10/20/10

Ritual and Ceremony: Innate Longing for a Revival of Tribal Intimacy

We are tribal. It doesn’t look this way today but only 100 years ago most of us were living close to relatives and in small communities were we knew many of the people. Because there was no television, Internet, video games and PDD’s (personal digital devices) we all actually talked to each other. We organized events that brought us together in many ways. In Westernized nations most of this has been lost today.

All kinds of things can unite us and bring us together with ‘tribe’. The music festival season has just passed here in Northern California. The offerings are infinite and, yes, it’s about music but it’s more than just the music; it’s about seeing and being with tribe. Your tribe, even if you actually don’t know anyone at the event!

Music unites us. It is proven in brain science that two different brains sync and move together in every detail when they listen to or play music together. Our brain waves actually fall into sync and create a similar pattern. This is why drumming during ritual ceremonies, both ancient and modern, is used. It unifies the brain, body and soul of the individuals participating in the ritual.

We go to places where we will find our ‘tribe’ because we want to be surrounded by the same values, actions and activities that stimulate us. This is a process of activation of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons help us to assimilate with the others of our family, culture, society and tribe. The same areas of our brain that fire when we see someone else doing an action, fire when we do the action ourselves. This is part of what makes us social human beings.

I’ll be dancing at a festival and see another person, usually a woman, do some great dance move and then I will effortlessly and simple do the move, too. There is usually very little problem in copying the move. Why would that be? It is because we have the innate ability to copycat everything. This makes us a part of our tribe, our culture, our family of biological kin and friends.

We are copycats. This is how babies learn and how we all are life-long learners. This is also why we need other people in our presence. We are learning all the time, even when being passive about it. That’s one of the reasons we go to where our tribe will be. We go to festivals, school events, soccer games, the hairdressers (you know, the gossip tribe is there), church, the skateboard park, bingo and on and on. We are hungry for our tribe. Being with like-minded people is a necessity of life.

But all of these modern things are sometimes poor substitutes for the real thing. Deep, ceremonial tribal experiences fulfill our longing for belonging and entrain our brains and souls with an infusion of intimacy. Rituals and celebrations are needed in life and it’s time we brought them back into our lives. Creating a ceremony or ritual is easy. It requires a bit of imagination and an intuitive freedom to begin. Here are some examples of simple ceremonies and rituals you can create:
- A prayer of gratitude at every meal
- A conscious recall when you feel thankful that is acknowledged with a…
- Sitting in morning meditation each day
- Picking flowers for your home out of the garden each week
- Creating a bathing ritual with your lover
- Sharing massages every Friday night with your partner
- Reading a book to your toddler each night before bed
- Creating a coming-of-age ceremony for your daughter or son
- Holding a blessing way for your new born grandchild
- Creating a community dining experience in your neighborhood on a regular, weekly basis
- Manifesting a community garden where everyone meets on Saturday morning to grow flowers and vegetables
- Joining or creating a woman’s group or a man’s group in your area so that you have a resource by which to go deeply into life’s issues
- Making love more often, with conscious intention

Ceremony creates lasting memories by increasing the neural chemicals that result from emotional involvement in the ritual. Social well-being is far more than the Facebook lives we lead today. We need to be in each others presence so that our mirror neurons can work and our music sense can sync us and we can look into each others eyes and flood ourselves with the bonding neurohormone oxytocin. We need tribe to survive. Create a ceremony or ritual for yourself that involves the people in one of your ‘tribes’. Everyone will be happy and more connected if you do!

8/5/10

Touching Can Save Lives

I'm a sensual kind of person. My body informs me. As a species, we humans have generally forgotten to pay attention to the information our bodies are revealing to us. We're a thinking species and by being thus we think ourselves through situations rather than feeling through situations. This leads to a systematic demise of our abilities to recognize bodily functions that can lead us to healing modalities we used to know about back when our brains weren't so big.

Scientists, with the aid of new tools and resources, are leading us back to an understanding that will help us reincorporate this deep and ancient knowledge. For instance, recent studies have revealed an incredible healing facet through touch. These studies have come about through the curious representation of whiskers and the understanding that some parts of our bodies take up larger areas of our brain matter than other areas do. Remember the homunculus? This is that odd looking little "man" that is superimposed over the brain with big hands, lips, genitals, feet, head and other features that are out of proportion to the rest of his body. He is a representation of our brain parts and an illustration of how they are mapped on our brain. Some parts have much more sensory input than other parts hence the bigger representation on the homunculus.

