Zen and the Art of Making Love
Research explains how breathing contributes to the sexual experience.
Posted Feb 23, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
When we say someone or something is “Zen,” it’s slang for peaceful and relaxed. So let’s get our Zen on with a few quotes from some gurus:
Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft can you be extremely hard and strong. —Zen Proverb
For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them. —Thích Nhat Hanh
Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace. —Dalai Lama
The noble-minded are calm and steady. Little people are forever fussing and fretting. —Confucius
All of these ideas indicate that “letting go” or being “Zen” leads to more peace and happiness in life. So how do we “let go”? What does that look like?
When I first heard the phrase it resonated with me but I had no idea how to implement “letting go” in my chaotic life. What I found out is that’s OK to try to balance a busy life with a Zen ideal. Slow down as much as you can. Take two minutes to just breathe. Focus on how the air is sucked into your nostrils and how it fills your lungs, increasing the capacity in your body. Breath out and recognize how your body relaxes just a bit; more if you allow it. Breathe in and notice. Breathe out and notice again. That’s the foundation of feeling peaceful and relaxed. Now practice this type of breathing each day. Many times a day. Practice noticing your breath and observe how your mind responds. This simple practice has shown links to less anxiety, greater self-esteem, less depression, and happier relationships.
Do you have to bring your attention back to breathe? So do I. Do you find yourself worried about random things each time you settle in to meditate? So do I. Just remember that it will get easier the more you do it. Never scold yourself for your lack of attention. Just welcome the chance to practice. Look at your feelings as just temporary actors on a stage: Sad or discouraged, excited or anxious, they will soon exit the stage. Zen creates calm and steady; fussing and fretting is not helpful and distracts us from gratitude for the present moment.
How can this mindset help us with sex? Let’s break down how being mindful during sex can help our relationship.
Mindfulness helps slow our thoughts to clear space in our mind to pay attention to emotions.
Mindfulness helps us to be less critical of what we feel and instead feel curiosity about why we may feel how we do
Mindfulness helps us to pay attention to our partner’s emotions and not rush through or avoid emotional experiences or conversations
The Meaning We Give to Sex
Mindfulness helps us clear our thoughts so that we can feel a greater connection to our partner, others, and humanity
Mindfulness helps us to slow down and feel compassion for ourselves and others and identify meaning that is sometimes overlooked in fast sex.
Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of the physical sensations we experience.
Mindfulness helps us to reduce anxiety during intimacy and be more accepting of the physical connections we experience.
Slowing down the process of sexual touch, awareness, and arousal has been shown to reduce anxiety, increase communication about sex, create more relational and sexual satisfaction, and increase feelings of connectedness.[i],[ii] Couples reported that although taking sex slow seemed too simple to make a big difference, it did: The relationships of couples that slowed down significantly improved. Couples reported improved sexual satisfaction, sexual communication, and decreased anxiety.
Slow Down to Reconnect
Touch slowly. Touch purposefully. Talk about what this type of touch makes you feel. Look straight into each other’s eyes. Don’t be afraid of this deep type of intimacy. This is actually creating love. We often call having sex “making love.” When sex is more than just physical sensations of isolated pleasure, something is created: feelings of genuine connection, deep emotions, and overwhelming appreciation. We are literally making love.
So relax. Feel peace. Touch your partner authentically. Make love. Create a beauty in your relationship that wasn’t there before by simply slowing down to see your partner anew.
[i] Leavitt, C. E., Lefkowitz, E. S., & Waterman, E. A. (2019). The role of sexual mindfulness in sexual, relational, and individual wellbeing. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 45, 497-509.
[ii] Leavitt, C. E., Whiting, J. B., & Hawkins, A. J. (in press). The sexual mindfulness project: A pilot study on the sexual and relational effects of sexual mindfulness. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy.