HOW MANY OF US grip our sphincter, tense our abdomens, brace ourselves against the world as we walk around all day?
Compelled to keep our bellies from spilling over our waistbands, tucking our tails under to maintain some sense of protection during this awkward stage between birth and death. Seriously, how many of us?
Show of hands please?
My hand's up. I just caught myself doing it while I was typing. Perhaps you don't even realize your body is tensing up, armoring against what's going on in your world, and, more likely, your inner life. Repeatedly contracting these muscles restricts your breathing, blood flow, and your digestion. Limits the amount of oxygen, hormones, and neurochemicals that your entire body needs to function and flourish. Please wrap your fingers around your own throat and press in; until you're uncomfortable and have trouble breathing, it's like that.
Are you familiar with your sphincter? Contract it right now, as you read this. Breathe in as you slowly pull your sphincter muscle in and up into your body - like you're in an elevator and trying hard not to fart. Contract a bit higher... further still. Inhale more deeply as you pull up just a little more. Now release.
It's likely you'll feel a tingling cascade of energy. Perhaps your eyes even brightened a little.
"Jerking ourselves off in the privacy of our own bodies!" Dr. Gil Hedley exclaimed as he directed all 54 of us in the Integral Anatomy Dissection Lab to slowly open our anuses, contract and relax them in unison, by gently raising each contraction higher and higher as you just did. We're pleasuring ourselves from deep inside, while we move our molecules. This conscious contraction and release stimulates and massages our muscles, fascia, fat, nerves, erectile tissue, veins, and arteries in our pleasure rich pelvic region. In turn, stimulates our whole body; and it feels really good.
HAVE YOU TOUCHED YOUR MESENTERY TODAY?
Beyond our own ass, we have over 50 different sphincter muscles throughout our body, some voluntary, like the one you contracted a moment ago, others on autopilot. There's the sphincter of Oddi, controlling digestive juices from the liver, pancreas, and gall bladder, into the duodenum.
Your mesentery is made of two sheets of whisper thin, resilient tissue called peritoneum, sort of like a hammock, and connects parts of your small intestine to the back wall of the abdominal cavity. Touch your belly, and you touch your mesentery. Between each sheet of this supple fabric are blood vessels, lymph vessels, and nerves so your small intestine can move freely. Controlling blood flow are microscopic precapillary sphincters, cuffs of smooth muscle around each capillary acting as valves to regulate your blood flowing in and out of your stomach, intestines, uterus, aorta, even the artery to your right testicle.
There's a pupillary sphincter, which encircles the pupil of the iris - in your eye. You may have laid eyes on the sphincters in whales and dolphins that power their blowholes as they surface for air, releasing carbon dioxide, clearing and filling their lungs before diving down again. A sensational experience of awe and wonder - deeply resonating.
When you surface for air roughly 21,000 times a day, revel in the magnificence of your own breath.
Inhale fully, and fill your lungs with wonder. Exhale audibly with a resonating... awe.
(Excerpt from my new book, Sensual Intelligence: An Introduction to Your Body's Language, available everywhere books and audio books are sold
The mind leads and the body follows. More often than not though, it isn’t leading us into a pleasure den. So, what gives?
“Well, we always want to point the finger and go, ‘oh no, the bad stuff’s out there, over there, somewhere far from me.’ In fact, it’s inside all of us. The shadow is us. So the thing to do is look within and work on ourselves, ” says Deborah King, Ph.D., author of Truth Heals. Begin to recognize the feedback loop of sexuality and stress. Agitated thoughts – not external factors - produce high blood pressure, nervous stomach, persistent feelings of discomfort, lack of desire, sexual dysfunction, an inability to relax or sleep, frequent displays of displeasure and outrage. Basically, feeling like crap.
I’m Gumby Dammit!
When unobserved and unmanaged, negative levels, recurrent thought and emotional patterns prohibit a healthy body; inhibit sexual pleasure and an overall sense of well being. Thoughts are our energy that shape our temperament and color our emotional health.
