After the Argument: Integration vs. Fragmentation

You have just had an argument with your partner – the same conflict yet again! You know this is a pattern for you and your partner and you know how it goes: a misunderstanding, hurt feelings, yelling, criticism, one person wants to keep hashing it out while the other person heads for the door. You also know what follows: hours or even days of silence and sharp resistance to reconnection. Whew, this is painful.

I hear some version of this conflict with my clients daily and the difficulty that they often have in reconnecting. Usually, I hear that the conflict is “brushed under the rug” as both partners are simply thankful to not be yelling anymore, to be touching again, and to feel relaxation in their bodies. Bringing the argument back up is out of the question yet when it does come up again – and it most surely will – the criticism cuts just a little deeper and the resistance to connecting is just a little bit stronger.

It takes practice and dedication to actually reconnect.

I tell my clients that debating the point (the content of the argument, i.e. who did or said whatever) is less important than moving as slowly as you need to in order to keep track of yourself and your partner. In other words, how you argue is more important than what you argue about. Arguments can speed us up exponentially: our speech quickens, our gestures get bigger, and our minds race. Once you “wake up” in the middle of the argument – move from tunnel vision back into an awareness that lets you feel your surroundings – you have the opportunity to slow down and ask these questions:

  • Can I feel my body / my emotions?
  • Can I see my partners facial / body language?
  • Can I find the understandable part in my partners concerns?

If you cannot answer these questions, this is a good time for an intentional time out which means three things specifically:

  1. “I / we are too activated to have this conversation:” Take responsibility here – NEVER tell you partner that they are the one who is too activated. Most likely, you are both too activated and taking responsibility for yourself and the “we” you are being a good teammate vs. a blaming adversary.
  2. “Let’s step away and intentionally regulate ourselves for 20 minutes:” When we actively take steps to calm our emotions and nervous systems by taking a walk, doing push-ups, meditating, etc. it takes the nervous system 20 – 30 minutes to flush out the stress hormones that were released during the argument. This is not about escaping conflict, this is about dedicating yourself to communicating effectively with your partner in service of the relationship.
  3. “I promise to return because you / we / this conversation is important:” After the 20 – 30 minute break, make sure you check in with each other to find out if you are BOTH ready to continue the conversation.

Once you can answer these questions, you may notice that you’re breathing is a little deeper and your jaw is not straining as much as before, and you are now in a better place to reconnect.

Even when issues cannot be resolved, you and your partner will feel the benefits of practicing this together. It shows commitment to arguing better and commitment to your relationship. This practice begins to build in trust and resiliency. It also increases tolerance for ambiguity.

Often, the pattern of arguments that couples experience are in fact the deeper threads in the relationship – issues that are fundamental to your unique pairing. The purpose of these issues is often not to resolve them but to recognize that they are there and in process and that you are dedicated to keeping the conversation open.

These are the threads that hint at your evolution as an individual and as a couple.

Again, you don’t have to be fully resolved to begin to reconnect – rather, let your partner know that you recognize things are not fully resolved and that you are committed to continue to explore this issue with them.

Whether or not the issue is fully resolved, it is important to find a way to soften with each other. Stepping away and not coming back for several hours or several days simply deepens the divide. Once you have acknowledged the argument and taken responsibility for what you can, like raising your voice, criticizing something specific, or initially not being open to talk about something, extend reconnection options:

  • Hug, kiss, and offer some skin to skin time
  • Take a walk together
  • Get busy doing an activity with each other
  • Make commitments to  keep an eye on certain issues that surfaced during the argument and agree to mitigate ways that you communicate that make it hard for your partner to hear you, i.e. raising your voice, comparing them to their mother, etc.

When these reconnection options are not offered or engaged in, fragmentation can happen. One or both partners may feel hurt that they were not reached out to or didn’t hear that they are loved despite the conflict. This is not coddling - this is appreciation of your partner as a multi-faceted human being who is both wonderful and frustrating. This does not mean you have to recite a love sonnet to each other – just a few genuine words of acknowledgement is often enough. A little willingness goes a long way!

