6 Ways to Have Radically Intimate Sex

We’ve seen it in the movies. We’ve read about it in books. We have lived it over and over in our fantasies. I’m talking about the kind of sex that bends time and expands space as you and your lover dive into each other, swimming through veins till you find the tender, pristine places no one has ever touched. Intimacy so pure and potent that physical form cannot sustain itself and you burst into effervescent molecules, disintegrating in sacred union with the primordial, ecstatic center of the universe. The kind of sex where you finally collapse, breathless, in a pile of limbs wrapped around each other, stunned by the power and purity you just experienced.

While we long for this kind of sex, few of us have found it. We crave connection, but fear vulnerability. In our 140-character, hyperconnected culture, we have lost our capacity for the kind of delayed gratification this kind of physical intimacy requires.

Here are 6 ways to have radically intimate sex:

SHHHH: NO TALKING

Often when we think of intimacy, we think about the sharing of secrets. There is something intimate about verbalizing our innermost thoughts and desires—especially when it comes to sex. However, as alluring as fantasy can be, by its very definition, it’s a way of escaping reality. And we tend to hide behind our words, using conversation as a means of avoiding vulnerability. We tell people who we are instead of showing them. True intimacy with a lover happens in the silent moments of presence and connectedness between words.

Practice #1Set a specific time to meet in the bedroom without speaking a single word. Spend an hour together, not talking, before any physical intimacy begins. Show up clean—physically and emotionally. This is an opportunity to let our stories fall away—as individuals and as a couple—making room for a deep, non-verbal, energetic connection.

MAKE IT ANTI-CLIMACTIC: NO ORGASM

When Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination” he meant that when we focus on getting to a particular goal, we miss value in the moments along the way. And so it is with sex. There are reports that women can have 11 different kinds of orgasms. From the time men are boys, they are fascinated with ejaculating (it’s a built-in, biological preoccupation on which the survival of the species depends!). We have misunderstood the destination of sex to be orgasm, and by doing so, robbed ourselves of some potentially powerful opportunities for both pleasure and intimacy.

Practice #2: Agree upfront to forgo reaching orgasm. Take the possibility completely off the table, for both of you. By doing so, you provide space to be present and find appreciation of each moment for the pleasure and connection it brings, without distraction. Take turns bringing each other close and backing off. Notice the powerful bond created as you hold each other on the brink of ecstasy.

LIKE A LAVA LAMP: SLOW IT WAY DOWN

We live in a fast-paced, over-stimulating, 140-character-status-update kind of world. As a culture, we are usually focused on “doing” rather than “being.” Because we juggle so many responsibilities, sex tends to become just another thing on the “To Do List.” Rushing through the “doing of sex” does not encourage the “being” of intimacy.

Practice #3: Create a bubble of time and space to climb into together. Do whatever it takes to enable getting lost in your own world together. Make a conscious decision not to rush. Let energy flow between  you like a lava lamp. Moving verrrrry slowly, savor each moment of sensation and allow intimacy to rise.

SEALED WITH A KISS: UNDRESS EACH OTHER

Whether it’s your first time together, or you’ve been having sex for 30 years, giving your body to your lover is a gift. To receive your partner’s body is a privilege. Don’t let modesty or habit stop you from honoring this generous exchange.

Practice #4: This practice is most comfortable done with the lights dimmed or by candlelight. Undress each other by taking turns removing one article of clothing at a time. As each piece comes off, gently kiss the part of the body revealed in gratitude.

IN AND OUT: BREATHE LIFE INTO IT

It is a technique in meditation to turn the focus from thoughts to the breath. In Tantra, partners will “match breath” as a way of forming an energetic connection that is not based on the giving and receiving of physical pleasure.

Practice #5: Begin in a simple embrace. Spend a few minutes slowing and synchronizing your breath. Silently negotiate a rhythm that is comfortable for both of you. Pause at the top of each inhale and at the bottom of each exhale, creating a moment of mutual stillness. Breathing together is facilitated by cooperation and consideration for each other. Try to maintain this collaboration as sex unfolds.

WINDOW OF THE SOUL: EYE GAZING

Eye contact is a distinct point of connection. Yet, it is common to keep one’s eyes closed during sex. Extended eye contact reveals vulnerability, and so it can be a powerful facilitator of intimacy.

Practice #6: Sit on the floor facing each other and gaze into each other’s eyes without looking away for 20 minutes. Shifting from eye to eye helps sustain the gaze. Maintain eye contact as much as possible as sex unfolds. Play with looking into each other’s eyes all the way through orgasm. It is nearly impossible to climax with open eyes (like sneezing). Gazing into your lover’s eyes at the moment of release just might be the very definition of intimacy.

 

This article was originally published on Elephant Journal where it currently has 2.3 million views and over 200,000 Facebook shares.