Stop ‘knee jerk’ reacting and improve your response ability. By understanding and managing our (e)motional undercurrent, we then create a framework for a more thoughtful, effective response. To begin, let’s break down the word: E(motion) = movement, our emotions don’t just kick back inside that box you shoved them into, arms crossed, waiting for you to deal with them. Nor do they hang out under a shady tree inside your mind whistling Dixie while you stockpile even more to avoid.
Nope, for you intellectuals - the word 'emotion' is derived from the French word émouvoir, based on the Latin emovere, where e means 'out' and movere means 'move,’ Science buff? The brilliant pioneering scientist Dr. Candice Pert, Ph.D., author of Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind – Body Medicine has something to add…”what we experience as an emotion or a feeling is also a mechanism for activating a particular neuronal circuit – simultaneously throughout the brain and body – which generates a behavior involving the whole creature, (uh, you) with all the necessary physiological changes that behavior would require.” That’s a long sentence for an instantaneous action from first thought through embodiment. How about thinking of it this way? It takes one thought for a man to get an erection – say, ‘sexy bare thighs’, if that, and tada! Up springs a woody. It takes but one contrary thought, let’s say ‘Sh*t, I forgot to send that IRS check today,’ And down goes the crotcheroo.
As Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom puts it: “Every thought has a biochemical reality in the body. Uplifting thoughts and emotions are associated with an entirely different mix of neuropeptides and hormones than are thoughts of panic, fear or anger. So entertain thoughts that produce the biochemistry of health and joy.”
In the dark about your sexuality? You’re not alone.Here we are in the 21st Century - where sex tapes make you famous (and rich), Dick in a Box wins an Emmy, 3rd graders know all the words to Jiz in my Pants and getting jizzed on will get you a book deal – yet, we’re still groping around for clues.
Lights OutEven though ‘sex’ seems to be everywhere in the media, much of the information throughout our culture and history is antiquated, oppressive, superficial, sensationalized, or questionable in its accuracy. We’re bombarded left and right with information and events that we take at face value and simply don’t question.
Sex and sexuality influences - and is influenced by - nearly everything, all the way through to the biochemicals surging inside our skins. Ignorance, fear and emotional suppression – what psychologists call ‘shadows’ – fuel stress symptoms, and significantly affect our perceptions, our health, our sexual response, and how we relate to one another. “Our sexual and emotional health is essential to our physical vitality, and our mental health and well being,” says Dr. David Kipper, M.D., an eminent physician in Los Angeles for over 30 years.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million American adults have anxiety disorders, over 19 million people are treated for recurrent stress and depression annually, and a vast majority of Americans from around the country that participated in a recent Kinsey Institute Sex Information Test FAILED. What gives?
“Our culture is sexually naïve,” says Dr. David Kipper. “In part because it’s a delicate subject to discuss. Many people will not really know if they’re having a healthy sexual expression, or how their emotional life is connected to their health. They just don’t know.”
Stress and sexuality - it’s a feedback loop where half of all marriages end in divorce and sexual difficulties preside as a leading complaint of both genders. Dr. David Schnarch, creator of the Crucible Approach to marital therapy, states, “Sex is inherently based on intimacy. The problem is that most people have a very misguided idea of what intimacy means.”
It’s good for you. Real intimacy requires us to push past boundaries and evolve – to become more fully developed human beings. When we open up, explore and align our emotional life and our sexuality, it brings a healthy, empowering, cathartic release that allows and encourages us to move forward. So ask yourself questions, be curious, and really listen for what feels good, or what doesn’t.
We are not passengers in our lives; we are the authors of our experience. Begin to recognize how your influences affect you and realize who’s in charge.
Reach OutSex is a natural form of communication. We want to open up and talk about our sexuality, but it often feels complicated and stressful, so we avoid it. “The lies we’re told about sex present a huge barrier to good sexual communication. Many sex myths encourage us to believe that to be great lovers we need to be mind readers, not communicators,” offers Cory Silverberg, co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability.