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Concentric Sex Therapy: A Body-Centered Sex Therapy Model

Concentric Sex TherapyOver the last 8 years in my work with clients, studies with skillful mentors and colleagues, and hours and hours of researching and writing, I have crafted a model that I call Concentric Sex Therapy. This model is a confluence of body-centered, contemplative, person-centered, and sexology theories, harnessing the client’s actualizing tendency, a tendency towards growth and complexity, toward a fully embodied experience and expression of the sexual self. This model includes Erotic Mindfulness, full-body arousal anatomy with a whole-person approach to the human sexual expression cycle (Human sexual response), and embodied expressivity toward one’s personal erotic potential and healthy relational sexuality.

Concentric sex therapy is how I have invited the somatic psychotherapeutic view of body into sex therapy and how I have invited sex and sexuality into somatic psychotherapy. By weaving together these important areas of specialty, we are able to increase the efficacy of both.

Why concentric circles? Concentric circles are circles with a common center, a common origin that determines the nature of the circles that surround it. Like rings inside a tree or ripples in a pond, our sexuality is deeply impacted by our environments and the resulting expression ripples out, impacting how we experience life while conversely impacting all that we interact with. This impact allows us to experience our developing sexuality in different ways and through different lenses as we take in new information about our body, our genitals, our very identity as a sexual being. Concentric circles offer a model for envisioning this experience of being a body embedded within and co-evolving with layers of natural and social environments.

Concentric sex therapy is a social justice minded model, recognizing that individuals are embedded within, and therefore inextricably linked, with the concentric circles of systems of their social location – embedded within and deeply impacted by the experiences of being integral members of familial, societal, cultural, and institutional systems. Because the intersection of these cultural and institutional systems intimately impacts an individual, sexuality is one of the most highly socialized aspects of the self. Therefore, working toward healthy sexuality is a process of referring back to the felt sense of somatic experience while exploring these layers of systems. Continually inviting the somatic experience to inform this exploration allows for evolution from the ground up.

Through body-centered and contemplative methods, clients are invited to connect with their present-moment, lived experience to shed the cultural and institutional messages that block healthy eroticism and intimacy, integrate the experiences that frame the sexual self, and unlock innate wisdom toward growth, self-understanding, and healthy, conscious intimate relationships.

Through this process of transforming our understanding, experience, and expression of sexuality, we have the ability to collectively transform the institutions in which we are embedded, such as the institutions of marriage, religion, government, etc. This is evolution in action. Concentric Sex Therapy harnesses this natural tendency toward growth and change and offers each individual the skills to actively engage with their own evolution and the evolution of the locations where they live and work and love and play.

I offer yearly a training in this model and continual supervision from this perspective. For training in this model, register here.

 

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The Erotic Gateways of Sexuality

The Erotic Gateways of Sexuality

Embodied Intimacy from the Ground Up Series

with Melissa Walker, MA, LPC, R-DMT

May day is the perfect moment to dive into the discussion of erotic gateways in this from the ground up series. The first day of May is the fertile, blooming gateway into the fullness of summer. Let’s step over this threshold and discover what turns you on and inspires pleasure and purpose in your life.

Do you know what turns you on? What does it mean to be turned on? Notice the image that pops up immediately when I ask this question – and the corresponding body sensations that arise. Do you notice a softening and warming of your core and pelvis? Do you also notice tightness in your stomach or fluttering across your chest? Pleasure, both the experience and the thought of it, is complex. The complexity of pleasure is not a problem. It is an opportunity to refine our knowledge and experience of ourselves – an internal compass keeping us on a trajectory of health and evolution. (I’ll talk more about the complexity of pleasure next month.)