The Cost of Being a Badass

I am exhausted. Flat-out, bone-weary knackered. Drained, depleted, beat, wasted, spent. You get the idea.

I have been on a bender for the last several months, giving birth to a batch of new programs and reinventing the way I do business. This is a good thing. I am fulfilling on my purpose. I am aligned with my passion. I am showing up in the world, climbing into the arena, playing big. I’ve been manifesting like a mad woman. BAM!

As a single mother, writer, coach, speaker, editor, entrepreneur, I play many roles. My hat rack is jammed full, and I wear all of those lids enthusiastically. I often say I am the most competent woman I know. I even changed a tire in my flip-flops one morning on the way to drop my son at school. I got this. I’m a badass, and I know it. And yet somehow I find myself in the familiar place of dragging my badass around wondering why this often feels so hard.

I’m not alone in this. I know a ridiculous number of equally badass women with whom I have this conversation on a regular basis. We are simultaneously inspired and tired. My most desperate moments of energetic decimation have brought me to this realization: there are two varieties of exhaustion.

 

PHYSICAL EXHAUSTION—The kind of fatigue that shows up when we haven’t fed, watered, moved, or rested our bodies in the way that sustains our wellbeing.
Symptoms: sleepiness, brain fog, headache, muscle weakness, short-term memory loss, difficulty regulating mood.

EXISTENTIAL EXHAUSTION—A syndrome that occurs at a certain point in the downward spiral of compounded physical exhaustion when there is no clear path out of the current paradigm.
Symptoms: overwhelm, depression, lack of motivation, loss of purpose, disorientation, hopelessness.

 

The question that characterizes the state of Physical Exhaustion is, “Can I really do it all?” Once Existential Exhaustion sets in, we find ourselves asking, “Can I really HAVE it all?”

The answers to these questions are largely determined by how we define “all,” but one thing is certain, if the answer is yes, it cannot be at the expense of our wellbeing. The cost of being a badass cannot, by definition, be our badass-ness.

Pondering all this, I climbed into a hot bath, submerged my tired body in lavender-scented water, and came up with this. It’s a work in progress (both the list and myself), but it seems like embracing these 8 rules would go a long way in the avoidance of the kind of exhaustion where our entire existence is called into question.

 

RULES OF BADASS CLUB:

  1. Your own wellbeing is a priority.

You don’t pretend that everyone else’s needs come first. You’ve renounced martyrdom. You might take care of others first, but you never go without eating or sleeping or making everyone wait for a few minutes while you put yourself in time-out.

  1. You have a strong statement of purpose and anything that isn’t in alignment with it has to go.

You have determined what it is you are up to here on planet earth and you use that vision as a guiding force in your life. You do not indulge anything that is out of integrity with who you are and you are ruthless in eliminating distraction. You are a living example of what you are bringing forth. You walk the talk. You are the change you want to see in the world. 

  1. You have cultivated a relationship with your feminine essence and do what it takes to tend the fire.

You recognize that we are navigating a culture that values our rational minds and celebrates linear, problem-solving, masculine energy. You know that as a woman, you have an innate, intuitive nature that is fluid, expansive, and grows wild. You have developed the tools to access this creative life force to fuel your existence and fulfill on your purpose. 

  1. You realize that saying no can be an essential expression of love.

You have a handle on your co-dependency quotient and feel secure in enforcing boundaries as a means of being able to sustain your loving presence in the world. You also know the importance of teaching people to fish for themselves, and that in doing so, they not only develop their own self-sustaining skills, but often discover and innovate in ways that serve others.

  1. You have developed a support system and you’re not afraid to use it.

You have let go of the idea that you have to do it all and fully embrace the vulnerability it takes to ask for help. You even enjoy creating opportunities for others to show their love for you through acts of service.

  1. At any given time, you can answer the question: What do you need?

No matter what the situation, you have developed a set of criteria by which you check-in with yourself—physically, emotionally, spiritually—to determine your needs, for which you take responsibility, and act accordingly.

  1. You are willing to be alone.

You acknowledge that we are born alone and we die alone. While you choose to be in the company of others, you never do so to avoid confronting your own self. And you don’t pretend to have the right to mandate others’ thoughts, feelings, or behavior. In fact, every morning you release the ones you love, graciously, to their path.

  1. You are willing to tolerate uncertainty.

You relish the state of “not knowing” because you know that’s where possibility lives. You have cultivated a practice by which you are able to disconnect from your controlling mind and embrace the natural flow of the universe.

The Magic of Hugs

As the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Norwegian father, there were two distinct kinds of hugs when I was a kid.

There was the bone crushing embrace of my Bubbe, which was accompanied by a series of kisses literally smacked onto my cheek, forehead, and (if aimed poorly) eyelid, with lips pursed over clenched teeth just dying to go ahead and sneak a bite of me, as if I were an irresistible piece of chocolate babka.

