the brain and the nervous system. You'll also see how being responsive to a subtle level of intimate experience between partners can essentially rewire the brain and the nervous system. There is now a great deal of scientific evidence to show that we can do this. Columbia University psychiatrist and researcher Norman Doidge has amassed an astounding array of studies that represent a revolution in brain science known as neuroplasticity. Medical science has always taken as a given that once neuronal connections in the brain have been programmed to respond in a particular way, especially during critical periods in childhood, they are essentially hardwired and fixed.
Neuroscientists are now discovering that the brain actually changes all the time, perfecting itself. It can do this to the degree that if certain parts of the brain are damaged, other parts can take over and become rewired. Deaf people can sometimes learn to hear and blind people can sometimes learn to see through exercises that stimulate new neural pathways to build between sensory organs and the brain. The healing process, it turns out, capitalizes on the natural capacity to feel rewarded by playful activity by turning the ordinary life experiences that need to be relearned into games. As we shall see, the neuroplastic revolution, with its emphasis on our natural aptitude to evolve our brains, lends great support to our ability to evolve and to enjoy a sexy kind of love.
The Ten-Step Loving Sex Program:
Your Own Personal Evolution
At the conclusion of each chapter in this book you will find one step of the Ten-Step Loving Sex Program. Each step offers experiments and games corresponding to that chapter that can stimulate new pathways to intimate pleasures for you. The program is designed so that each step is progressively more intimate than the one preceding it. Even if you don't actually do any of the exercises, you can still benefit from reading the exercises and picturing yourself doing them.
Loving Sex Starts with Love
As you will see, this loving sex program doesn't begin with a new way of understanding and enjoying sex. That comes later. Rather, this program begins with a new way of understanding and enjoying love and its essential pleasures.
Sex can be driven by emotions and motivations other than love. Sexual activity can be fueled by anxiety and a need for reassurance, by guilt and a sense of obligation, by shame and an urge to be punished, or even by anger and a desire for revenge. But for sex that is impassioned by love, we need to begin our exploration of loving sex as we do, by taking a new look at love and its erotic counterpart, romance. For this reason, the first five steps of the program are dedicated to honing the pleasures of love and romance. The final five steps focus on developing the pleasures of skillful sexual activity and eroticism.
I'm a big proponent of psychotherapy and sex therapy. In fact, because of our collective repressive history, I think everyone would benefit from an enlightening course of sex education for adults and some individual and/or couples therapy. Most people have much to gain and to learn about themselves by expressing their feelings in the safe presence of a warm, intuitive, skilled therapist. This book and the loving sex program offered here are meant not to replace therapy but to complement it through body based methods that support personal growth.
The Body-Mind Route to Loving Sex
As a society we have come to accept the mind-body connection. We recognize that how we think about thingswhether we are essentially optimistic or pessimisticaffects our emotions, which in turn affect the physical body, health, immunity, and longevity. Systems of psychotherapy that are based on the primacy of thoughthow changing the way you think can change how you feel and actare called cognitive-behavioral approaches. The body-mind perspective starts not with the state of the mind but with an awareness of the state of the body; it is often referred to as a somatic-experiential approach. Body-based psychotherapy, like Gestalt therapy, the method I was trained in by the founders, Fritz Perls and Laura Perls, emphasizes becoming more attuned to a person's inner felt-sense awareness, focusing on sensations, emotions, and muscular tensions to make discoveries about one's emotional truths.
Gestalt therapy is essentially based on a philosophical model of psychotherapy and emphasizes personal growth though self exploration and body-mind awareness. It stands in contradistinction to traditional psychotherapy that is based on the medical model and typically treats emotional distress as a mental disorder. Gestalt methods involve recognizing and releasing chronic tensions in the body, which can then reveal memories, mental imagery, and limiting thought patterns and emotional habits. Body-mind awareness confers physical-fitness skills that can be an even more direct route to health and longevity. Since some Gestalt therapists have become increasingly cognitive in their approach, those of us who emphasize body awareness are considered embodied Gestalt therapists.