He adds, “Communication isn’t always about talking, but I can promise you that one of the keys to great sex is an ability to talk about it. I can also promise that it’s easier to learn to talk about sex than it is to learn to read minds.”
Not The Amazing Kreskin? Well here’s some helpful hints to get the ball rolling if you’re feeling ready to explore and speak up.
Open the airwaves to really hear their response, without your predisposed assumptions creating a party line, and you’ll experience what you’re there for in the first place – a real connection.
Avoid the stare down. Evolution explains that men are often side-by-side communicators and can interpret eye-to-eye contact in discussion as confrontational. Although women often prefer to ‘see’ another’s expression through visual contact, spark a healthy medium.
Approach with dignity. Criticism is a wrecking ball for building healthy communication bridges, especially regarding sensitive, sexual issues. ‘You don’t know how to please me,’ or ‘Your tongue feels like a dying slug when we kiss’ are not good choices. Frame what you desire as a mutual turn on; learn some new tricks yourself and use erotic wordplay to arouse you both.
Are you afraid of conflict, rejection or embarrassment? That’s natural, we all are to some degree, but that’s not an excuse to avoid creating a healthy dialogue. When you feel that knot swell in your belly, in your chest, or your throat, breathe deeply, because that’s a good sign for you to move forward and be heard. And let your partner know you’re nervous – doing so dissolves anxiety, and offers them the respect and awareness of their own possible emotions about intimacy.
Spell it out. “Vagueness, particularly around a topic like sex, can lead directly to confusion. And we have to remember that if we don't clearly ask for what we want, we reduce the chances that we'll ever get it,” says Cory Silverberg, an AASECT certified sexuality educator. To add levels of clarity and build confidence, try writing down your desires or needs first. Then speak what you wrote aloud, in private, to shape and emotionally align your thoughts.
Don’t step on each other’s dialogue. Agree to give each other the opportunity to speak freely and complete a thought without interruption. This takes practice and is well worth the effort. My husband’s going to love this one; thankfully I’m getting better at this myself.
Indulge in your daydreams, explore and visualize what arouses you. Your mind is your own private theatre. Plus, it’s a feel-good pharmacy for both of you, as their arousal is spurred on when you’re turned on. “When it comes to desire and attraction, a little unpredictability goes a long way: It spikes the brain’s natural amphetamines, dopamine and norepinephrine, which play a big role in sexual arousal. It doesn’t take much to get the dopamine going, so think about new things you can do together as a couple. A little novelty goes a long way,” offers sex therapist, Ian Kerner, Ph.D.
Give them plenty of positive feedback when they arrive, and enjoy!
“The intimate connection between a woman’s psychic humor and her clitoral power means that the clitoris must be wired up to the brain – the big brain – before it can sing.” The brain must learn to ride its little rod the way it must learn to balance its body on a bicycle. And once learned, the skill will not be forgotten.”
Natalie Angier, Woman: An Intimate Geography.
Yup, size matters. Be Mindful, Not Mechanical.
Our largest, most powerful sex organ is our brain. Although you think everything happens between your legs, the sensation of orgasm actually originates between your ears, in the form of chemical messengers and the receptors they bind to. It's like a scene from Star Wars with little ships zipping around and docking in their corresponding bay with this mysterious system guiding the whole magical dance. True, the information comes from the farthest reaches of our body; the real action takes place in a fairly primitive part of our brain, the limbic system. Known as our mammalian brain, this is the seat of our emotions, desires, drives and impulses. It's where you fall in and out of love…or lust.
"Learn to tune your engine. Realize that just like a carburetor, the mix can get 'off' and then pressing on the gas might cause a sputter or a tailspin,” says Stephanie Moses, author of Getting to Neutral. Be mindful, not mechanical. Pull back the curtain on your emotions and thought patterns and their effect on your sexuality and health. How you focus your attention and manage your emotions directly shapes your experience.