At the beginning of this series, I wrote about the sexual excitation system (SES) and the sexual inhibition system (SIS), as described by Emily Nagoski. These two systems are continually in a dance together – excitation (the turn-on) interweaving with inhibition (the turn-off). Both of these systems have wisdom for us; the SES gives us the experience of pleasure and longing, that delicious sensation of being drawn out to merge our senses with the environment, while the SIS reminds us of our boundaries and edges and teaches us what we need to fully open and surrender to the erotic moment. The things that allow us to actively engage with this dance are our erotic gateways.

What are Erotic Gateways

An erotic gateway is anything that engages our ability to access erotic mindfulness – our ability to access timeless enjoyment of our senses in the present moment. We all have a few erotic gateways, though many of us have more effective gateways than we think. Erotic gateways show up in four categories: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Here are a few questions to help you create your inventory:

  • Think beyond the sexual realm: What are the tastes, smells, or sounds that relax and expand your senses? Think delicious food, essential oils, music, etc.
  • What are the fantasies that ignite your pelvis with heat? This could be a sexual fantasy, an immersive, non-sexual fantasy, or a combination of both.
  • What are the activities that immerse you in the present moment and banish the running “to-do” list? Perhaps yoga, dancing, art-making, cooking, etc.
  • Where are the locations (mountain trail, ocean, fine dining, festival, backyard garden, etc.) that make life feel more vivid?
  • What type of touch invites your skin to reach out and touch back? Playful nudging, light touch, being restrained, etc.

Take a look at what you’ve listed in answer to these prompts. Are you surprised by anything? This is your palette, your erotic repertoire that is available to you at any time. I recommend engaging with your erotic gateways on a daily basis to incorporate a relationship with pleasure and generative inspiration. Rather than moving through your life making decisions based on avoidance of discomfort or mitigation of anxiety and fear, your can learn to move from the core of your body toward what feels good to you. Engaging with your erotic gateways is a path of combining sensation with deep feeling toward personal empowerment and ultimate validation of your permeability and agency of being in a human body. As Audre Lorde, an activist for erotic and personal empowerment says:

“Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama.” -Audrey Lorde (1984)

I hope that you and your partner will join us for the upcoming Couples Workshop journey! We will explore erotic gateways and so much more! Details for registration found below!

Saturday, May 20th 2017, 1 pm – 5 pm

Maitri Yoga Center

9000 W. 88th Ave, Westminster, CO 80005

Workshop Investment$195 per couple

Register HERE

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Erotic Mindfulness

Erotic Mindfulness

From the Ground Up Series

by Melissa Walker, MA, LPC, R-DMT

This year, my monthly newsletter will focus on building a vision of embodied intimacy from the ground up. Each month, you will learn tools to assess and practical skills to apply to your life and relationships. We will visit the complex layers beneath the skin which culminate in the experience and expression of desire and arousal, as well as the inhibition of these often sought-after states. Desire and arousal affects how we interact with the people in our lives through sex, emotional connection & regulation, and even every day problem solving.

What are three descriptive flavors, textures, or colors from breakfast this morning? What does your partners skin smell like? Describe the sensation of rain on your face or lotion on your hands or sun on your belly. These answers require a deeper inquiry than “my partners skin smells good” or “my breakfast was yummy.” Erotic mindfulness is an invitation to not take your senses for granted – to fully immerse yourself in the pleasurable experiences found in your daily, mundane life. Erotic mindfulness is a quality of attention and awareness which is open to receiving sensory and pleasure information from the environment. The daily practice of erotic mindfulness is a confluence of present-moment attention, sensory awareness, and permission. It is an opportunity to de-fragment and even rewrite the relationship to pleasure versus just attempting to avoid pain. Pleasure is fundamentally growth directed.

