Setting the Scene
Readers, I have a confession to make. As I sat down to write this post, I was the farthest thing from mindful. I needed to get this post done as I’d been procrastinating all day but was struggling to focus. As I was painfully beating my brain to get words to appear on the paper, I knew that once this task was finished, I would then need to write a paper for school, and then most likely go to bed lonely as my husband told me he wasn’t going to be home until late. The whole thing was painful.
I eventually stopped the excruciating process of just trying to get it done and actually evaluated what I needed. Everything seemed dumb and pointless. But then I noticed it was snowing. It’s the first snow of the year, and I haven’t even stepped outside today, so I decided to take a break. I put on a jacket and boots over my pj’s and walked out of my apartment. I felt the soft snowflakes on my face, saw the white topped apartment buildings, and breathed in the crisply cold air. For a few moments, I allowed myself to just be. And then, I knew what I was going to write about.
I always do my research on any topic I write about, but no reading could remind me how important mindfulness is. If you take anything away from this post, I hope that it’s the need to try out mindfulness and practice it in your life. Carve out 10 minutes in your day to just be. This will help your own health, your relationships, your sex life, and more.
What is Mindfulness
Mindfulness is learning to be mindful of your thoughts and experiences (I know you’re rolling your eyes, stick with me though!). “The term ‘mindfulness’ has been used to refer to a psychological state of awareness, a practice that promotes this awareness, a mode of processing information, and a characterological trait” (Davis & Hayes, 2011, p. 198)
As an undergraduate student, I associated mindfulness with meditation and mantras. Although meditation definitely can help a person develop mindfulness, the two are not mutually exclusive. Mindfulness is a way of being; it includes being aware in all moments of life. Meditation can help us practice mindfulness, but for it to be truly effective we need to incorporate mindfulness into all aspects of our lives.
The Mindful Train
One of my fantastic in-laws shared with me a wonderful metaphor to explain mindfulness. We tend to think of our consciousness as a train, barreling through our minds on a one way track. However, mindfulness helps us separate our consciousness from the thoughts and emotions that rush through our minds. Instead of being the train (rushing through with no control over where we are going) we can instead be at the train station by centering our consciousness. We can be aware of all the trains passing by and where they are going. We can choose one of them or none of them for that moment. If we choose, we can board a train, comforted in the fact we are deliberately traveling toward our destination.
Our thoughts and emotions often rush through our brain a million at a time. Sometimes, it feels like we have no choice but to follow the “strongest” train of thought. Although we can’t control every thought that passes through our mind, we can choose which ones to act on and subsequently make a part of us. Mindfulness allows us to take that metaphorical step back and become aware of those thoughts and feelings.
Research has shown that mindfulness can help a person develop effective emotional regulation, decrease reactivity and increase flexibility, and enhance the middle prefrontal lobe of the brain (associated with self-insight, morality, intuition, and fear modulation). Within a relationship, mindfulness can predict relationship satisfaction, ability to respond constructively to relationship stress, skills in identifying and communicating emotions to one’s partner, and amount of relationship conflict and empathy (Davis & Hayes, 2011, p. 201).
These findings are impressive. If you need anymore reason to practice mindfulness, let’s talk about mindfulness and sex.
How Does Mindfulness Apply to Sex?
What does mindfulness have to do with sex? We often think of sex as a fast and physical process. However, this kind of sex doesn’t feel connecting, intimate, or replenishing. When we come to sex with a mindful attitude, we become more aware of the physical and emotional senstations going on, as well as getting to understand our spouse on a more intimate level.
Mindful of the emotional
First, mindfulness can help you be more aware of what is going on in your mind. We tend to carry around a lot of thoughts and emotions around with us daily. When it’s time to have sex, we may not be aware of all the baggage we are bringing to the bedroom. If you take a few minutes to meditate/ponder on what thoughts and emotions are taking up your mental space, you can sort through those thoughts and purposefully bring love for your partner and a desire to be intimate. This process can help activate your brain (the biggest sex organ). Learning to let go of expectations can also help open you up to wherever the experience will lead. G. S. Youngblood also talked about this on our podcast!
Mindful of the physical
Being mindful during the sexual experience includes seeking to be aware of all your physical sensations. What can you see, smell, hear, taste, and touch? Fill your mind with these physical sensations and allow yourself to enjoy it. Be aware of your thoughts, but let the unhelpful ones (like worrying about orgasm, how long this is taking, etc) slip away in favor of any sensations you are liking.
mindful of your Spouse
Lastly, mindfulness can help you become more aware of your spouse. What do you love about them? What can you notice about them while you are pleasuring them? Sex is about building intimacy with your spouse. Mindfulness is the road you take to gaining new insight and knowledge into your spouse and your relationship.
Tantric sex is the ultimate form of mindful sex! For more information about this, look for our podcast episode with Tammy Hill, airing in December, in which she shares with us the how and why of tantric sex.
How Can I Build Mindfulness?
Mindfulness takes practice. It takes time and energy. As I said above, mindfulness is a habit that is more than meditation, however meditation is a great way to start developing the practice of mindfulness. Here are a few tips to help you get started. (Adapted from Diane Gehart’s Mastering competencies in family therapy: A practical approach to theories and clinical case documentation, 2018)
- Find a Regular Time
The hardest part of forming a habit is finding the time to get started. Pick a time, maybe at lunch, or before bed, or after you get home from work. Add 2-10 minutes to your regular routine that can be dedicated to mindfulness.
- Use a Timer
Take it from me, keeping track of time can be stressful. Setting a timer stops me from checking my phone every 30 seconds and getting distracted. Set a timer that won’t tick, and give yourself the space to let go of time for a while.
- Sit Comfortably
Find a position that works for you! If this means laying down, maybe prop your head up or do something to make sure you don’t fall asleep.
Don’t start by changing your breath, but simply try to notice it. Try to keep your mind on your breath. When it starts to wander, don’t judge yourself or be harsh. Gently guide your thoughts back to the experience. The purpose is not to think of nothing, but practicing an awareness of your thoughts and non-judgment.
Once your timer goes off, notice how you feel. Are you happy, at peace, more stressed? Again, practice noticing without judgment what you are feeling. It may take some time to get used to the practice.
A habit requires repetition. The best outcomes come from shorter but more frequent practice. When it seems difficult, keep practicing. It takes time to rewire your brain but it will be more than worth it!
Different Ways to Practice Mindfulness
If you need some structure while you meditate, I like to practice breathing into every piece of my body. I start from the top of my head (take a breath in, then send breath to my head) and slowly work down every part of my body. As I focus on each body part, I try to notice how that piece is feeling and what it needs. Once I get to my toes, I take a few more breaths to my whole body, connecting me all together. If there’s time left, I start over.
If you don’t like this method, other people like to explore all 5 of their senses taking note of all your surroundings.
As another resource, the government has put millions of dollars into researching and creating the Mindfulness Coach free app. It is used by veterans, but has resources that can help everyone develop the skill of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a fantastic practice for your life! It can help your mental health, your relationship, and your sex life! For more on mindful sex practices, check back in a few weeks for our podcast and blog posts on tantric sex!
Written by Amanda Severson with Get Your Marriage On!
Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2011, June). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of Psychotherapy-Related Research. Habitual Roots. Retrieved November 17, 2022, from https://www.habitualroots.com/uploads/1/2/1/3/121341739/whatarethebenefitsofmindfulness_1.pdf
Gehart, D. R. (2018). Mastering competencies in family therapy: A practical approach to theories and clinical case documentation (3rd ed.). Cengage Learning.