Don't be a leadfoot. Ease up on the pedal of your stress response system. If your mind is not allowed to conduct your body in healthy ways, eventually it just gives up on the direct communication and manifests a different route, usually through your body and not in pleasant ways. They need to work together, or they both suffer. “If your body is forced to settle for what’s going on inside your mind—let’s say, negative talk—then your body will live that out,” affirms Stephanie. If you allow the painful, negative occurrences of your day, of your past, or what you predict and deduce of future events to constantly swarm in your mind, your flooding your brain and body with stress hormones. Your system is in overdrive and burning itself out – and you’re letting it happen. YOU are the lousy driver.
Good question. When you’re immersed in swarms of negative inner dialogue about yourself and how you think & feel about sex – you’re grinding your sensory responses down to nubs.
On top of that, you’re pulling the ripcord for habitual stressful emotional patterns, biochemical responses that cause you to hold – to contract your body – so, you feel less and less. After numbing everything all day, you suddenly expect your body to leap into action sexually. Think again. Imagine someone yelling at a child all day and soon enough, that child starts to ignore the tirade, and eventually ignore everything. They check out. When you harness the power of your thoughts and dismantle your stress engine you clear the path for your natural healing and ultimate pleasure network.
“Since the internal representations we make lead directly to our feelings, our behaviors, and which people or situations we attract or become attracted to, becoming aware of how we do that gives us choice”, offers Bill Harris, maverick Personal Development Specialist and creator of The Holosync SolutionTM. He adds, “It allows us to stop creating our experience of life automatically, based on the past and, instead, to create our life by choice, in the moment.”
We think of ‘the rush’ we experience as being from external means – love, lust, booze, nicotine, prescription drugs, adventure, success, stuff, or sweets - however it's really our response to our own biochemicals driving us to acquire them.
Get the Dope on Dopamine
The most important factor in falling in - and out - of love and lust is dopamine. There are many chemicals streaming inside us to create our experience. Dopamine is the neurochemical that activates your reward circuitry, a small portion of the limbic system, which is a set of brain structures that drive many of your behaviors that further your survival or create pleasure. Whether it’s sex, eating, taking risks, achieving goals, or drinking water; they all increase dopamine, which is the juice that you get at the end of the deal. It’s the "craving" neurochemical, think of dopamine as the "I’ve got to have it" ingredient, whatever "it" is.
Look inside this glorious system of yours, acquire a taste for the recipes of your mind and when you learn to ‘tend the fire’ you can cook up whatever your heart desires.
Our most healing, lasting biochemical friend is Oxytocin, stimulated by touch, a warm embrace; it’s our nurturing and bonding reward and catalyst. Bonding is a mammalian program. Genuine communication, dissolving fear, building real connections and gratifying interactions promote and stimulate a delicious cocktail of oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin – that radiant glow we feel when we’re happy and loved up.
"A positive attitude and laughter increase the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters cause us to feel good, get things done, resist sugar and other carbohydrate temptations and sharpen our minds," affirms neurologist Vincent Fortanasce.
Feeling distracted, irritable and drained?
Crashing into the same walls in relationships and sexual communication?
Locked in unsuccessful, obsessive cycles?
Embarrassed to talk with your doctor, or anyone about your concerns?
By continually ignoring our thought and emotional patterns, we limit our choices of how to deal with daily challenges. We feel stuck because we are repeatedly fueling our stress engine – and most symptoms of dis-ease and that which ails you are caused or compounded by the chain reaction of stress.
• Ignites inflammatory process leading to sexual apathy, depression & illness
• 1 in 5 people suffer from chronic anxiety disorders
• 100 million people worldwide suffer from recurrent stress and depression
• In the U.S. alone, we spend 86 billion $$ a year on drugs to ‘fix’ ourselves which markedly decrease sexual arousal & prohibit orgasm – an essential component for quality of life
Many doctors frequently deal with symptoms of stress; but rarely inquire about their patients’ sexual health. Moreover, most people will never ask their doctor about sex, or their sexuality. Despite a growing body of evidence about mind-body unity, many physicians continue to treat physical symptoms rather than whole individuals. According to a recent Association of Reproductive Health Professionals survey:
• Only 14% of men and women between 40 and 80 years old said their doctor had asked them about sexual difficulties
• 68% of patients fear that raising concerns about sexual problems would embarrass their physician
• 71% believe their concerns would be dismissed.