This stands to reason because our feet, hands and lips do a lot more "testing" of the environment than do, say, our elbows. These parts have more neurons, and more of a variety of neurons, than other areas of our body and so need more neural space in the brain to hold the information they gather and use for future advancement. It turns out that they also have the power to heal us in some very profound ways.

What's happening to you when you melt under someone's touch? You relax. You breathe more fully and deeply. Your blood vessels relax and open. Your skin responds and you feel your body more acutely. In Western spiritual sex practices, like some Tantric sex approaches, adoration is used in touching exercises. A couple will sit opposite each other with one the Receiver and one the Giver. The Giver will slowly, gently and loving caress their partner's face. They will "adore" their eyes, cheeks, hair, forehead, neck, nose and lips with soft, loving touch that lets the Receiver know how much they are loved and appreciated and, well, adored. The eyes, lips and the area around the lips (our whisker area in mammals) all have larger homunculus representation in our brains. They have many more neurons leading to brain regions.

It turns out that recent studies by a team of scientists at the University of California-Irvine, have discovered that stroke induced rats recover 100 percent when they've had their whisker area stroked (pun intended!) within 1.5 hours of the "stroke." They recover fully. The researchers have never had this fail. They cannot reproduce failure in their experiments and they are blown away by this. This means that if you are around someone who has a stroke and you gently massage and touch their lips, mouth area (whiskers!) and, it turns out, their fingers they will probably recover full from any stroke symptoms. This is shocking. Touch fully inhibits the brain from the affects of stroke. Stroke is the number three killer in the US and leaves hundreds of thousands of people severely disabled every year.

The mechanism to recovery has to do with rapidly dilating blood vessels that look for an alternative route past the blockage, that the stroke has induced, to get to the brain area that is being starved of blood and oxygen. The touching also super-stimulates the blood vessels to relax and open wider resulting in more easily transported blood and oxygen. Adoring touch and massage relax our bodies, brains, blood vessels and muscles and this all adds up to the incredible possibility that if we give and receive much more touch it will heal us, make us more whole and very possibly save us. Oh, and maybe each of us will be lucky enough someday to save someone's life by adoringly stroking their face, lips and fingers.

There are more articles on the healing power of touch and "How-To's" about touching here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suzie-heumann/
And here: http://www.tantra.com
And here is the summary of the research for this article. Again, as always, I have taken a little 'speculation' liberty (but not much): http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0011270

6/23/10

A New Purpose for Sex: Unplug Into the 'Now'

When we first fall in love sex is often a fevered, fumbling and sometimes unconscious act. All of our interest is focused on the object of our love and we are overwhelmed by it with a constant awareness process of the beloved. It's satisfying, to a point. After a period of time things slow down and you're left with finding new, edgier and slightly exciting things to do to keep your interest from waning.

Doctor Helen Fisher would say that you have left the Dopamine era of new love and entered the bonding phase where Oxytocin plays the favored part. Dopamine drives desire and the satiation of that desire by some kind of a reward. The 'reward' in new love is the attention from the other and the continued feelings that the love chemicals pump into your brain and body. This often drives sex. Oxytocin comes into play when the couple moves to the next step of setting up a household and possibly having a child.

Long lasting love, or pair bonding love, is associated with the time needed to, at the very least, raise a child to the age of about four or five years old. In ancient times that is the age that the child could keep up with the 'tribe', fend for itself in some ways so that the mother may not need the father's care, especially if there is tribal or societal care to help raise the child. Our love interests still run on old scripts from thousands of years past! But there is evidence that things are changing.

Ok, let's keep that intense, new love stuff, the dopamine high. Then, if two people decide that they are very much in love and want to move to the next steps of relationship the 'cuddle' affect takes over. And though sex may slow down the bond between the lovers gets tighter. Then a few years go by, there are babies and careers and a mortgage and responsibilities galore. Time seems to have disappeared and stress can seem to take center stage. What does love look like now?

It turns out our brains are growing and changing all of our lives. Scientists didn't used to think this was so. They are proving themselves wrong and it now has a name: plasticity. With recent studies on meditators and yogis showing marked increases in brain volume, increased immune response and the ability to show higher cortical, or executive function control, all the reasons for being in the present time or Now are coming to bare. And the practices of Western Tantric Sex can bring you into the Now with some of the benefits the meditators derive from exactly the same Now-ness.

People who meditate can quickly access the Theta Wave state that is indicative of deep relaxation. Deep breathing, mindful relaxation techniques, massage, yoga and no-goal Tantric sex practices can bring you to a super-relaxed state of mind. Once you have these experiences available to you in your growing, plastic brain you'll be able to draw on this relaxation, and low-stress condition, whenever you need to.

