Once a month I offer “Yoga for Sex” workshops at the University of Toronto Sexual Education Centre. I refer to ‘yoga’ in the most holistic of terms: the workshops are about presence, connection, bodies and breath. I often get asked what the workshops contain. Here’s the short version.
But here’s the low down, of what actually happens during those two hours…
Participants gather in the studio. It’s a perfectly square room, a multi-purpose dance studio. A mirror is ceiling to floor on one wall, not perfect for the work we’re going to do, but the room’s saving grace are the three big windows, looking out into treetops and the university campus.
Some come in pairs, smiling and talking, always a little bit of nervous fidgeting, knowing enough about the workshop to pique their curiosity, but not yet enough to feel like a seasoned regular.
And then there are the seasoned regulars, bodies relaxed and slower, open, often sitting, stretching lazily, lying on the wooden floor.
We begin by sitting and chatting in a circle. We share our current mood and everyone talks about feeling different shades of anxious from their day: some describe it as pulsing behind their eyes, some describe it as feeling teary, tense muscles, tight jaws.
To shake up the energy, I start the workshop with a quick cathartic meditation, borrowed from the excellent tantric practitioner Barbara Carrellas and her practical guidebook Urban Tantra. We breath quickly, bringing air and heat into our bodies, and then shout out our anxiety, stomping our feet and yelling “NO!”, throwing a socially approved tantrum! After a couple of minutes of getting mad, we open our palms, look towards the ceiling and exclaim, “YES!” over and over and over again. After karate chops and laughter we end this meditation by standing, observing, panting. Eyes closed, feeling into the residue of what just happened.
From there, I introduce this workshop’s topic: “the sensuality of existence”. I explain this as exploring our world, our present moment through the sensuality of the body. How can you maximize your perception of your senses to settle your mind more into the present? What is the taste in your mouth right now? The feeling of your clothes on your skin? The air on your face? How are you breathing at this exact moment? The two big questions to ponder for the workshop:
- how can we become more sensual?
- what do you do to distract yourself from the present moment? (and WHY?)
Before we investigate what sensual exploration feels like, I invite participants to discuss what they need in order to explore things that might feel vulnerable, scary or triggering. How can we collaboratively create a safe(r) container in which to open? A tenet of the work I do is that everyone has permission to ask for what they want, and say what they don’t want. Everyone has choice to accept or refuse. Every choice is valid, mind-changing is expected, every feeling is upheld.
We negotiate hand signals: thumbs up for yes, shaking head for no. Negotiation will take place before every partner exercise.
Container set, time to explore!
I quote one of my yoga teachers, Matthew Remski and a provocation from his ‘remix’ of Patanjali’s sutras Threads of Yoga: “Isn’t this precisely our first yoga? Did the flesh not reach for what pleased it?” I love this, and so we begin by closing eyes and tuning into what our body is asking for from us. Arm, thigh, belly stroking. Slow neck massages. Curling into a ball and squeezing tight. Honouring what our body is saying, searching for pleasurable movement.
I pass around blueberries, pretzels, M&Ms. We close our eyes and spend three minutes savouring the taste, investigating how this often forgotten sense can bring us more into the present moment. Experiences vary: some are able to focus more easily on texture over taste, some find the initial taste the most captivating and their mind wanders as they chew. The energy in the room is calm, alert, quietly watchful. Beautiful.
It’s time to move, to see if we can tune into the subtle experience of breath in our bodies. To make this more tangible, we move through surya namaskara A; the first sun salutation sequence from the yoga ashtanga series. Facing each other in a circle we sync breath, movement and energy. Eyes closed, the sound of inhale and exhale fills the room like ocean waves. We stretch and breathe slowly, with focus, intention, sensuality, presence.
I issue ‘homework’: can you keep all these things in mind next time you’re drawn to masturbation, or whatever self love looks like for you? If you’re approaching orgasm, can you still breathe slowly, feel all your limbs, pins and needles, muscles tense, pelvic floor contracting, the hair on your head and the taste in your mouth? What does it feel like to have a completely sensual orgasm?
We check back in, chatting in a circle once more about what we’re discovering so far in the workshop, finding points of connection and difference. Anxiety is ebbing. It’s time to connect with each other. I read a passage from Sex Matters, by the prolific mid 20th C Indian philosopher Osho:
If you are sensuous enough you will be surprised that in shaking hands with different people you find differences in energy. If you are sensuous you will be surprised at how many riches you have been unaware of. So whatever you do, do it with this idea that you have to become more flowing. If you hold somebody’s hand, really hold it. You are holding it anyway, so why waste this moment? Don’t just be two dead hands holding each other, each wondering when the other is going to leave. (Sex Matters).
I present participants with the following challenge/opportunity: while still being conscious of your own sensuality, how can you share that with someone else? How can you perceive their sensuality, their energy in return? Can you become more sensual together?
People start to partner up. Because of an odd number, there is one group of three and they’re all excited to try this together. I invite partners to offer a “sensual smorgasbord” to each other, using the activities we’ve been practicing individually. This requires fairly complex negotiation – would you like to be touched, how and where? Yes to being fed? No to eyes open or closed? These negotiations are a pleasure to watch, the quiet confidence of asking for something one wants, the validation in ‘no’ being welcomed and accepted. These negotiations are accented with smiles, low voices, complimentary body language. I love this.
I put on low music, set a timer and the partner work begins, in silence but peppered with continuous check-ins. Some partners are gently holding each other’s hands, eyes closed. Others are choosing food and placing it in their partner’s hand, for them to savour and eat. The group of three are exploring beautifully negotiated touching, collectively adjusting their pressure and bodies to seek individual comfort. Nourishment. Connection. Pleasure.
I invite couples to conclude their sensual smorgasbord by using the most dominant sense of all: eyes. Partners make and hold eye contact, syncing their breath, smiling, looking intently. Some add in touch to this, either gently placing a warm palm over their partner’s heart, or holding each other’s hands. I set my timer for three minutes, and watch these connections with happiness. Facilitating a space where people can see and be seen, with affection and open curiosity, aware of their bodies, energy and presence makes my heart so glad and hopeful.
I gently bring the exercise to a close, and partners thank each other, a touch of reluctance to pull away. We finish back in the circle, blissed-out sharing of experience, slow words and smiles. I thank everyone for experimenting with me, for being kind to themselves and others, and for making time in their day to show up, and do the all important work of connecting with their bodies and each other.
I issue one last piece of homework: the next time they connect with someone intimately, perhaps sexually, how can they do so with all their glorious sensuality? How can they practice, as Osho said, not being two dead hands?
People drift out, chatting, sharing experience. Anxiety is at bay, for now. Satisfaction. Generous appreciation. Heartfelt compliments. Warmth.
I have such huge gratitude for the people show up to my classes and workshops, bravely ready to try.
And I love this facilitating this, deeply.