Visits to the other side of the family concluded in a much different display of affection. Standing by the door as we left, Grandma Dagny would stiffen her body like a wooden board and lean slightly in my direction, arms by her side. She would awkwardly turn her cheek out to field any potential kisses, lest she should make lip contact with me. She was not a cold woman, quite the opposite, but her warmth was expressed through coffee and conversation, not through physical contact. Uff da. Very Scandinavian.

One of the most epically defining experiences of my childhood involved a hug. When I was six or seven years old, my family had a green and yellow pet parakeet. Barney liked to walk around on the kitchen floor like a dog, catching crumbs and hitching an occasional ride on a passing foot.

One day after school, my father and I were rushing around making a snack on the way out to my ballet class. I was in my black leotard and brown leather sandals—the ones we got on vacation in Cape Cod from a real leathersmith, with big flat waffle-patterned rubber soles. I cannot report the detailed logistics of how it happened. It was sudden, and it was shocking. I stepped on Barney. I felt him crunch under my foot.

What I saw and heard is permanently seared in my memory. In fact tears roll down my cheeks as I write this now, so many years later. Barney was immobilized on the floor with his back broken. His head and tail were intact, but he was flattened in the middle where my foot had been. The worst is that he wasn’t dead. Hardly. He was frantically squawking in pain he tried to get up. Recognizing there was no way to help him, my father knelt down and took me in his arms. Safe in the sheltered world of my father’s embrace, I buried my face in his shoulder and sobbed just a few feet from our suffering pet while we waited for him to finally die.

I didn’t go to ballet that day. My father made me change my shoes. In fact, he had me permanently retire them. Seeing the blood and feathers adhered to the waffle-patterned rubber, was enough to warrant their permanent disposal. He made sure I knew it wasn’t my fault and took me for an ice cream to soothe my aching heart.iStock_000022165068_Small

In the libidinous teenage years, and followed by early adulthood, I didn’t think much about hugging. The need for physical affection was eclipsed by—or perhaps entangled with—sexual expression. In search of the perfect French kiss, I could make out for hours. Exploring the feeling of a man inside me was like a space expedition. How could I think of a simple road trip like hugging when NASA was launching a rocket to the moon?

It wasn’t until my daughter was born in my early 30’s that I became reacquainted with the importance of hugging. Any woman who has had a baby is familiar with the bizarrely wondrous feeling of having a human being growing inside her body. And by the time it’s time to give birth, the transition from inside to outside brings a mix of relief and loss. It’s curious what the experience is like for the baby. A 40-week human pregnancy is broken into three trimesters of roughly three months each. I have heard the first three months of an infant’s life referred to as the fourth trimester.

In the earliest days after birth, we replace the warm, tight containment of the womb with the swaddling of a blanket. In fact, the basic ways we soothe our babies are rooted in mimicking the conditions in utero. We cradle them in our arms, holding them tightly to our chest, where they can hear our hearts beating and feel surrounded…contained…held. In the land of the living, our first language is hugging.

I love hugs. I give good hug. In fact, I consider hugging a practice, a healing modality, a form of meditation. As a blissfully single woman who just recently turned 50, I rarely am at a loss for a lover. But what I truly crave more often than sex, is a long, quality hug—the kind you sink into so long you forget that you are actually two people.

I asked my 972 Facebook friends, recently, what they love about hugs. The responses were plentiful, and all about safety, warmth, comfort, security, heartbeats, connection to each other, and connection through each other to Source or Oneness. To me that sounds a lot like the bonding that happens at the dawn of our consciousness.

Our love of a proper hug is not superficial or silly. It speaks to our need for the kind of existential homeostasis programmed in early infancy, or reaching even further back in the tight embrace of our mother’s womb, when two bodies were actually one.

As my colleague, Bryan Reeves, so eloquently states in his article, The Eightfold Path to a Truly Great Hug, “A truly great hug is a rich experience that has you pull another human body deliciously tight into yours as a way of saying, “I so deeply value your presence that I’m taking this exact moment to feel you, smell you, breathe with you—essentially stamp your being into my cellular memory so that even though we may be soon part, you will in fact always be with me in the living fabric of my existence.”

Consider this article an invitation to join me in bringing deep healing to someone by giving them a truly great hug. Reset their nervous system. Allow them to dissolve into pure existence, where no thought exists and our only requirement is to surrender to a loving embrace as a pathway to connection to a source even greater than our mother. Let’s make this our practice. You know—saving the world one hug at a time.

