Most of us do not live in the moment.
Consider going out to tea . You have to pick the children up in an hour. Instead of tasting the rather pleasant Earl Grey tea or attending to the conversation with your pal who you’ve not seen for ages, your mind continually keeps darting to a picture of the school gates, with the children waiting ( or are they sobbing?). What will the teachers say? Will your partner be angry?
Or another scenario-going on a scenic train ride, but you know you have a travel connection at the end of the journey. You miss the picturesque countryside- you are looking at it- but not seeing it because you are worrying about missing your next train and continually looking at your watch.
Mindfulness is consciously being in the moment, and mindfulness meditation is a practice where one can put time aside to observe the moment to moment engagement with the present. More of this later.
What has all this got to do with sex? Sex ought to be a sensual journey, where one spends each moment lingering, observing and being in the tactile and emotional moment, with necessarily some thought being given to the partner’s physical and passionate needs.
In dysfunctional sex, much time is given to thoughts that may be catastrophic e.g. will my partner stay with me if my penis is not erect” or “ I don’t think my penis is really hard”. Women who have low or no sexual desire may find some features of initial sexual contact such as kissing physically aversive as well as having anxiety provoking cognitions such as “I’m a real sexual failure”.
So back to mindfulness meditation. This may simply be focusing on the breath as it goes in and out of the nose, noticing exactly where this is happening and the spaces and pauses between the breaths. Human minds tend to wander , but as we are aiming to be present in the moment ( this requires a combination of passive observation and positively focusing on the breath) we observe, as best we can, when our mind has wandered to a thought or discomfort. Once observed we compassionately and uncritically accept it is there and then gently bring the focus back to breath. Doing this for 20 -40 minutes a day is the task ( actually- it can be pleasant and fun at times).
Problem is, nowadays a quick fix/fast response is what everyone wants ( fast phone connections, fast communications by email ). The brain changes in 6-8 weeks ( brain waves alter, cortical thickness increases), as well as ones thinking, observing and better being in the moment.
With some weeks of mindfulness practice undertaken it becomes much easier to be in the sexual moment- from moment to moment. So a woman who initially has little spontaneous sexual desire is much better at sitting in the sensual moments prior to her becoming sexually excited- with much less focus on mental chatter and self criticism. This gives the person space for sensual experiences to flow into sexual responses.
Dr David Goldmeier is the Clinical lead in sexual dysfunction at St Marys Hospital.
Some further thoughts on Mindfulness
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MCBT)is particuarly helpful for women because we have a greater tendency toward ‘ruminative thinking’ – repetitively and passively focusing on symptoms of distress and their possible causes and consequences. When it comes to sex, mental distraction allows anxiety and insecurity to kill sexual arousal. MCBT trains the brain to ‘be present in the moment’ enabling you to minimise mental chatter and self criticism and heighten sensual experience and sexual responses. You can take an online course in MCBT here (www.bangor.ac.uk/mindfulness ) and you will then need to practice for 20-40 minutes each day.
In 2005 studies which examined MRI scans of experienced meditators compared to non-meditators revealed increased cortical thickness in the parts of the brain related to all the senses, including touch and skin sensitivity. The average cortical thickness of 40-50 year old meditators was similar to 20-30 year old controls.