Breath is the foundation of any tantric practice, any meditation practice, any yogic practice. Conscious connection to the breath (noticing how you are breathing and where you are breathing in your body) is like an automatic switch for the nervous system to relax and slow down. Just take a moment now to notice your breath: is it shallow and up in your chest, perhaps you were even holding your breath without realising? Does your chest feel tight or open, are your shoulders and back hunched?
The deeper we breathe the deeper we feel. If your breathing is restricted your capacity for feeling your body is limited. Most of the clients I see come to me with this disconnection from their breath. Existing in a 'fight or flight' state in the body, their breathing restricted to the absolute lowest necessity for basic function and survival. The body is walking around in a perpetual state of disconnection from pleasurable, subtle or soft sensations - but also blocking out 'painful' warning signs of damage or distress.
If you watch a baby or small child breathe you will notice that their abdomen expands and retracts when they are breathing in and out. There will be hardly any movement of the upper chest and the action is smooth, often with a small pause in between breaths. Negative habitual patterns develop in our bodies from a very young age. Sitting in chairs at school desks, sitting in front of the TV and unconsciously adapted inefficient movement patterns all contribute to poor posture and limited diaphragm use during breathing. Emotionally our bodies learn to close down and clam up in 'unsafe' or stressful situations; our shoulders fall inwards, our upper back becomes hunched and our breathing becomes shallow in order to protect ourselves from painful feelings. We learn to not take up too much space, to not draw attention to ourselves, to literally use up as little air as we can. I see this in my clients' breathing patterns, in their body posture and also in the way they speak: voices tight and coming from the throat, rather than supported by the belly.
Have you ever noticed how your voice becomes restricted or strained when you are feeling emotional - scared, angry, hurt, sad? In these times we cut off from the body, breathing short and shallow so that the emotion does not overwhelm us.
Relaxing your mind, opening to your body...
Our breathing is unique: it is the only function that can be performed consciously as well as unconsciously, and it can be completely voluntary or involuntary. Breathing is the bridge between mind and body, the connection between consciousness and unconsciousness. It is the key to health and wellness, a function we can learn to regulate and develop in order to improve our physical, mental and spiritual well-being (Weil, 2012).
When you begin to consciously connect with your breath and breathe slower and deeper, recruiting the diaphragm and expanding from the belly rather than contracting muscles in the neck and upper ribs, you can actually shift your brain activity from functional Beta waves into the more relaxed Alpha state. When we combine this with soft, sensual touch and connection to our sexual energy during a tantric massage session the chattering thoughts of the mind tend to quieten down and we begin to hear and feel the quieter, subtler sounds of the body.
I often tell my clients that these sensations are not 'new'; they were there all along, and slowing down the breath, becoming more present in the body and the moment, just clears away some of the 'white noise' that was preventing them from being experienced. Being able to come back to this more open and receptive state during sex, masturbation and intimacy with a partner, by practicing this deeper breath, can create deep states of connection and more full-body orgasmic experiences.
A simple breath exercise...
This is an expansion of a very simple breath exercise I use with my clients at the beginning of a session. It draws the awareness to the one focal point of the breath, moving away from the distraction of the chattering mind, and gives an anchor to come back to when the mind (inevitably) does drift back in.
You can do this lying down (on your back is best, with your hands lightly resting on your belly), or you can sit with your back supported against a wall. Gently close your eyes and allow your attention to settle on the movement of your inhale, and your exhale. Notice how the nostrils flare a little on the inhale, and the feeling of the air flowing over your top lip as you exhale.
Allow the exhale to become a little longer than the inhale: breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, trying to allow the hands on your belly to rise as you breathe deeply into the body, then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.
Really allow ALL your breath to leave your body - it might create sound from your throat towards the end, that's good.
Allow your jaw to soften, feel a little gap between your teeth.
There's nothing else you need to do. Just allow the breath to move in and out to the same count, inhaling so your belly rises and exhaling until it's all gone.
Try this for 5-10 minutes each day as a focussed practice and you may find that you begin to feel your body in a different way. You might begin to notice 'new' or subtler sensations, finding it easier to allow your muscles to soften and to let go of tension. You may find that you experience bubbles of emotion rising in your body for seemingly no reason.
That's really, really normal!
Just stay with the breath and allow whatever arises to just be there. You may also notice that you become more aware of your breath in the rest of your day-to-day life. When you're feeling anxious or stressed, just notice how and where you're breathing then try coming back to that practice of filling the belly and exhaling a little longer than your inhale.
And remember, breathing happens whether you focus on it or not. That's the wonderful thing about it - it's always there. Drawing the awareness to it on a regular basis though will ultimately create better patterns and habits to support you in diving deeper into your body, forming a strong and stable foundation from which to explore your potential and capacity for sensation, pleasure and energy.
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