Grace by Bandwidth

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.” —Brené Brown

There are a few things that I am certain of: we are born alone, we die alone, and I could eat rice pudding until I explode. Other than that, it’s all a crap shoot. The remarkable breadth of possibility in the world is met by an equally broad range of uncertainty. And so, in order to embrace a life filled with expansion and growth, we must also be able to sit with uncertainty and the discomfort of vulnerability it brings with it.

Here are 3 ways to increase your tolerance for discomfort:

1. Play with Your Edges

I had a boyfriend once who insisted, one night, that we sleep upside down in our bed—with our feet at the top, heads at the bottom. His point was that we would never forget that night. Many years and lovers later, I can confirm that he was right. But something else happened that night. We woke up.

By definition, habits are unconscious thoughts and actions. When we begin to dismantle habitual patterns, we awaken to our experiences with a heightened state of awareness. We usually embody this wakefulness across the board, bringing new perspective to many areas of our lives—a state of enlightenment.

Rather than wait to be passively woken up out of our sleepy habits by an accident, trauma, or other existential bump in the road, practice stretching the edges of your comfort zone when life is calm and peaceful. Actively creating insignificant changes for the purpose of sitting in discomfort, will help to develop the muscles you need when life takes you on a roller coaster unexpectedly.

Some suggestions:
Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.
Forgo one of your go-to comfort foods for a month.
Drive a different route home from work for a week.
Read before bed instead of watching television.

2. Self-Soothe

Those of us who are parents know how important it is to teach our infants to self-soothe. It is an area in which many of us are still underdeveloped, even as adults. When we are emotionally uncomfortable, it is easy to act out in ways that ultimately will contribute to an increased state of discomfort and distress.

Some suggestions:
Choose a cup of hot tea, instead of a pint of ice cream.
Take a warm, candle lit bath, instead of opening a bottle of wine.
Read a book to escape perseverating over a situation, instead of calling a friend to vent about it into the night.

3. Delay Action

As a culture, we are conditioned to focus on Doing, and not so much on Being. When faced with challenging circumstances, we usually will find ourselves saying, “I don’t know what to do about this.” Very often, the doing is something that could—or even should—come later. A better statement of inquiry would be, “I don’t know how to be with this.” By resisting the urge to take action, we afford ourselves the room to sit with our thoughts and feelings. Give yourself permission to have your thoughts and feelings, but at the same time, realize that your thoughts and feelings do not define you. One of my favorite Pema Chödrön quotes is: “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.”

Some suggestions:
Name your pain. Unpack it, spread it on the table, inventory it, write it down.
Sit with it and get to know it.
Draw distinctions between what you think and what you feel.
Breathe into the part of yourself that transcends “the weather”.

Poison Control

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” —Anonymous (often attributed to Gautama Buddha)

All yogis aspire to being peaceful, loving, compassionate people, and yet, anger and resentment are part of the human condition. Contrary to all the quotes and idioms about it, anger is not necessarily a bad thing. How we handle it makes all the difference in neutralizing its potential toxicity, and making it an agent of transformation and enlightenment.

Here are five steps to soften your anger:

1. Sit With It

The combination of egoic attachment and impulse control often has us assign false urgency to situations which raise our anger. Taking a moment of stillness with our strong emotions allows us the opportunity to get more comfortable with the discomfort of anger. It can also halt the escalation of conflict that tends to result from emotional reaction rather than intentional action.

2. Unpack It

My mantra for anger is, “I am not upset about what I think I am upset about.” In other words, there is more to your anger that meets the eye. Whatever the plot of our particular story is, there is an additional subtext that deserves our attention. To dig deeper, ask yourself these questions, “Why is this situation painful? What am I fearful of? Which of my values are being violated?”

3. Use it Wisely

Anger is our inner voice letting us know that our boundaries are being pushed. Diving deep into self-inquiry at these times affords us the opportunity to do some core spiritual detective work. What we discover about who we really are—and what we will or won’t accept in our lives—can be used to make significant and sustainable changes.

4. Disconnect from It

Being a witness to our own drama allows us the room to step back and disconnect from the emotional experience of the human condition. We are more than our feelings. Give yourself permission to feel angry, as well as, fear, pain, or anything else that lays below the anger. And then redirect your attention to the part of you that lives beyond emotion. Go for a hike, take a yoga class, feed your soul the best way you know how.

5. Hold it Gently

The expression and experiencing of strong emotions like anger can upset our status quo for quite a while. What we unearth in the intentional management of anger can shake us to the core. The stronger the anger, the bigger the change that is asking to be made, whether internal or external. Finding compassion for all parties involved cannot be rushed, but is essential to peaceful resolution. In the aftermath of inner and/or outer conflict, allow the awareness to grow, and hold it gently.

Can I Get a Witness?