Set 30 minutes a day aside for practicing being in the Now with your lover. Make Love be a meditation, of sorts, at least some of the time. This is a more feminine approach, guys, but that doesn't mean hot sex is going to be a thing of the past. It just needs balance, like everything in life.

Begin by positioning yourselves so that you can gaze into each others eyes. This begins the oxytocin drip and re-enforces bonding between you. Oxytocin increases calm, trust, empathy and generosity too.

Breathe together. This synchronizes the heart, body and emotional state and lowers blood pressure. You can 'spoon' or sit opposite each other for these practices. In the 'spoon' position add slow, gentle pelvic rocking, in unison, as an advanced practice. This will relieve the stress of the day on your lower back in addition to putting you more in synchronization. You can set an intention, and vision it together, if you'd like, also.

Design a gentle massage exchange. Even if this is simply 10 minutes apiece it can transform you both, especially when done every day. Reverently start with adoring your beloved by softly touching their face, neck, eyelids, ears, lips and cheeks. You can then move to their arms, legs, torso, breasts, back, feet and buttocks. Don't strain, this is to be relaxing for both of you. It's about the skin-to-skin touch and not necessarily a deep tissue massage. You may even include a bit of soft fur, silk fabric, rose petals or a feather to massage with sometimes. Relax.

Take 30 minutes, every day you can, for this kind of recharge. Make a study of it and experience the differences you'll feel by the end of your experiment. Create your own super-relaxing practices that work well for you. Bring an attitude of focus, relaxation, mindfulness and reverence to the practices. If a great sexual experience sometimes follows then wonderful, but take the pressure off to start, because life seems to be about the pressure these days so let it happen naturally.

5/26/10

3 Easy Steps to Recharging for Two with Tantra

It's a crazy life and you probably don't need to be reminded about it again. The thing is, we get stuck in the rut like hamsters on a wheel, and we can't see clearly enough to get creative about shifting our experiences. How do you integrate everything you want to do in life and have less stress? Here are some ideas that will help you loosen those wound-up strings, increase your love juice, help you relax better at any given time and radically improve your sex life. Sound too good to be true? Only you will be able to tell, once you give it a try.

What do you think when you hear the word Tantra? You probably think: "A lot of sex for a long period of time." You can go there if you want to but Western Tantric practices are more about taking the goals out of sexual activities, bringing in the practices of consciousness and relating consciously, sensual expression and the experience of spending time in the realms of oneness with, well, everything. Everything includes your lover, partner, your breath, their body, a "higher power" and even maybe the whole universe. In these times of global change, feeling more a part of everything around you helps to recharge and replenish You.

If you're putting off sensual and sexual activities because you're too tired or busy you are undermining your emotional connection with your lover and your self. The neurotransmitter oxytocin is the bonding hormone that is produced during birthing, breastfeeding, nipple stimulation, kissing, orgasm, eye gazing and touching. In fact, researchers are finding more actions to attribute the release of oxytocin to all the time. Whether it is a big expression or a relatively small dose, this is the stuff of emotional bonding, relaxation and lasting love. Five out of the seven things on the list above occur during sex!

Though an orgasm, or two, is wonderful, devoting 30 minutes to some softly structured intimacy practices can be the icing on the cake or the preliminaries to actually eating the cake! Whether sex is in the picture or not here are three practices that will keep you intimately connected and charged up while bringing you pure relaxation at the same time:

Eye Gazing is a simple practice that allows your lover to see into your soul through your soft, expressive eyes. Sit opposite each other and get comfortable. Cozy up by touching your knees together and maybe even holding hands. Relax. Drop into this experience. For five minutes sit and gaze. There is no need to smile or make your partner respond. Simply and softly gaze into their eyes. If you find this difficult at first keep with it. This will pass. You are creating bonding by expressing oxytocin and you are deepening your understanding and empathy for each other whether you realize it or not. (P.S.: You can even do this with your children! It will relax them and trust will build between you.) As babies we endlessly eye gazed with our mothers as they fed us. It is the foundation of learning to be a social, empathetic human being.

Breathing together synchronizes your bodies and drops you into relaxation. You can incorporate this practice while doing the eye gazing or do it separately. If you decide to do it as it's own exercise then try lying in the Spoon Position that is used in lovemaking. Either partner can be in front but the one in back places their arm over the other's body and can press their partner's heart region to hold them closer. This helps 'feel' the breath movement too. Breathe together: in through the nose and out through the mouth, as this method will lower your blood pressure too. Pace yourselves and find the speed that works for both of you. If you want to get fancy you can try alternate breathing also. Spending five to 10 minutes with this practice will relax, bond and synchronize your moods.