The blind leading the blind…Doctors not only don’t address sexual issues, they aren’t taught to. Even with all the advances in medical science, there is little energy spent teaching human sexuality to med students. More than half of US medical schools dedicate fewer than 10 hours on the subject. So, if you do go to your doctor with questions, you’re possibly getting advice from an untrained person with their own biases, probably as embarrassed and ill informed as you are.
Do our stress levels always boil down to sex? “No, that’s not the point,” continues Dr. Kipper. “But many of our health and relative body issues are connected to our sexuality. The mind and body work together to create and heal symptoms of stress. It’s that simple.”
If there is any power in this universe, it is in you.
If our thought and expression determine our health and well being, that means our mind is our most powerful resource. Stephanie Moses, author of the upcoming book Getting to Neutral concurs. "Many of us have this sort of ‘it’s all so mysterious’ attitude. If you have a headache, you take a pill. If your stomach hurts, you’ll take something for that. Now, I certainly will take something for a headache, and I’m not suggesting for one second that you endure pain. What I am suggesting is that you examine what this pain or anxiety is connected to, and therefore causing these - symptoms of emotion - or bio-emotional effects, then you can begin to release them."
Still on the fence? Tune in to Esther Sternberg, M.D., Director, Integrative Neural Immune Program, National Institute of Mental Health. “Beneath our skins is a constantly changing world where our body’s cells fashion and refashion our solid-seeming tissues. We can finally see how tightly the nervous and immune systems are linked - through many interwoven strands of nerve pathways and communicating molecules. And once we understand that, it is not so difficult to imagine that forces that might perturb one system would have powerful effects on the functioning of the other.”
Here’s another scientific fact: Feeling the emotion of love is healthy, says Stella Resnick, PhD, a psychologist and psychotherapist in Los Angeles who specializes in relationship and sexual enrichment. “While understanding and releasing pain is certainly crucial for lasting results in psychotherapy, it’s not enough. Getting good at struggling with problems just makes you more skillful at struggling with problems. To enjoy your life more, and especially to have more love, it’s better to become skillful at what inspires our enthusiasm and generates vitality and good feelings.”
Shake off apathy and get excited about feeling good. Approach your needs and issues with humility and compassion; truly care for yourself. Be grateful for the skin you’re in - your kingdom of heaven - actually say thank you to your body for taking care of, and putting up with, you (and your bullshit) all these years. Prioritize your well-being. Be proactive with your sexual and emotional health. Inquire within and take notes. Doctors are human and don’t have all the answers. They’re not God, not your father and aren’t mind readers.
Doctors do aim to be helpful, and often are. Yet dressing us in goofy paper, hiney-baring gowns and blue booties instills the business of sickness, when our natural state of being is that of beauty, health and vitality. Alas, our healthcare system itself is due for a shakedown, from the inside out. Dr. Donald Berwick shared some pivotal insights regarding how we should manage our health care. He recently spoke with Pauline W. Chen, M.D of The New York Times and said, “We don’t have a standard of services or processes that are comfortable for patients. We have built a technocratic castle, and when people come into it, they are intimidated.” In an essay titled "What 'Patient-Centered' Should Mean: Confessions Of An Extremist," Dr. Berwick, president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Massachusetts laid the system bare.
Dr. Berwick’s prescription? Be proactive! And include your sexual concerns and questions. He suggests that you -
• Speak up and be prepared. From research we know that patients who write down questions do better.
• Bring your digital recorder into the meeting so you can listen to the conversation several times after.
• Bring a companion along to be your sentinel, your advisor.
Use that paper gown for cleaning your windows (lint free) and clear your view for feeling good. Dare to evolve from frustration and suffering…forge new pathways of heightened awareness, increased pleasure and joy. Explore ways to improve your ability to communicate effectively, and to experience better health and sexual fulfillment. Oh, and slip on those blue booties, they make polishing your kitchen floor fun.