Present-Moment Attention
If I am eating my breakfast and thinking about all the things I have to do in my day, chances are I won’t taste much of my food. As humans, we are continually bouncing from the past to the present to the future and back again. This is work for our minds and is a product of evolutionary survival – being able to quickly think ourselves into different times and places allows us to feel a sense of position, it allows us to plan and avoid danger and recall memories. It also activates a sympathetic nervous system stress response. Think back to my post two months ago where I described how the stress response cuts us off from the experience of relaxation and pleasure. The antidote is present-moment attention. By focusing on the experience of the present moment, with a quality of noticing and non-judgement, I am able to find the relevant detail in front of me and within me. Whether we find discomfort or pleasure in the present moment, this practice allows us to learn from the discomfort, discover what it needs from us to move us back into comfort. Your body, and its discomfort is not the problem – your body is responding in a healthy way to an uncomfortable situation – it simply wants your help to feel better. Remember, the more we avoid, the more painful discomfort becomes! This mindfulness practice literally integrates our mind and body and can, over months and years of practice, increase brain growth. When the focus of my mind is on the pleasurable experience in which I am immersed, I am integrating my brain and body around receiving pleasure – and stimulating brain growth and emotional regulation all at the same time.

Sensory Awareness
Okay, so I can focus on the present moment but what am I focusing on? Our senses are the gateway of experience. When we see, smell, taste, and feel the breakfast we are inviting it into our bodies to provide nourishment. Erotic mindfulness drops further into something smelling or tasting “good” – the practice of erotic mindfulness requires that we find the layers in our experience and enjoy the edges of sensation. When I taste my morning chai, I smell the layers of cardamom, honey, and ginger. I feel the creaminess of the coconut milk on my tongue, taste the layers of spice and sweet, and feel my shoulders and belly soften with the warmth of the drink. From beginning to end, erotic mindfulness invites the senses to open to receiving the experience. The more subtle sensations and flavors can be difficult for some people to detect, but when including this as a daily practice, this can be a learned skill.

Permission
Present-moment focus and sensory awareness? Okay, that’s simple enough. But this practice is not easy when everything and everyone comes before the moments that you enjoy for yourself. Erotic mindfulness requires that you put yourself on the priority list and presence your desire. By “presence” I mean “make known” without apology, without excuses, without making a big deal about it. In fact, to presence oneself in the moment means to find value in what you can receive and what you can offer. By giving yourself permission to take an erotic mindful moment for yourself, you are adding so much value to yourself and to those you are with. “Honey, taste this chai! Can you smell the cardamom? Delicious! My belly is warm and tingly! What do you taste?” What a sweet moment for you and the recipient of your erotic mindfulness! Just imagine integrating this practice in intimacy with your partner. This practice cultivates deeper connection with yourself and with those around you. The result is an intelligent relational skill.

Erotic mindfulness is a practice that I facilitate with my clients in the office and in workshops. I will facilitate a live experience of this embodied intimacy skill and much more at my Couples Retreat and Couples Workshop. Details for registration found below!

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Understanding Arousal Anatomy: From the Ground Up Series

by Melissa Walker, MA, LPC, R-DMT

This year, my monthly newsletter will focus on building a vision of embodied intimacy from the ground up. Each month, you will learn tools to assess and practical skills to apply to your life and relationships. We will visit the complex layers beneath the skin which culminate in the experience and expression of desire and arousal, as well as the inhibition of these often sought-after states. Desire and arousal affects how we interact with the people in our lives through sex, emotional connection & regulation, and even every day problem solving.

This month we explore a few often misunderstood elements of arousal anatomy and the complexity that we take for granted. With knowledge of the actual physiology of arousal, we have the power to understand our unique body and better advocate for what we need in intimacy.

Unfortunately, many of us were instructed in our arousal anatomy using medical (dry) or alternative (unflattering, silly) terminology and fear-based language by facilitators or caregivers who were most likely experiencing discomfort, anger, shame, fear, and many other complex emotions during the delivery of information. Regardless of intention, beyond the “factual” information they passed on, they also passed on a tradition of fear and shame. See, our bodies read the stories of the other bodies around us via the nervous system and complex sensory system that picks up sound, smell, visual cues, and sense of proximity. Our bodies understood that often when a conversation about sex is present, so too is tension, shakiness, recoil, and the release of stress hormones. We may have even been directly punished, verbally or physically, in response to our exploration of our own bodies. In addition, arousal anatomy is often presented inaccurately, sometimes leaving out entire parts of our physiology.

