Viewing all posts on the topic of embodiment: coming into the body, slowing down, and and feeling more.
Do you ever feel as though you’re just going through the motions? Perhaps it’s hard to enjoy sex because you’re always stuck in your head, feeling disconnected from your body to the point where it doesn’t even feel like it belongs to you.
It can sometimes feel like a physical block, a complete dissociation from felt sensation, where you enjoy sex and intimacy on an emotional level but can’t connect to the physical enjoyment.
Maybe you struggle to maintain eye contact, feeling a lack of connection to the person you’re with, unable to really tune into what you’re both feeling.
Feeling challenged by staying in your body during sex is a challenge with staying in the present moment. For whatever reason, intimacy feels scary and vulnerable, and so instead of staying with the experience you leave your body, which is where we feel the present moment, and come into your mind instead – and the safety of thinking about the past or the future.
In this way we move from feeling connected to feeling protected. We sacrifice connection in order to protect ourselves from the vulnerability of real, in-the-moment intimacy.
Because of this, the process of learning to stay in your body during sex is a process of helping yourself to feel safe again. When we feel safe, we can be with our whole experience, without needing to escape into the mind.
Here are some tools you can use to do just that.
1. Slow down
Slow everything right down. Give yourself time, without pressure: instead of trying to make sex work last thing at night, or when you know you’ve got something else you need to do soon, make some space for exploring pleasure at a time of day when you’re feeling energised and relaxed.
It can also help to experiment with practices to help you stay in your body outside of the bedroom, so that when you do want to have sex you’re doing so from a place of feeling yourself a little more. This means that when sex is initiated, instead of trying to connect to your body and to pleasure in a short space of time, you might already be halfway there.
2. Release expectations
Feeling the pressure of expectations is a really fast way to create insecurity. Reframing sex as playfully exploring pleasure, instead of needing to reach an outcome, can help here. What happens if you take orgasms off the table as something to be achieved? What happens if you share an intention to follow pleasure, rather than ‘have sex?’ What happens if you experiment with different forms of physical intimacy instead – massage, playfighting, watching each other self-pleasure?
Opening up to different ways of exploring sexuality and pleasure is a great way to begin to find what feels good for you. It might be that your body needs lots of physical closeness with another person in order to really feel safe enough to have sexual contact with them – and that’s ok.
3. Notice your breath
Getting stuck in your head means you may be triggered into a stress response, which is what happens when we feel unsafe. When this happens our breathing usually changes too: perhaps your breath becomes shallow and fast, or constricted. You may notice that you hold your breath on either the inhale or the exhale. This can be a great indicator that you’re not fully present any more, and for some people lengthening and relaxing the breath can help to come back to presence.
(It’s worth mentioning that often orgasms are associated with tension and holding the breath, and this common type of orgasm is also known as a peak orgasm. There are alternatives to this where orgasm can be experienced with relaxation and deeper breathing, but that’s a post for another day.)
4. Pause when you need to
One of my favourite tools is to ask for a pause. This works best when you have the conversation before sex is initiated, and explain that you might like to ask for a pause to come back to your body, so that you can feel connected again. Instead of placing blame or responsibility on the other person, this allows you to ask for what you need. If and when you do need to pause, you can take that moment to ask if you’d like something different: maybe to be held, receive some massage, or to try a different activity. Maybe it’s simply some reassurance.
This means that in those moments when you notice you’re not feeling fully present, you can take a minute to feel into what your body needs to feel safe again.
5. Trust your responses
The responses you have – whether it’s to numb out, escape into your mind, or dissociate from your body – are there for a reason. Chances are that there’s some fear showing up, even if it’s well hidden. Trying to push through or ignore the disconnection doesn’t help – it only serves to reinforce the experience of sex feeling disconnected.
Reframing the responses of numbing out and disconnecting as a protective behaviour is helpful here. What is that protection telling you? What does that protection want you to do, or say, or ask for?
6. Connect with the present moment
There are some simple, practical things you can use to reconnect to the present moment, too, some of which may be helpful if you have taken a moment to pause. I detail some of these in my free PDF of tools for feeling more secure in relationship.
One of my favourites is to consciously notice the textures you can feel with your hands: what are you touching right now? What can you feel? Texture, temperature, density? Taking in as many details as you can with curiosity is a great way to gently ground yourself back in the moment.
