I recently read a few articles on the importance of doing exercise and yoga to improve your sex life. It is easy to imagine some of the more obvious ways: an improved flexibility allows practitioners to get into a variety of kama sutra-esque positions. An increased level of strength allows people to hold those positions for a longer period of time. An increased ability to balance allows people to explore a variety of standing positions (not to mention the possibilities of perching on top of assorted pieces of furniture throughout the house.)
While most articles on the importance of yoga and fitness for sex will emphasize the need to be physically fit and cardiovascularly sound in order to put in an adequate performance on an athletic/aerobic level, the reality is, our bodies are pretty well programmed to have sex regardless of what kind of shape we find ourselves in. One does not need superhuman strength and flexibility to have incredibly fulfilling orgasmic sex.
Physically, sex is instinctive, pre-programmed by a genetic code that has been passed down from generation to generation since the first amoebic creature divided itself in two in order to reproduce millions of years ago. But occasionally, modern humans get in their own way by overthinking things (or simply thinking the wrong things at the wrong time.)
This is where I think yoga comes in. Like other mind-body practices, yoga teaches us to practice mindfulness, a form of non-judgmental awareness. We learn to use our body, even to push our body, but to be comfortable with what our body can do without judging or analyzing. When sex becomes unsatisfying it is rarely because we don’t have the cardiovascular chops to cross the finish line. It is not because we don’t have the strength to support our partner while hanging upside down from the dining room chandelier. Our ability to achieve an erection or ability to attain orgasm is far less important than our thoughts about those abilities. More often than not, unsatisfying sex is caused by the mind.
Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices help train the mind to avoid it from being easily pulled to where we don’t want it to go (like thinking about a work assignment while in the throes of physical passion). In any mindfulness practice there is a point of focus: the breath, the moment, the posture. The challenge is to learn to shift awareness to that point of focus, even when our mind wants to go elsewhere.
In the bedroom, that mental shift may be more important than one’s strength, flexibility or cardiovascular prowess. It is the ability to shift from a mind that is constantly overtaxed and multitasked with things to do, problems to resolve, and bills to pay, to a single solitary focus on loving and connecting with another human being. Sexpert Michael Castleman recently wrote about using yoga to enhance sex by reducing anxiety in his Psychology Today blog, “Want Better Sex? Do Yoga“. Physical fitness is important. But good sex comes with the ability to let go of fear, worry, and anxiety in order to experience the love, joy, and sensuality of that connection. And for those of you who are already advanced yoga practitioners . . . if you are able to hold onto your partner while hanging upside down from the dining room chandelier . . . well, that could be good too.
References and recommended reading:
Barbieri, P. P. (1996). Confronting stress: Integrating control theory and mindfulness to cultivate our inner resources through learning mind/body health methods. Journal of reality therapy, 15(2), 3-13.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.
Langer, E. (2005). Mindfulness versus positive evaluation. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.) Handbook of positive psychology. New York: Oxford.
Shusterman, R. (2006). Thinking through the body, educating for the humanities: A plea for somaesthetics. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 40, 1-21.
Weiss, A. (2004). Beginning mindfulness: Learning the way of awareness. Novato, CA: New World Library.