As I offer a relatively brief review about the arousal anatomy of the human body, I invite you to notice your response. Notice sensations, movements, emotions, thoughts, reactions, judgement, etc. that surface as I describe the beautiful, complex layers of erotic physiology. This is an opportunity to learn about the emotional nuance associated with sexuality.

A note on sex and gender: Because gender is a dynamic concept, I will be referring to “people with penises” and “people with vulvas” in recognition of the non-binary nature of the human body. Bottom line is that gender is a complex issue that is a living, breathing conversation and it is in process. To the best of my ability, I hope that my language can be supportive of many different experiences of having an arousal anatomy. For more information on the topic of gender, I recommend the Gender Identity Center of Denver.

  • First off, people with penises and people with vulvas have the same amount of erectile tissue, however, vulvas have a larger proportion of this erectile tissue internally, beneath the labia. Just as people with penises enjoy stimulation of the erectile tissue, which is chock full of sensory-aware nerve endings, so is the vulva! Often, it is believed that the vaginal opening is the source of pleasure. While this can be true, stimulation of the vulva with gradually increasing pressure is often the most pleasurable. This may also be true for people with penises. Always check in with yourself and your partner about pressure, speed, placement and be open to being surprised about what creates the most pleasure.
  • The “G-spot” is also not just a “button. The ”G-spot,” or Grafenberg spot, named after the doctor who ”discovered” it, is actually the tube of erectile tissue surrounding the urethra and contact with this spot can be pleasurable if the erectile tissue of the pelvis is engorged with blood.
  • The clitoris is not just a “button” – the clitoris, a densely nerve-packed organ, has legs which are beneath the labia. The length of these legs depends on the vulva – some are longer and some are shorter. Also, the clitoral head can be different lengths and has about 8,000 nerve endings packed into it.  Also, the clitoris is not simply floating behind the labia over the pubic bone – the clitoris is intricately woven into the less dense erectile tissue, muscles in the pelvis, and even connected to the uterus, if one is present, by two long ligaments which tug on the uterus when the arousal anatomy is in full turn-on mode and during genital orgasm.
  • In addition to the connective tissues and muscles that link all the organs of the arousal anatomy, intricate nerve networks link the arousal anatomy deeply into the nervous system. The pelvic nerves plugs into the vagus nerve and connects to every major organ in the body, from the arousal and reproductive organs all the way up to the jaw. Perhaps you have had the experience at orgasm of feeling your mouth open and soften? This is the orgasmic energy travelling all the way to your jaw! Imagine, conversely, if you feel you experience pain or discomfort or numbness in your pelvis and the effect this may have on your nervous system and ability to communicate – the whole body is linked up into a whole!

This is just a dip into the complex and beautiful arousal anatomy! I will cover this material in full-color detail, facilitate experientials, and much more at my Couples Retreat and Couples Workshop. Details for registration found below!

For more information on the arousal anatomy, visit the Intimate Arts Center. Holistic sex educator Sheri Winston has an abundance of accurate and beautiful information. I credit much of my knowledge to her. Also, Emily Nagoski has a great book called Come as you Are.

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Embodied Intimacy from the Ground Up

by Melissa Walker, MA, LPC, R-DMT

Welcome to 2017!

This year, my monthly newsletter will focus on building a vision of embodied intimacy from the ground up. Each month, you will learn tools to assess and practical skills to apply to your life and relationships. We will visit the complex layers beneath the skin which culminate in the experience and expression of desire and arousal, as well as the inhibition of these often sought-after states. Desire and arousal affects how we interact with the people in our lives through sex, emotional connection & regulation, and even every day problem solving. Beginning this month, we will explore the role of the nervous system in arousal – what inhibits arousal and what allows it to suffuse your lived experience.