You can do this with all of your senses, too, not only touch. What can you notice in the room around you? What sounds can you hear? Are there any tastes or smells?
7. Ask for help
Finally, it’s most helpful if you can speak with your partner about your desire to feel more connected to your body during sex. Knowing that they’re on side can make those moments when you need to pause easier, and they may be able to help in offering things that can help you feel more safe.
If you’re not in the kind of relationship where you’re able to do this right now, and instead enjoying encounters with less emotional involvement, it can be as simple as letting them know your needs when things begin to escalate:
“Hey, just so you know, I might need to ask for a pause. If I do, it’s because I want to make sure I’m staying present with you, rather than getting lost in my head. Does that feel ok with you?”
Being unable to feel into yourself and your body cuts you off from many things. It makes pleasure difficult to really feel, with sexual pleasure often reduced to a very narrow experience that relies primarily on tension and urgency. Pleasure and sexual enjoyment happen in the body, so finding it hard to stay in your body limits the pleasure you can feel.
Becoming more aware of how your body feels from the inside not only enhances more relaxed, expanded forms of sexual pleasure, but also opens you up to noticing many other pleasurable sensations that aren’t necessarily related to sex. And the more you notice, the more there is.
Disconnection from your body also makes it hard to make the best decisions for yourself, because the alternative is to think through everything instead of understanding your needs from a deeper, more embodied, place. Thinking through things instead of feeling into them leaves you susceptible to getting caught up in stories around what you ‘should’ want, instead of trusting your instincts.
In my personal life, a couple of years ago I remember being asked the question over and over again, “What do you want?”
The truest answer I gave was, “to learn to feel more deeply.”
Despite years of meditation, I was never taught to go into my body and feel what was there, as an embodied practice.
I found it difficult to identify what really brought me pleasure, and sex was often focused entirely on the other person. I found it almost impossible to talk about what it was I really wanted.
But there’s an upside to being disconnected, too. Deep intimacy can feel really vulnerable and often scary, and avoiding staying in your body and feeling all of this can be a really helpful protection against overwhelm.
It’s possible to gently come back into connection with yourself in a way that feels safe, though. So that you can enjoy pleasure, and your body’s deep wisdom, without checking out.
Below, I’d like to share four tools that I’ve used to become more embodied and connected to myself. They are simple, everyday things that you can practice as often as you like, and they’ve been huge on my journey.
1. Practice Compassion
First of all, we must be in a place where we can accept everything we feel, or might feel, without trying to suppress it or judge ourselves for it. We must understand that learning to feel ourselves will mean allowing for the anger and grief as well as the pleasure and joy, and feeling challenging emotions or sensations can be taken as a sign that we are making progress. It’s a way of practicing intimacy with ourselves; allowing all of our experience to be seen, acknowledging it, and meeting it with kindness.
There are many ways to go about this, but my favourite is through an acknowledgment that the ‘negative’ feelings are there for a reason. We feel anger to keep us safe. Feeling grief is proof that we are capable of forming deep, emotional attachments, and it also teaches us about what’s important to us. Viewing difficult feelings in this way can help us to accept and welcome them.
2. Notice Background Pleasure
This is a simple practice that Michaela Boehm talks about often in her podcast. Throughout the day, whenever you remember, and no matter what you’re doing, feel for some pleasure. Even if you’re uncomfortable or a little too cold, or your foot’s gone to sleep, find some place in your body that feels good, and focus your attention there for a moment.
If pleasure feels inaccessible to you in that moment, focus instead on anywhere in your body that feels neutral. Where do you not feel pain or discomfort? Where feels okay?
Take a moment to savour this experience. Can you give this place your whole attention? Can you find words to describe in more detail how this place feels?
Making this a daily habit helps to keep our attention more in our whole bodies, as well as tuning us in to the pleasure and comfort we can feel.
3. Practice Embodied, Active Listening
Noticing how our bodies respond while we’re in conversation can be a really helpful way to connect with others more deeply, as well as ourselves, in a more embodied way. We’re being given so much information, all the time, by what we can feel – even if it’s numbness.