Sensual Touching simultaneously wakes up every nerve fiber on the skin and soothes and relaxes at the same time. Skin stimulation and human touch are as necessary for human survival as social interaction. When you focus on the touch you are giving, in this part of the practice, notice how your own fingertips feel. Begin by having the Receiver close their eyes. The Giver begins to gently caress the cheeks, eyelids, lips, neck, hair and ears of the Receiver. They can continue down the neck to the outer arms, forearms and hands by moving slowly and softly, all the while putting their attention on the quality of the touch. Giver, make sure that the Receiver is breathing and remind them to relax into the minute sensations as they take in every tingling nerve fiber reaction. This is a mindfulness practice on the part of both of you.

Oxytocin is being produced in both of you during this kind of experience. You are improving your emotional awareness, your trust for your partner and your memory for faces and social experiences. This means that new neural connections are being made in your brain when you eye gaze, breathe consciously together and touch with sensual consciousness. You are re-wiring your brain's reactions to your partner, something most long-term couples need a lot more of.

The stronger these neural connections are the more brain plasticity you'll have. Scientists are discovering that brain plasticity is one of the signs of anti-aging. Behavioral conditioning changes your brain and the more you can cultivate fluidity, by introducing new practices and adventures into your relationships, the more plasticity you'll have. It's up to you to choose if it's going to be negative conditioning or positive conditioning but in these days and ages it seems obvious that we are all in need of the healing power of love.







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4/7/10

Kissing Lessons

Kissing is one of the most sensuous, erotic and thrilling things couples can do together. It can be done just about anywhere. So, what’s to keep you from being a great kisser?

Many men and women complain that their lover doesn’t know how to kiss very well, and that their kissing actually turns them off. How do you kiss? How does your lover do it? Has your technique gotten a bit stale and is there something you can learn about kissing?

Our mouths, lips and tongues are alive with nerve endings. Voluptuous lips are one of the sexual stimuli that turn on both men and women. We wouldn’t love eating nearly as much if we didn’t like the texture of things in our mouths. Kissing has an erotic power over us and the better you are at it the more you’ll get kissed. The pleasure you can deliver and derive from kissing can be expanded to take on an importance of its own. Take a step back to ‘innocent mind’ and start over to find the thrill in it again.

Lesson One: Wet your lips generously, right now. Use your tongue and moisten them well. Put your lips together in an exaggerated pout. As you pout, rub the insides around on each other and feel the silkiness of your own inner lips. Imagine kissing that part of your mouth. Now, again exaggerating the pout, part your lips slightly so you can just suck a little air in through the opening. That is how your lips should feel when you are about to kiss someone: moist, juicy, voluptuous, open, and inviting.

Lesson Two: Kiss the back of your own hand as practice. You should leave a wet mark and make a small, seductive smack as you finish it. Slight suction can be felt when a full set of lips meets the skin. Attitude plays a big part in kissing, too. Are you being seductive and coy or lustful and aggressive? Practice different attitudes while sucking and kissing various exotic fruits, such as a mango, a peach or nectarine, or maybe papaya. Peel the skin away and practice different styles of kissing while you’re eating it. Nobody is going to see you, so go for it!

Lesson Three: Try recreating your first kissing experiences, as mentioned above. Tell your partner that you want to practice with them. Pretend you know nothing. Ask for pointers. You want to be a great kisser! Surrender some of the time. Be aggressive at other times. Dance back and forth with soft, slightly open, moist full lips.

Lesson Four: Don’t introduce your tongue until after you’ve been kissing for a while. Wait until you and your lover yearn for it. When you do start tongue play, do be playful. Tickle and tease. Run the tip of your tongue around the inside of your lover’s lips. Give them a little tongue, then pull back and nibble at one lip. Run a finger erotically across their inner lips and then leave it in the corner of their mouth while kissing them. This gives a sense of urgency to the deeper kisses and adds extra sensuousness to the act.

Lesson Five: In Tantric practice the lower lip on the man provides a direct channel to his sexual organ’s excitement, so gently suck and kiss his lower lip. For women, the upper lip connects energetically to the clitoris so as the woman sucks the man’s lower lip he can gentle suck her upper lip. Nibbling and soft biting are kissing techniques from the Kama Sutra and definitely apply too!