Psychologist Wilhelm Reich is considered the originator of somatic, or body-based, approaches to psychotherapy and of any bodywork that aims to release blocked emotion through breath work, touch, movement, or sensory awareness. Writing in the 1930s and 1940s, Reich, originally a student of Sigmund Freud, predicted a future that held dramatic changes in sexuality, marriage, and the family. He named it the Sexual Revolution and clearly articulated the crucial role of women's liberation and ending what he saw as forced sexual abstinence in youth. Reich also was the fi rst to make the connections among the inability to fully let go during sexual experience, the resistance to pleasure, and the inability to be happy in general and to fully enjoy life. He believed that this had repercussions beyond the individual level, affecting our entire social and political reality.
A Full-Spectrum Approach
The approach we are about to embark on for integrating love and libido combines all of the above into a cognitive-behavioral-somatic- experiential system. Anything less is only part of the picture.
We want to understand where our thoughts come from and how our thought (cognitive) processes affect our excitement and desire. Yet if we want new attitudes and behavioral patterns to take hold, we have to become aware of what's going on inside the body in the moment: the sensations, images, and emotions that are aroused by those thoughts.
That's the experiential part of the somatic-experiential approach. It has to do with reading what's going on inside your body in the moment and checking for sensations in the emotional center that runs from the head through the heart and the belly to the pelvis. Once you become aware of your true feelings - what's in your heart and your gut - and any tendency you have to react automatically and reflexively based on your programming, you will be better able to assess the situation and choose how you want to respond.
The Value of Pleasure and Play
A full-spectrum approach that uses all accessible resources involves learning through playful and pleasurable experience as well as through processing painful feelings. Research in the neuroplasticity of the brain clearly demonstrates that new pathways in the brain and the nervous system grow primarily through accessing positive feelings, pleasure, and playfulness. One of the leading figures in the new field of neuroplasticity described by Norman Doidge is neuroscientist Michael Merzenich. Based in Santa Rosa, California, Merzenich has created a variety of programs to exercise the brain to help with (among other concerns), autism, language problems, rehabilitation after brain injury, and the prevention of the decline in brain function that accompanies aging. His studies show that it is possible to improve the capacities of the brain for all of these difficulties and for all of us throughout life. What is essential for enhancing the brain is to keep it engaged and attentive. Playfulness is one of the great ways to stay engaged and attentive.
As you will see, so much of what can be learned about love and sex is about promoting good feelings and enhancing the capacity for play. Our ability to feel good, to play, and to enjoy loving sex is intertwined with every aspect of life: physical health, emotional and mental well-being, loving relationships, and spiritual connection.
These words were inscribed at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi during the first millennium BC in ancient Greece, where the priestess known as the Oracle of Delphi gave counsel to the kings and other leaders of her time. The philosopher Socrates lived in Athens then. He was revered as a great teacher among the intellectuals of his time and was considered the wisest man in Athens, not only by his colleagues but by the oracle herself.
Socrates developed a method of teaching that involved simply asking his students questions. The purpose of the questioning was to lead them to achieve genuine self-knowledge by logically examining the popular beliefs of the time and thinking for themselves. For this he was charged with undermining the state religion and corrupting the youth. When he was brought to trial and condemned to death, the jury offered to spare his life if he would make a commitment to abandon his methods. To this he replied, "The unexamined life is not worth living."
Socrates at first rejected the oracle's pronouncement of his being the wisest man, but through utilizing his own method of asking himself questions and going deeper he ended up coming to the same conclusion as the oracle had. He reasoned that everyone he came in contact with thought they were so smart, but he could see they were fools. He, in contrast, knew he was a fool. Ergo, he must be the wisest man in Athens.
In esoteric systems, the fool is actually an archetype seen to be a source of wisdom. He is childlike, full of curiosity, and playful; unencumbered by conventional explanations, he spurs those who come in contact with him to think for themselves and to change.
If you ask yourself why something is happening, how you tend to explain it often stops the process of looking any further. In this process of self-knowing, we want to be able to steer clear of old explanations that bias what we focus on as solutions and to look for new ways of understanding. In a sense, we need to become the fool to trick ourselves to make deeper discoveries. Step one of the Loving Sex Program offers some opportunities to know yourself more deeply. It starts with some simple useful questions about yourself and your partner. If you are not currently in a relationship, you can do this exercise with a significant past intimacy in mind.