Next time you have a conversation see if you can feel any sensations while you’re listening. Is your body echoing emotions that the other person is displaying? Or are you getting a more felt sense of your own attitudes towards the person? Perhaps you’re able to pick up on what the other person is feeling before they’ve even made it explicit.
Practice noticing this experience that your whole body has in the presence of another person, without judging or attaching stories to feelings that come up.
4. Discover Your Somatic Markers
It’s called a ‘gut feeling’ for a reason. Our body can give us so much information about our needs if we pay attention, but it can take a little time to tune in to this wisdom if we’re not used to listening to it.
We can develop this sense through practice. One way I like to do this is to start with fairly inconsequential things: what kind of tea would I like to drink right now? There’s always a story attached (I never drink peppermint tea in the morning… I’m trying to drink less caffeine… last time I drank camomile tea I was too sleepy afterwards…) so it becomes a practice of gently moving my attention away from these thoughts and towards how my body feels. Does anything light up inside when I think about each option? Do I feel any closing or opening? Do these senses conflict with the stories my mind is playing through?
A helpful way to use this for me recently has involved decisions around how I spend my time; whether I really want to go out and be sociable, or whether I’m feeling obligated and actually I’d much rather stay home. Often I’ll know I’d rather take some me time when the thought of running a bath leads to a feeling of openness and relaxation in my belly.
Conversely, for me, agreeing to do something with someone who my body knows will drain too much of my energy right now is often indicated by a subtle tightness in my chest, a sensation of wanting to pull away, or a dropping sensation in my belly. I can notice these feelings in other situations too, and recognise them as a sign that I may not be doing the best thing for myself.
This is very much an ongoing journey for me, and sometimes it’s not possible or appropriate to do as my body says in this way. But developing and maintaining this sense is extremely helpful for when it is needed, and opens me up to being more present with my body and its needs.
Lifting weights at the gym makes you strong. Focussed effort a few times a week, over time, is rewarded with stronger muscles and increased mobility. But while these benefits are initiated in the gym, you won’t see them until you rest: it’s on the days off, when your body can relax, that your muscles can repair, rebuild, and grow.
Realising that we want to feel more pleasure might begin a journey which involves attending workshops, reading books, sitting in meditation, maintaining daily practices… these are all ways that we might focus our attention and put work into what it is that we want.
But the actual benefits of this effort are reaped when we relax and allow our bodies to do what they know how to do. The work is needed to train ourselves, give ourselves new ways to think, and expand our idea of what is possible, and when we stop and give ourselves the space to pause we can really embody everything we’ve learned.
This means that pleasure comes when we relax and stop trying, when breathing is deep and easy and we’re not focussed on any particular goal. This can feel counterintuitive when we want to get somewhere in particular; the key is in trusting the process.
It’s curious how normal it is to hear people talk of discomfort, aches, and pains: headaches and sore backs, stiff necks and tired feet, but so much more rare for us to share pleasurable sensations. We talk about feeling relaxed or comfortable, but these descriptions are not as visceral as the way we often describe the less pleasant – shooting, stabbing, dull, burning.
On a very basic level perhaps focusing on pain was important to our survival, but the emphasis we place on much of the discomfort we feel is disproportionate to its lasting effect. It could be that noticing unpleasant sensations more keenly has been vital to our survival as a species, but we also have the capacity to become aware of this and train ourselves to notice pleasure as well.
How different would our experiences be if we were tuned into pleasure more? And if sharing pleasurable sensation, in any context, was more common?
To be able to find out requires us to be able to feel pleasure in the first place – often harder than it sounds when we are out of touch with our bodies (unless they’re in pain). Shame especially can be a particularly large obstacle in the way of allowing us to feel and recognise pleasurable sensation.
Another challenge might be overcoming the vulnerability of joy: the fear of acknowledging that something feels great, that we feel great, in case it doesn’t last.
Obstacles worth overcoming, surely. Perhaps we’d be able to enjoy and appreciate our bodies more, and feel less inclined to try and change them. Maybe we wouldn’t crave external things as often to make us feel good. And sex would be all about enjoying how much pleasure we could feel, instead of focusing on a particular goal.
Certainly we’d be able to enjoy all the tingling, vibrating, bubbly, rippling, fizzing, tickly, gooey goodness.