During my training in Integrative Medicine, we had a full day of mindfulness activities—eating, walking, touching, listening, smelling—an experiential cultivation of the five senses. I had a meditation practice at the time, yet it never occurred to me that I might apply mindfulness to my senses. The experience of being mindful about how I perceive the world changed how I approached eating, walking, touching, listening and smelling. So when I think about the usefulness of slowing down, dropping into the senses and being present to sexual experiences, it only makes sense that teaching patients how to bring awareness to their senses is vital to cultivating sexual well-being.
Patients often complain about being in thinking mode during sex (i.e., the kids, house chores, work, etc…). The person misses a lot of the pleasure and desire available to them by being present and aware of their body. Their thoughts and worries thwart healing sexual enjoyment.
Learning new skills works best if you start small, so I like to use the following eating exercise as a way to begin learning how to be aware and mindful of your body's sensations. Next time you sit down to eat, try the following exercise. (We will work into the sexual experience in a later blog but you can certainly try this out with the next touch you receive from your partner.!)
First make sure you are sitting in front of your food and it is completely prepared. This is where you will prepare your mind to be still. Sitting up straight with your hands resting lightly in your lap, take a deep breath down to your belly and count to six. Slightly hold and exhale through your pursed lips to a count of six and then hold again at end of exhalation before grabbing onto the next breathe. Do this about five times.
With a mind of appreciation, place a bit of food in your mouth and very slowly taste into your food, very slowly chewing and being aware of the taste. Continue to bring conscious breath to the experience. If you catch your thinking going to work issues or other things, bring your attention back to the flavors, textures, and chewing experience of the food.
If you are able to get through your entire meal with this level of awareness -- congrats you’re on your way to cultivating a mindful life of well-being! If you struggle with this, which is most of us, just keep up the work and bringing your mind back to the sensations you have with each bite. Over time, you will have a whole new appreciate for this incredible ability to eat food and a building skill for using your mindfulness to enjoy your body's amazing sensations.
Sherri Aikin is a Fellow of Integrative Medicine, Nurse Practitioner, Sex Counselor, Mindfulness Facilitator, and Life Coach.
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