Our nervous system is the somatic processing system through which we take in information and respond to the environment around us, including the people who inhabit it. Like a dimmer switch on a lamp, our nervous system has a range of settings from bright to dim. The “bright” branch of our nervous system is where the dimmer switch is cranked all the way up, expressing the most energy output and the home of the activated emotions of excitement, anger, fear, frustration, and anxiety. The “dim” branch of our nervous system is where the dimmer switch is turned down low and the energy output is minimal, allowing for rest and relaxation, as in meditation, prayer, or just before falling asleep. The state of our nervous system where we are the most open and available to intimate connection with someone is when we inhabit the middle of the dimmer switch where our nervous system is dancing a delicate balance of inhibition and expression.

Getting turned on – to sex, an active conversation, or emotional connection – requires that we resolve the things inhibiting our ability to be relaxed and engaged before we can be open to the interactive, creative, and erotic space.

Questions to ask yourself to determine your inhibitors:

1. What do you know about what turns you off? Stress? Hunger? Kids still awake and running around the house? Beliefs about pleasure or sex?
2. Do you more fully recover after a stressful day by taking time by yourself? With a partner? With groups? Does recovery involve sex for you? What about for your partner?
3. Under what circumstances do you feel comfortable requesting what you need to recover and resolve your arousal inhibitors?

The first invitation is to listen to the wisdom of these inhibitors – they are not simply irritations or barriers to push away. When you listen to what your inhibitors need you are learning about how you are expending your energy, setting rigid boundaries or lacking boundaries where they are desperately needed, or are taking an assumption (a cultural stereotype or familial value) for granted. Take the time to listen to your body, thoughts, and beliefs - when you honor what is living in you, you gain the tools discover your next source of personal and relationship growth.

Once you validate and address your inhibitors, your nervous system naturally drops into a more relaxed space – this means that you may be ready to activate your turn-ons.

1. What turns you on? Fantasy? Erotic massage? Outdoor exercise? A delicious meal?
2. Under what circumstances do you feel comfortable requesting what you desire?
3. Do you make time to activate your turn-ons or is this creative engagement often left for the end of the day?

The more you understand how your specific physiology responds to stress or resistance to connection, the more you are able to apprentice to your own sexuality and advocate for both your recovery needs and erotic desires. When you become an apprentice and advocate, the more you will create, or co-create with your partner, the space to answer the call of your recovery needs to experience pleasure and express your desires fully.

I will cover this material, facilitate experientials, and much more at my Couples Retreat and Couples Workshop. Details for registration found below!

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Why Practice Embodiment?

Embodiment is an antidote to the unconscious, and often unhelpful, relational dynamics that keep us stuck in conflict patterns with those we love. As relational human beings, we develop patterns of behaving and relating to ourselves and others.  These unconscious relational patterns are often passive - they happen like breathing, without our intentional engagement or choice.

“Embodiment is the confluence of mindfulness, body awareness, and expression from a place of body-mind connectivity.”

At the core of my practice is embodiment. Embodiment is the confluence of mindfulness, body awareness, and expression from a place of body-mind connectivity:

  • Mindfulness: A quality of attention where we “witness” ourselves. Instead of being submerged in our experience, we take a few steps back to notice our experience with awareness of thoughts, memories, body sensations, and body movements. Think of it this way – if I’m eating dinner while watching TV and answering emails, I’m not really going to taste my food. This is the colloquial state of  ”mindlessness.” However, if I am slowly eating my dinner, noticing all the tastes and textures and response of my stomach, I will get so much more out of my food.
  • Body awareness: Feeling the experience of sensation, muscle tension, breath quality, movement, gesture, use of space. Awareness disentangles the thoughts of what we think we should be feeling from the reality of what is being felt. We often recite stories of our experience to our loved ones, creating a separation in emotional connection. Body awareness allows us to speak with authentic feeling in the moment to our loved ones – it allows others to feel our experience and feel closer to us.
  • Expression from body-mind connection: Combining mindfulness with body awareness encourages internal integration. Expression and engagement with our loved ones from this place is what people say when someone is “authentic or has integrity. This is the place where what I say verbally is reflected in what I express non-verbally.