You'll then move into your body to see what truths you can learn directly from self-observation. You'll learn the basic embodiment exercise and other body-based tools that help you to become more attuned to your inner state of emotional activation, stress, or relaxation.
Step One: Body-Mind Basics
Objective: To know and experience yourself in new ways
The life that's worth living is worth examining, not just in what you think but especially in what you feel. We begin our exploration with your thoughts about, and goals for, your intimate relationship. Then we look at what you can learn from your body. You can write your answers down in a notebook you keep especially for these exercises, you can do these exercises in conversation with your partner or a friend, or you can just think about them and maybe take some notes afterward. In all of these exercises, if you are not currently in a relationship, answer with your last or a future partner in mind.
- Name three qualities you would like more of in your emotional life with your partner. Give some examples of how that might look.
- Name three qualities you would like more of in your sexual life with your partner. Give some examples of how that might look.
- How do you imagine your partner would have to grow to make those changes? Describe the skills he or she would need to learn.
- How do you imagine you would have to grow to make those changes? Describe the skills you would need to learn. As you continue reading, see whether your answers to these questions change.
Observations that start with the body and not with what we think or think we know are called a "bottom-up" system of inquiry rather
than "top-down." Sensations, feelings, images, or memories popping up in fantasy are the experiences of the present moment, to observe now and to scrutinize later.
These exercises can help you tune in to any tightness or numbness in your body, especially in the emotional center of your bodythe area from the top of your head to your pelvis. The exercises can help you to find your true feelings and reactions, heal old wounds, and make choices based on the present and not on habits formed in the past. Practice them for a few seconds or minutes a couple of times a day.
The purpose of this exercise is to see if you unconsciously hold your belly tense and to learn to relax and let it breathe. When you're sexually active, you want your belly relaxed or engaged rather than tense. Tension in the abdominal muscles prevents blood fl ow to the pelvis.
- Sit with your back comfortably straight in a chair and place your hands on your belly. Notice if you're holding your belly in or if the muscles of your belly feel relaxed. Now breathe and pull your belly in quickly three times. Notice that you automatically exhale every time you tug on your abdominal muscles.
- Take a deep breath in, and blow out. As you exhale, pull your belly in and tense it up as much as you can. Hold your breath as you hold your belly. Tighter, tighter, tighter. Now inhale deeply, letting your belly go as loose and limp as possible. Take a breath in and out, and do it again. Tighten. Tighter. Tightest. Hold it. Now let go as you breathe in. Feel your belly relax as you breathe deeply. Do this exercise for about a minute.
If you have a tendency to suck in your belly and lift your chest on the inhalation, learning to relax the belly on the inhalation is a healthier way to breathe. This enables the diaphragm to flatten as you inhale, which pushes out the belly and the rib cage and makes room for the lower lobes of the lungs to fi ll. The more you exercise your lungs fully, the healthier they remain. The object of this exercise is to breathe primarily with only your belly and rib cage moving. This way of breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing. Practice this exercise for a few minutes.
- Sit with your back straight in a comfortable chair, relax your shoulders, place your hands on your belly, and inhale deeply through your nose until your lungs are full, without moving your shoulders. Exhale slowly through your mouth, and focus your attention on your belly.
- As you start your next inhalation, feel how the belly pushes out to make room for the lungs to fi ll. See if you can feel the movement of your breath in your lower back and spine. Make sure you don't lift your shoulders, because that indicates that your belly and diaphragm are tight. See if you can relax your shoulders as you inhale, and let the expansion of the torso come from the belly opening. Feel your belly contract as you exhale.
THE COMPLETE BREATH
The object of this exercise is to feel your breath fi ll your belly and move through your entire torso, through your rib cage and filling your chest; do this as much as you can without lifting your shoulders. Practice this exercise about a minute.