 “Learn to watch your drama unfold while at the same time knowing you are more than your drama.” —Ram Dass

Suffering is part of the human condition—especially for those of us living out our dharma in the fast-paced, urban trenches of Los Angeles. Sometimes, when we are highly emotional about something, we say we are “really in it”, as if we are submerged in the suffering itself. The most powerful—and perhaps, essential— ways to navigate emotional suffering is to develop the ability to be simultaneously SUBJECTIVE and OBJECTIVE—to observe ourselves in this state without judgment. In other words, we can have our feelings, but we are not our feelings.

The greater our ability be our own witness, the more adept we become at acknowledging, recognizing, understanding, accepting, and releasing our suffering.

Here are 6 ways to cultivate your witness:

1. Slow Way Down

Stillness is the prescription for bringing consciousness to anything. Rushing through the experiencing of anything, including feelings, means that we miss subtleties and nuances that feed our understanding of it. The first step in separating ourselves from our drama is to slow down and be with it. Resist the urge to DO. Simply BE.

2. Invoke Your Third Person

It may feel silly at first, but when you are in the middle of an emotional reaction, stop and say, “This is Zoë having an emotional reaction.” Or, “This is Zoë feeling angry.” Work your way through it until, “This is Zoë accepting what is and knowing that all will be okay.” If you don’t get all the way there, don’t worry. This is a practice in distinguishing yourself from your emotions, first and foremost.

3. Checkpoint: Mindfulness

Set an alarm at regular intervals four times a day. When the alarm sounds, do a brief mindfulness practice. Notice your physical presence in its environment. You might articulate it like this: “Feet on the floor. Feet on the floor…Hands on the keyboard. Hands on the keyboard…” Repeating it twice gives the mind and extra beat to become fully present and objective.” Interrupting the flow of the day with Mindfulness develops our ability to discern between emotional and physical experience.

4. Take a Nature Walk

The muscles we use to observe the world around us are the same ones we use to witness ourselves. The way the clouds drift in the sky, the palm fronds rustle in the breeze, or birds fly in formation, gives context to our suffering, by reminding us that we are one small part of something much greater than ourselves.

5. On the Arc of a Rainbow

Just as connecting with nature can set a context for a difficult moment, stepping back and considering how that moment fits into your life story can set a different, and equally powerful context. We tend to assign undue urgency or importance to our experiences—especially when they are emotionally-charged—when they are really just one small chapter in the arc of our entire story.

6. Lighten Up

There is a not-so-fine, and fairly blurry line between pain and self-pity. Denying or burying our emotions can be hazardous to our health. At the same time, so can taking ourselves too seriously. Holding things lightly can go a long way in cultivating grace in the dancing with our feelings.

Perspective as a Power Tool

“I kind of quit surfing when I got out of high school, but then a few years ago I started to take it up again. I’m not an expert by any means, but it’s so wonderful to get out in the ocean and get a different perspective on things.” —Jeff Bridges

It’s part of the human condition that we come upon challenging moments when it feels as though the people in our lives—or life itself—is beating us down. Or perhaps there is a specific aspect of a situation or relationship that is showing up as a persistent source of discomfort. At these times, we lose objectivity and become immersed in our own myopic experiencing of the circumstances. Emotional pain has a way of clouding our vision. The suffering can be compounded when we react with emotional charge, without the benefit of time and distance to balance the way we see things. The first step in deciding what to do with something is choosing how to be with it. Perspective can be defined as the interrelation in which a subject—or its parts—is viewed in it’s context. Bringing choice to the way we hold our experiences, releases us from victimhood and hands us back our personal power.

As Byron Katie says, “Don’t believe everything you think.” So how do we change the way we perceive things? Here are 3 ways:

1. Change Your Geography

Changing our external environment can shift our internal landscape. Going to a yoga class, taking a weekend out of town, or even just stepping away from our desk for moment can not only divert our attention, but the visceral feeling of a new environment can cause a somatic shift in consciousness. How many times have you said, “Let me look at this from a different angle?” Taken literally, it means moving your body to a different location to see what things look like from there. Adding the element of physical exercise draws energy from the mind to the body—breaking up fixated thought patterns, and opening up pathways to a new perspective. 

2. Try on a Role Model

We all have people in our lives who we admire. Maybe they have qualities we find admirable or maybe it’s the sum total of how they show up in the world. When we are struggling with a situation in our own lives, it can be a great exercise to try on the persona of someone we would like to emulate. Ask yourself, “What would the Dalai Llama do?” Whether its your sister, your teacher, or Meryl Streep, borrowing the consciousness of someone we look up to and applying it to our own situation can fast track a shift.

3. Pull Focus on the Big Picture

When we are in the thick of a situation, we tend to be focused on the intensity of our own personal experience. Taking a moment to balance the micro with the macro can be like a breath of fresh air. “How does this moment fit within the larger context of my life? What feels important about this? What values are being challenged?” are all questions which have a perspective shift built into them. Another way to reframe is to ask yourself what you would like to say about this moment when you look back at it five years from now. Considering the context of our personal life history is often just the change in perspective we are looking for.