Once we learn the components and practice of embodiment, we can observe and heal relational patterns that no longer serve us. Embodiment practice invites us to slow down and notice how our whole self responds to the our partners. We notice, “wow, when my partner says ‘I’ll just do it all myself’ I notice knots appear in my stomach and I feel the push to leave the room – or even the house!” At this point, we learn about how these relational patterns have supported us – what they have tried to accomplish for us (i.e. maintain connection in a difficult relationship scenario) – and as we better learn our responses without judgement, we can better learn how to respond in a way that maintains connection without having to set aside our emotions or desires. This takes the fight out of trying to force change. Forcing change, as many know, doesn’t work. The tighter we squeeze, the harder we fight to get out. By acknowledging and softening, rigid patterns begin to naturally unwind and we become more, well, relational!

“By acknowledging and softening, rigid patterns begin to naturally unwind and we become more, well, relational!”

This is the practice of embodiment – it is the courageous and radical act of becoming aware of and intentionally responding to ourselves and loved ones.

Embodiment also allows us to extend our life! Embodiment allows us to:

  • Experience moments more fully
  • Mitigate the tension and rigidity in our bodies that taxes the body and mind, thereby causing us to age less quickly. Tension causes stress and stress often shortens life.
  • Enjoy the good moments in full color and show us the way out of uncomfortable moments more clearly.

Learning the ropes to embodiment and putting them into practice is a worthy journey! For more information, contact me here.

 

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Embodied Intimacy from the Ground Up

Embodied Intimacy 

From the Ground Up

by Melissa Walker, MA, LPC, R-DMT

Welcome to 2017!

This year, my monthly newsletter will focus on building a vision of embodied intimacy from the ground up. Each month, you will learn tools to assess and practical skills to apply to your life and relationships. We will visit the complex layers beneath the skin which culminate in the experience and expression of desire and arousal, as well as the inhibition of these often sought-after states. Desire and arousal affects how we interact with the people in our lives through sex, emotional connection & regulation, and even every day problem solving. Beginning this month, we will explore the role of the nervous system in arousal – what inhibits arousal and what allows it to suffuse your lived experience.

Our nervous system is the somatic processing system through which we take in information and respond to the environment around us, including the people who inhabit it. Like a dimmer switch on a lamp, our nervous system has a range of settings from bright to dim. The “bright” branch of our nervous system is where the dimmer switch is cranked all the way up, expressing the most energy output and the home of the activated emotions of excitement, anger, fear, frustration, and anxiety. The “dim” branch of our nervous system is where the dimmer switch is turned down low and the energy output is minimal, allowing for rest and relaxation, as in meditation, prayer, or just before falling asleep. The state of our nervous system where we are the most open and available to intimate connection with someone is when we inhabit the middle of the dimmer switch where our nervous system is dancing a delicate balance of inhibition and expression.

Getting turned on – to sex, an active conversation, or emotional connection – requires that we resolve the things inhibiting our ability to be relaxed and engaged before we can be open to the interactive, creative, and erotic space.

Questions to ask yourself to determine your inhibitors:

1. What do you know about what turns you off? Stress? Hunger? Kids still awake and running around the house? Beliefs about pleasure or sex?
2. Do you more fully recover after a stressful day by taking time by yourself? With a partner? With groups? Does recovery involve sex for you? What about for your partner?
3. Under what circumstances do you feel comfortable requesting what you need to recover and resolve your arousal inhibitors?

The first invitation is to listen to the wisdom of these inhibitors – they are not simply irritations or barriers to push away. When you listen to what your inhibitors need you are learning about how you are expending your energy, setting rigid boundaries or lacking boundaries where they are desperately needed, or are taking an assumption (a cultural stereotype or familial value) for granted. Take the time to listen to your body, thoughts, and beliefs - when you honor what is living in you, you gain the tools discover your next source of personal and relationship growth.

