Ooh, arousal. It has such a sexual connotation, doesn’t it? And yet it’s important to specify just what type of arousal we’re talking here. Arousal of the nervous system–the fight-or-flight response–is the opposite of sexy. When the nervous system is aroused, stress hormones get dumped into the bloodstream, halting digestion, cutting off blood supply to the extremities, and eventually suppressing the immune system. Great when you need to wrestle a mountain lion off your back, but not so hot on the lion-skin rug, if you know what I’m saying.
The odd thing is, fight-or-flight arousal can be triggered by MEMORIES. It can be triggered by THOUGHTS. We can think ourselves into a survival situation that doesn’t exist, and that is incredibly wearing on the body. Our daily stresses are rarely life-or-death these days, and yet something as simple as the brush of cold wind against the skin can trigger a litany: “damn it’s getting cold again. I should have worn my jacket. I really can’t afford to get a cold now, I have that huge project due…oh crap, did I forget to bring the file home?” and suddenly that brush of wind has turned into a stressor, and we are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol and the other nasties.
And we forget we have bodies! We get so entangled in the life of the mind, the constant drone of information and language, that we don’t FEEL that brush of cool wind, don’t take that delicious shiver into our bellies. When I studied Qi Gong I learned a technique called the Microcosmic Orbit. Sitting quietly, I was taught to concentrate on my breath, drawing it from the base of my spine up to the crown of my head, then letting it circle back past my third eye and to my navel, around and around, circling. Tantra teaches us to do this with sexual energy, pulling it up the spine with each breath until the whole body is flooded with life and warmth. Just gazing at a perfectly ripe and golden pear, drawing it in with the breath, can bring a quiver of joy to the very tips of the toes!
These techniques of coming back into the body are so vital. When there is no communication between the sexual body and the head, what is left out? What parts of the body get starved for energy when there is no flow between brain and yoni? The throat, center of communication. The heart, center of love and intimacy. The stomach, center of intuition and selfhood. Hmmm.
So last night’s joy circle was dedicated to arousal. We started with a few kundalini exercises:
- sitting crosslegged, hands on your knees, breathe deeply and straighten your spine. On the exhale, tighten your navel in against the spine and let your ribs press back, pulling the chest backward. On the inhale, fill your belly and let the heart come forward, arching the upper back. Continue this subtle arching and rounding, with the breath, for a minute or so. Remember to tighten the lower belly with each exhale to protect the lower back. On the final inhale, hold your breath at the top and squeeze your pelvic floor, feeling the energy circling through your abdomen. Release the breath and relax, put your hands palm-up on your knees, close your eyes, and observe.
- lie down on your back with your knees bent, arms alongside you palms up, feet grounded on the floor. Close your eyes and inhale, arching your lower back off the floor, tipping your pelvis up and forward. Exhale, pressing your lower back to the ground, rocking your pelvis down and inward. Continue rocking with the breath, using the motion of your pelvis like a pump to draw energy up your spine to the crown of your head. Let your legs flutter open and closed with the movement, whatever comes naturally. Continue the motion until you feel warmed and replete. Then inhale, hold the breath, squeeze upward, contracting the pelvic floor…and exhale, releasing back down. Rest here with eyes closed for a moment, feeling the energy circling.
- still on your back, hug your knees into your chest and begin to circle them gently, massaging the sacrum. Breathe deeply, then stretch out, arms beside you, legs heavy on the ground, fully relaxed. Mentally trace the circle of your breath: up the spine on the inhale, passing the center of the shoulders, the back of the head, the crown…then on the exhale, falling between the eyes, touching the throat and between the breasts and the navel, between the legs and back to the tailbone on the inhale. Cycle the breath this way a few times, noticing the places it gets stuck or difficult to visualize.
Now that our bodies were warm and awake, we circled around for tea and gingerbread, and I distributed questions for a writing exercise, hoping we’d enlisted the body sufficiently to get some true and deep answers. Here are the questions, to be answered quickly and fluidly with the first thing that comes out of the pen:
1. If I had the guts, I would______________________________________________________________.
2. List three things that sustain and arouse your body. (warm baths, good coffee, walks in the forest, yoga, kissing, sunrise are some examples)
3.List three things you stand for (things that move you and drive you, your purpose)
4. List three things you are very very good at (things you are frequently complimented on, or that come easily to you, or that you feel solid and skilful doing)
We broke off into pairs with the answers to our questions and drew three intersecting circles, one for arousal, one for talent, one for purpose. With our partner we examined our circles, noticing the places our talents and purpose overlap, or how our arousal corresponds to our skills. The very center place of the three circles, where arousal and talent and purpose overlap, is our optimum, authentic functioning point…the place we gain and give the most. Some of us found a clear phrase to put here at the center, others will work on this diagram for weeks.
We closed with brags: bragging the answer to the “if I had the guts” question as though we had already accomplished it. The lift of excitement and possibility in the room was palpable. Arousal works! One interesting thing I noticed was that every woman’s “if I had the guts” vision lifted up many others—the children of jailed mothers in Nepal, teenagers foundering in a soulless school system, other women hungering for connection. We so often stop ourselves from bravely stepping forward into our most outrageous dreams because we fear we are being selfish. But the opposite is true. How dare we do less than our very boldest, how dare we retreat from giving the world that gift?
And one more thing…that nervous system arousal I talked about in the beginning? Where your limbs go cold and the blood stops flowing and you get pumped full of toxic chemicals? This happens when we experience a stressor that we label as dangerous. And many of us have taught ourselves to view intimacy, not to mention the sight of our own naked bodies, as dangerous stressors. Just something to think about. Nervous arousal is the opposite of sensual arousal, and one cannot exist in the presence of the other.
We have the power to turn ourselves on. Arousal wakens us, engages us, brings us poised for action. And what we can do with that power is limitless, generous, free.
- The Beginner’s Guide to a Tantric Love Affair with Life. (elephantjournal.com)
- Tantric Sex (sexedplus.wordpress.com)
- A 3-Minute Practice To Make Inspiration Soar (huffingtonpost.com)
- Breathe Your Way Out Of Disease (healthandwellnesswarrior.com)