Shut Up and Listen

 

“Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” —Hermann Hesse

Life can often feel like an act of survival. It’s a hyper-connected, multi-tasking, texting-tweeting-downdogging-180-degree-latte kind of world, and it’s easy to get so caught up in the juggle that we forget we can simply put down the balls and breathe. Simply stopping the motion periodically provides us with an opportunity to redirect our attention inward, shifting the focus back to ourselves. Developing a stillness practice helps us tune in to our inner voice, so that we may remember who we are and reconnect with our own personal power.

Here are five practices to cultivate stillness in your busy life:

1. 7-in-Heaven

Begin each day by sitting in silence for seven minutes. Take advantage of the moments in the morning when outside stimulation is at a minimum and your mind is clearest. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and slow your breath. Pause at the top of each inhalation and at the bottom of each exhalation, creating a moment of stillness. This sets a baseline for inner peace and connectedness, which we can return to throughout the day.

2. Alarming Presence

Set an alarm to go off four times during the day (for example: 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm). Whenever the alarm sounds, bring your focus to what you are doing. Take a mental inventory of your physical presence and articulate it something like this: Feet on the floor. Feet on the floor. Thighs on chair. Thighs on chair. Hands on keyboard. Hands on keyboard. Repeating each item twice gives your mind a moment to really become present to the simple mechanics of what you are doing and encourages the transfer of energy from the mind to the body.

3. Quiet on the Set

Sometimes I feel like my life is like a huge movie production with many people hustling around. It is noisy—figuratively and literally. Take steps to reduce the noise level in your day. Turn down the music, turn off text and email alerts, and stop talking! Silence is not the same as stillness; lowering the overall volume of your life will keep you from getting so over-stimulated that you spend the better part of your stillness practice recovering from auditory overload.

4. Dirty Feet

Chaos in our lives is almost always reflected in our physical energy. We get caught in our heads as we try to manage many things at once and regain some sort of order and control. Even at moments of critical stress, stepping outside and putting our feet in the dirt (grass or sand will do) has a calming effect by drawing the energy down through the chakra system. When someone we know is level-headed, we say they are “grounded.” Feeling connected to and supported by the Earth is a path to instant stillness.

5. Time-Out from Technology

Take one hour each day to be completely off-grid. Schedule this time at a regular hour, just like “Happy Hour.” This works not only to foster stillness in the moment, but also to counterbalance and recalibrate your participation in the chaos that can result from perpetual accessibility through multiple technology-enabled information streams.

As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Author of The Distraction Addiction, says, “It’s not about forsaking the digital life for ‘real life’; it’s a way to discover a richer life where your devices, your social world, and your rediscovered, unburdened self can coexist. Like any practice, you need to do it regularly, work past the hurdles and uncertainties, to see the benefits flower. And while you’re cultivating them, don’t worry about your phone or Facebook. They’ll be there when you get back.”

 

The Art of a Truly Restorative Vacation

“I NEED A VACATION FROM MY VACATION.”

We’ve all said it; we’ve all felt it: the blanket of exhaustion that unfurls upon our return from what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation, the disorientation tinged with melancholy that always seems to take us by surprise. Imagining and fantasizing about a trip is energizing. Researching and planning is exciting. But as months of anticipation turn into weeks and then days of preparation, the logistics of extracting ourselves from our busy lives loaded with responsibilities can be daunting and leads to a phenomenon that I have come to call, “the pre-vacay crescendo.” Work, kids, packing, dogs, mail, passport, newspaper—whatever your particular moving parts—putting them all on hold for a while takes considerable energy, and the days and hours leading up to departure inevitably feel like a mad rush to get it all done. I often find myself saying, “I’ll relax when I’m on the plane.”

But, is this scenario really inevitable? Must every vacation be bracketed by depletion? Is it possibly to have a truly restorative vacation? When a colleague handed me a press release about Rancho Bernardo Inn’s new Wellness Rooms, it sounded like a perfect laboratory for an experiment. One of Southern California’s most renowned spa resorts has taken several guest rooms near the spa and refashioned them with a focus on wellness. Each room was adorned with calming lavender scented candles, house-made body scrubs, neroli water spray, in-room yoga mats, exercise balls and fitness DVDs, plus a 15% discount on spa treatments and exclusive access to the exclusive spa pool. I booked a room, packed a bag, and headed down the coast.