Once you validate and address your inhibitors, your nervous system naturally drops into a more relaxed space – this means that you may be ready to activate your turn-ons.

1. What turns you on? Fantasy? Erotic massage? Emotional connection with your partner?
2. Under what circumstances do you feel comfortable requesting what you desire?
3. Do you make time to activate your turn-ons or is this creative engagement often left for the end of the day?

The more you understand how your specific physiology responds to stress or resistance to connection, the more you are able to apprentice to your own sexuality and advocate for both your recovery needs and erotic desires. When you become an apprentice and advocate, the more you will create, or co-create with your partner, the space to answer the call of your range of needs to experience and express fully.

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Rhythmic Mythology for Couples

As a Dance Therapist, I observe and assess the body rhythms of each of my clients. Everyone has a unique movement signature and energy expression living in their body. I witness muscle tension and relaxation, breath quality, how much or how little space they use when speaking, and signature movements or gestures, just to name a few. In essence, the bodies of my clients tell me a story just as their words tell me a story. Sometimes the verbal and non-verbal stories are congruent and sometimes they are not. As I witness the relationship between my client, their verbal sharing, and their body rhythms, I am witnessing the living mythology of that person. They are archetypes in motion that express, in the present moment, the embodiment of their full life.

When I work with couples, two mythologies come together and catalyze a third story – a co-creative mythology. All couples have an origin story, a journey story, and epic events along that way that transform them into the dynamic duo before me. Sometimes, the content or verbal story of their experiences cloud the deeper meaning of their journey together – especially when the verbal story is incongruent with the body and emotional expression. I support couples to explore movement and body rhythms in relationship to the stories to uncover this deeper meaning. This can be a vulnerable experience and requires a dip into the truth of what one is feeling in the moment, therefore this process requires moment to moment resourcing and may be slow in pace along the way. This can also be a fun process, playing with everyday movements to find unconscious content.

I invite each partner to allow the body to do the talking first. We explore each of the partner’s movement expressions together, attributing meaning and imagery to the language of their bodies and how that meaning and imagery weave together. From this exploratory playshopping, we create a Rhythmic Mythology*, a co-creative vignette that tells the deeper story beneath the content of the life that they share. When couples share this rhythmic mythology, they often report feeling a deeper connection and understanding of each other, a sense of shared purpose, an increased attraction for each other, and a knowledge of how to better resource themselves and each other.

This summer, I will present a Rhythmic Mythology Playshop at the Arise Festival, August 5th – 7th, Sunrise Ranch, Loveland, CO. Email me for more details!

*Rhythmic Mythology is a story vignette created using Dance/Movement Sex Therapy to support couples in exploring the natural rhythms of their bodies and how that movement builds in co-creation to support connection, playfulness, and a deeper understanding of each other.

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What does Embodied Relationship Intelligence mean?

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First of all, this is not a place of arrival but is a practice to integrate into your daily life. Like mindfulness or movement practices, they are refined over years and years of intentional focus.
To be embodied in relationship is to share a story while feeling it vs. telling a story from the mind. Embodiment is not in the details – it is in the essence.
To be embodied in relationships is to listen to others from the whole self – the heart, mind, and pelvis – vs. thinking of what to say when the other person stops talking or translating/interpreting/fixing their experience.
To be embodied in relationship is to know when to share a part of the self and when to breathe and hold parts of the self sacred.
To be embodied in relationship is to find that place of integrity – alignment of mind, heart, and pelvis – in times of joy as well as in times of conflict.
To be embodied in relationship is to be awake in both pleasure and pain. To lean into challenges and to know the somatic (body sensation) markers of the “yes” the “no” and the “maybe.”
Again, these are a practice not a place of arrival. Join us for an experiential, skill-building practice group.
Mondays, April 18th – May 23rd
6 pm – 8:30 pm
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