Lessons Six Through 1001 (as in the Arabian Nights Tales): Sensuously introduce warm chocolate, juice, or a liqueur into your lover’s mouth before kissing. Share it back and forth. Lick the drips off of their lips in the most luscious way you can. Use your soft lips to kiss your lover’s body all over. Ears are highly erogenous, so kiss, lick, nibble, suck and bite an ear lobe and breathe softly into the ear. You can create even more sensual pleasure if you slip down and kiss and bite their neck. Get creative and have fun!

If YOU have any great tips on kissing please, let us hear them!

3/22/10

The Yoga of Sex Muscles

Today's PC muscle exercises, or Kegel exercises, are not the ones your mother might have done. Oh no, they've been upgraded a whole lot so it's surprising that they aren't considered one of the "yogas". The truth is that they are a type of yoga. Mindfulness, along with these physical exercises, was taught by many ancient traditions for both men and women.

Dashing off a couple of squeezes here and there is not what I'm talking about. Learning and practicing the correct way to do Kegel exercises isn't hard but it is important to do them right for the desired physical benefits. There are many reasons to do these little gems of internal exercise. They radically improve arousal, blood flow to the pelvic region, strength of grip of the phallus during intercourse, bladder control, amount of orgasm and strength of orgasm, lasting longer, stronger erections, prostate health, thickness of pelvic floor muscles, health of internal organs and more. I recently had to have a sonogram of my lower abdomen and the doctor exclaimed, with some excitement, that my uterus looked like that of a 35 year old. I'm quite a bit older than that, and have had three grown children too, but I attribute this to years of doing my Kegels.

I began doing Kegels many years ago because I wanted to tighten my muscles for more "feeling" during sex. Then I began to get into the more subtle facets of using those built-up muscles to explore the "courtesan" in me. Many stories exist of women so highly trained that they could grip a man's phallus and not let go until they chose to. The Kama Sutra lists the sex technique Vadavaka as "The Mare's Trick" and a skilled woman could rhythmically and consciously massage and "milk" with her pelvic muscles. What the literature doesn't tell is that by learning and enabling this set of muscles the body core becomes more stable and healthy.

However, the yoga part has to do with the awareness and mindfulness that more advanced practices bring. Learning to do PC muscle exercises correctly is the first step to learning how to employ "bandhas" during regular yoga practice or even breathwork (pranayama) and meditation. By locking the pelvic muscles, and visualizing the upward movement of energy throughout the inner body, the topography of the interior organs can be felt and explored. This is called proprioception. Proprioception - from Latin proprius, meaning "one's own", and perception - one of the human senses. This term is often referred to only for outer limbs but it pertains to our inner topography as well. When we pay attention we can begin to feel our bladders, uteruses, prostate glands, cervixes, many of our organs and other soft tissues. This, in turn, aids visualization and potential healing.

In studies with athletes, scientists have discovered that they can improve the muscle strength and performance skills of the athletes by up to 15 percent when they use visualization to imagine their muscles growing or their game improving. This is also the case with learning the relaxation techniques that go with mastering ejaculation control. This pertains to pelvic muscles too. Evidence is growing that we create our own realities by our thoughts and actions, at least to some degree. We can take advantage of this fact to enhance the experiences of our lives.

Here we are on earth. We have a life that we have created to the best of our abilities. Yet both learning new "things" and refining what we already know are very important aspects to a cultivated life. This is what mindfulness is and what further refinement is when we are constantly improving our ability to "know" our selves. It is always interesting to me that many people believe that sex is not a worthy path to knowledge. Better put, that it is something that should only be spontaneous and free. That can be true some of the time but when we focus our minds, bodies, and spirits on sex, the sky can be the limits on how we do it and what outrageous consequences can come from it. Studied and practiced, those consequences can help integrate the mind and the body far more thoroughly.

Here's a very thorough Kegel lesson I wrote and I know you can find others around the Internet, also. This one has the basic practices, inquiry questions and advanced steps for visualizing and moving energy.

Jivamukti founder David Life says it very well in this quote on YogaJournal.com: "Through gradual refinement, mula bandha becomes less muscular and more subtle, energetic, and etheric. This movement from outside to inside, from mundane to rarefied, from unconsciousness to enlightenment, is the basic pattern of transcendental yogic awakening. On an energetic level, mula bandha allows us to feel, restrain, and then direct our energies toward enlightenment. Finally, when practicing mula bandha on the highest level, the yogi sees the Divine in all with equanimity and detachment."