The word vacation comes from the Latin root vacare— to be empty; free. As I drove the nearly two hours from Los Angeles to San Diego, I emptied myself of all the things that usually demand or capture my attention, so I was free to be present in my exploration of personal restoration. I did my little “presenting practice” of systematically taking inventory of my physicality and the accompanying sensations, repeating each observation twice, like this: “Hands on the wheel. Hands on the wheel. Wrists relaxed. Wrists relaxed. Elbows gently at sides. Elbows gently at sides. Butt in the seat. Butt in the seat.” By the time I hit the 405, I had left my life behind and was making a list of what typically gets in the way of a relaxing vacation. Here’s what I came up with:

FAILING TO DOWNSHIFT

Like it or not, most of us move at mach speed through our very busy lives. We are required to be master multi-taskers. With our devices perpetually in our hands, our attention is almost always fractured. It’s practically not a choice anymore; it’s what we must to do—who we must BE—in order to function effectively in our fast-paced, hyper-stimulating, über accessible, urban world. Without realizing it, we tend to maintain this energy level even when we could be slowing down. Vacation is a time to get off the Autobahn and take the scenic route.

FOMO

“Fear of Missing Out” is a term I only recently heard. I wasn’t late to this party; I just didn’t know what the fete was called. We are blessed to live in the Land of Opportunity and we like to make the most of every one of those opportunities. When it comes to vacations, Travel Channel and TripAdvisor have brought the world into our homes and heightened our awareness of all the extraordinary places to visit and experience on the planet. I often find that in planning a trip, I make an impossibly long list of everything I want to do and see. Self-imposed pressure to not miss a thing is a roadblock to my relaxation.

GUILT SHMILT

I’m not sure what it is about our society—or maybe it’s just me—but it seems like we feel guilty when we relax. Productivity is paramount, and with everyone manifesting all over the place, it can be tough to give ourselves permission to drop out of the production line. I am sure every European takes the customary month of August off without a shred of guilt. It’s time to let ourselves off the hook. Our kids, co-workers, and pets are fine without us. And if they are not, they are developing coping skills.

STAYING ONLINE

Unplug. For realz. Enough said.

 

Arriving at Rancho Bernardo Inn with my commitment to wellness at the forefront of my consciousness, I pulled up to the valet, grabbed my bag, and handed him my keys. My plan was to slow way down and evaluate every choice by it’s alignment with my wellness. After an easy check-in, I dropped my bag in the room and headed to the spa. On the wellness-scale, a “Heaven and Hops” treatment is a no-brainer. My therapist oiled me, massaged me, scrubbed me with crushed grape seed and olive oils, slathered me with barley and hops, and wrapped me like a burrito in warm towels. When my muscles were the consistency of pudding, and my mind was sufficiently empty and free, she showered me, stuck a pint of craft beer in my hand, and then led me to my own private poolside cabaña where I stayed all day. I read a book. I took a dip in the pool. I had the pool boy bring me a salad. I watched the birds. I finished the book. I drank water. I watched the butterflies. I relaxed. Here is what I didn’t do: worry about paying bills, check my email, think about the freelance gig I was trying to land, wonder if my son was having a good day at school, try to figure out what snacks to bring his soccer game that weekend, wonder why that guy I met the other night hadn’t called yet…you get the idea. I was successfully present to what was happening in the moment.

Back at my room, I unfurled the provided yoga mat and saluted the setting sun, falling into a slow yin practice and pranayama. With each inhalation, I felt the pull to go do something: to get dressed and check out the scene at the lounge, to try one of the restaurants. With each exhalation, I let the restless energy go. It’s not that going out would have been relaxing, quite the opposite. But in that moment, with the limited time I had, what served my wellness most was stillness. I ordered in, drew a bath, and ate dinner in bed with a movie.

The rest of my stay looked exactly the same. Checking out, I found myself longing for more time. The post-vacay melancholy was making an early appearance. So I used my drive home wisely by developing a strategy for a graceful reentry. It comes down to these two things:

  1. Take a day or two to fully integrate (with a longer vacation, three or four days). In other words, go easy on the productivity and manifesting. Take care of business and let the chores go. Or, do some laundry, but order in dinner for a couple of nights.
  1. Identify a peak moment of the vacation and define what made it powerful. Use that as a basis for ritual in daily life. For me it was the experience of being swaddled like a baby during my spa treatment. As a (blissfully) single woman, I rarely have the opportunity to be held. I forgot how therapeutic it can be to have the nervous system calmed by gentle constraint. Since that moment on the treatment table, I have climbed into bed under heavy blankets to get the same effect.

What I learned in my experiment is that, indeed, it is possible to have a truly restorative vacation. I’m not going to lie… I will often choose to have a whirlwind vacation filled with sightseeing by day and bar crawling by night, soaking in as much local culture as I can absorb—the kind of vacation that leaves you physically drained but even more mentally and spiritually full. But, after seeing the restorative effects of slowing down, turning in, and simply choosing wellness, I am much more likely to schedule in some downtime during such a trip with some stillness in the midst of perpetual motion. And I will always make a plan for a mindful reentry.