- Sit with your back straight in a comfortable chair, relax your shoulders, place your hands on your belly, and inhale deeply through your nose, but this time, as the rib cage widens, bring the breath into your chest and feel it lift as you keep your shoulders down.
- When your lungs are full, get to the top of your breath and blow out slowly through slightly puckered lips all the way down to the bottom of the exhale until you run out of air. If you notice that you have lifted your shoulders, drop them before you blow out. Pull your abdominal muscles in to push the last bit of air out of your lungs. When you have emptied your lungs as much as you can, the next inhalation will happen naturally. In this way your whole torso works efficiently as the bellows it's designed to be, taking in fresh air and getting rid of the old stale air.
- Do this breath three times, and with each new breath see if you can increase movement in your abdominal muscles to get more motility in your torso. This breath is also known as a cleansing breath.
THE SIGHING BREATH
The object of this breath is to release tension and relax the body. This exercise will typically take about ten seconds.
- After you have taken three complete breaths, take a quick inhalation with an open mouth and exhale through your mouth in a deep sigh.
- Do two more quick sighs in this way and notice how this breath moves mostly in the upper chest and upper back. Don't lift your shoulders as you breathe, and don't hold your breath at the end of your inhalation. As you inhale and exhale, your chest quickly fills and releases, and your upper back widens and releases. The sigh is like an unvocalized ha. Hold your palm in front of your mouth and sigh as though you're going to clean your glasses. If the air coming out is warm, you're doing it right.
TAKING A FELT-SENSE INVENTORY
- After you have taken several complete breaths and a few deep sighing breaths, tune in to the sensations in your emotional center, the area of your body between your head and your pelvis. Slowly focus on each of the five sections of the body identified below.
- For each section you examine, close your eyes, tune in to that area, notice any sensations you may feel there, and make a mental note of it. This is called felt-sense awareness. Then open your eyes, read the next step, take a deep sigh, close your eyes, and feel the next section of your emotional center. This exercise will probably take you thirty seconds to a minute, once you get the hang of it.
- Start with your head, forehead, eyes, cheeks, mouth, and jaw. Breathe deeply and see if any of these areas are tight. Make a mental note of what you observe.
- Take a deep sigh and tune in to your throat. Sense if you have a grip or a lump in your throat. Make a mental note.
- Take another deep sigh and check your chest. Sense if there is a weight on your chest, a band around your chest, or a grip in the center of your chest. Make a mental note.
- Sigh and feel for any knot in your solar plexus, diaphragm, gut, or belly. Make a mental note.
- Take a deep sigh and see if there is any tension in your genitals, thighs, anus, or butt. Make a mental note.
What does it all mean? Although people can store feelings anywhere in the body, there are some typical areas for feeling particular emotions. See if this outline helps you to understand the emotion behind your tensions:
- Tension in the head, forehead, and eyes is usually a sign of mental stress, thinking a lot, and a tendency to analyze situations to try to figure things out. Tension in the cheeks, mouth, and jaw is usually about holding feelings in and not speaking up. It can also be a sign of anger or disgust.
- A grip in the throat is often a sign of anxiety; a lump usually has to do with feeling sad or hurt.
- A weight on the chest usually suggests feelings of sadness, hurt, or disappointment. A grip in the center of the chest or a band around the chest may indicate anxiety or fear.
- A knot in the solar plexus, diaphragm, or gut can be a sign of guilt or self-punishment, feelings of responsibility, or heavy obligation. A knot in the belly can be anger or fear. A feeling of "butterflies" is usually a sign of dread about the future.
- Tension in the genitals, thighs, anus, or butt can indicate feelings of shame.
THE BASIC EMBODIMENT EXERCISE
This exercise may take about a minute to do, yet it’s your basic tool for relaxing tension and knowing yourself more deeply.
- Take three complete breaths and a few deep sighs.
- Then take a felt-sense inventory starting at your head, face, and jaw, moving your attention into your throat, chest, diaphragm, belly, and pelvic area. Scan your emotional center for any tension, tightness, heaviness, or sensation.
The basic embodiment exercise is helpful to do when you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed. It's also good to do when you're feeling content and want to savor your enjoyment.