 

9 Essentials for a Truly Restorative Wellness Retreat

1 SLEEP  According to the CDC, sleep deprivation has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Sufficient sleep is the foundation of wellness. Use your wellness retreat to catch up and to feel what it is like to experience a full night of sleep.

2 STILLNESS  Taking the opportunity to slow way down will disengage the sympathetic nervous system, allowing you to reprogram your brain. Meditate, soak in a hot tub, take a sauna, lie in a hammock, and let your brain unwind.

3 MOVEMENT  Just as we tend to lack mental stillness in our daily lives, we also tend not to move our bodies enough. Go for a run, play golf, take a yoga class, or swim laps. Moving your body gets the blood pumping, increasing oxygen to your organs, including your brain.

4 READ  Let your mind travel from its everyday focus, along with the rest of you. Whether you choose a novel, a magazine, or the sutras, expanding your intellectual world can offer a healthy respite from your mental chatter.

5 NATURE  Intrinsic to wellness is balance. Connecting with the world around us reminds us that we are one small part of something much greater than ourselves and puts our own struggles into perspective.

6 NURTURE  There’s a fine line between self-care and self-indulgence. Make choices that promote your wellness. Moment-by-moment presence will help connect with what you really need for your own care and restoration.

7 NOURISH  Eat clean. You know what makes you feel good and healthy. Everyone’s system is unique. Listen to your body and choose well. And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

8 GRATITUDE  “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” —Eckhart Toll

Transforming Suffering: Tonglen

These days, it is easy to be aware of the suffering in the world. All we have to do is turn on the news, open the newspaper, or scroll down our Facebook newsfeeds to get a clear sense of the struggle to find peace in the world—as individuals, and in local and global communities. As witnesses to suffering, it is natural to seek peace by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. In this sense, the practice of Tonglen is counterintuitive, but it is one of the bravest and most powerfully transformative practices in the Buddhist tradition.

Tonglen translates simply to “Giving and Receiving”. The focus of the practice is not to turn away from suffering, but to connect with it, everywhere we go. As the great Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön says, “It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us.”

Begin to familiarize yourself with this powerful practice by focusing on someone you know personally who needs some relief. Perhaps a friend or relative who is ill or suffering a loss of some kind. Once you become more comfortable with the practice, you can extend your focus to groups of people who share a particular set of circumstances. You can even practice a quick on-the-spot Tonglen whenever you notice someone suffering as you move through the world on a daily basis by breathing in darkness and breathing out light. It’s a generous way to embody the words of Gandhi and “be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Tonglen Practice as described by Roshi Joan Halifax:

  • Sit in meditation posture, relax in a chair, or lie down. Gently close your eyes and let your body and mind settle. You want to feel relaxed and open.
  • Begin by breathing in whatever you are feeling—fear, agitation, anger, resistance—and accepting it. On the exhalation breathe out well-being. Continue until you feel settled.
  • On your inbreath imagine that you are inhaling heavy, hot air. On your outbreath visualize exhaling cool, light air. Continue with this pattern—breathing in heaviness and breathing out lightness—until it is familiar to you. The heaviness is suffering; the lightness is well-being. Now imagine that you are breathing through all the pores of your body. On the inbreath heavy, hot air enters every pore. On the outbreath, cool light flows from every pore.
  • Now visualize a metal sheath around your heart. This metal sheath is everything about you that is difficult for you to accept: your self-importance, selfishness, self-cherishing, self-pity. Dissolve this metal sheath and open your heart to its natural nonjudgmental state of warmth, kindness, and spaciousness.
  • The reason you are doing this practice is that you are suffering, others are suffering, and you wish with all your heart that all beings could be free from suffering. This wish needs to be specific, personal, and sincere. Bring to your mind some being, dead or alive, with whom you feel a deep connection. You would do anything to help this one. Be with this one and feel what she is experiencing. Let your whole being turn toward her suffering and your wish that it might be relieved. See how vulnerable she is. Like a mother who will do anything to help her child, you will do anything to help your friend.
  • Visualize the suffering of your beloved as polluted, hot smoke and breathe it in through your whole body. The instant that the inbreath of suffering touches the metal sheath of self-centeredness around your heart, the sheath breaks apart, and your heart opens to the suffering. The hot smoke instantly vanishes into the great space of your heart, and from this space spontaneously arises an outbreath of mercy and healing. Send a deep, cool, light, and spacious healing breath to your friend.
  • Let this one friend’s suffering remind you of the many others who find themselves suffering in the same way. This friend is your connection to them. Breathe in their suffering. Let your heart break open. Send them healing with your outbreath. Continue with this practice.