Rewire Your Mind and Heart for Love: Mindfulness Brings Intimacy to Life

November 21st, 2014 by

By now you’ve probably heard that mindfulness is good for you. A regular practice in moment-to-moment awareness can make us happier, healthier, and kinder. Recent studies linking mindfulness and women’s sexual response are garnering a lot of attention. (More on this later!) As it turns out, the benefits of mindfulness that improve life in general – increased self-awareness, more self-compassion, less anxiety, and improved attention – also heighten our experience of loving, and being loved. While mindfulness benefits both genders, women experience special benefits when it comes to intimacy. Why? As Dr. Elizabeth Kavaler, a urologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, notes, “the biggest part of sexuality in women is emotional and mental.”

The Physical

Now, about those studies. Brown University researchers measured the effect of mindfulness on sexual arousal. Women who underwent mindfulness training experienced faster and more intense sexual arousal than a control group. The study’s lead author, Gina Silverstein, attributes the difference to increased “interoceptive awareness” – the ability to observe and describe what’s happening inside your body and mind without judging the experiences as “good” or “bad” or trying to change them. By practicing this skill, says Silverstein, we can “turn off the autopilot.”

And there’s more. Brain scans of long term mindfulness meditators reveal structural changes. Specifically, increased folding (“gyrification”) of a part of the brain called the “insula”. A Dartmouth study reported that women with more gyrified insula experience more intense orgasms.

The Mental

If you’ve ever tried to sit quietly and follow the rising and falling of your breath, you quickly learned that the mind soon has other ideas. Namely thinking – about things you needed to do, things you forgot to do, worrying about something that might happen, or regretting something that already happened. Anything but simply feeling the sensations of breathing! This constant mental chatter can prevent a woman from feeling sexual stimuli. Mindfulness training quiets this chatter.

Another aspect of the mind that is troublesome for intimate relationships is our hard wired “Negativity Bias.” An ancient survival mechanism, Nature ensured that negative experiences made a lasting impression on the brain (such as that close call with the hungry tiger!) Forgetting such encounters tended to shorten one’s lifespan! But today’s world is less about physical threats and more about psychological ones – often of our own creation. Our constant mental chatter tends to be negative – our interpretation of an offhand comment, anger at being delayed by traffic or someone’s forgetfulness, rumination about feeling disrespected, or anxiety about health or finances.  Unfortunately, the body doesn’t know the difference between actual physical threats and our tendency to dwell on and rehash unpleasant psychological “threats”. It churns out long-lasting stress hormones regardless. Not a recipe for blissful intimacy.

Through mindfulness practice you train your mind to ignore distractions – those arising in our own minds as well as those from the outer environment. Over time (changes happen in a matter of weeks) the mind learns a new way of being – and literally rewires itself! Mindfulness also strengthens your ability to refocus on the present when life’s normal ups and downs occur. With practice, these skills become stronger and stronger. The chattering mind, with its negativity bias, begins to quiet down. We learn to simply “abide” in this moment, which is not nearly as bad as we think. In fact, we find that it’s often quite wonderful! Perhaps not perfect, but wonderful nonetheless.

The Emotional

Mindfulness is about more than presence of mind. It’s also about presence of heart. It shows us our infinite capacity for love and compassion – starting with ourselves. The more we pay attention to our “mental chatter,” the more we learn just how much of it is critical, harsh, and destructive. From this place of awareness, we can befriend and soften that harsh inner critic. We discover that we’re actually complete and whole, with a loving heart that is limitless. Compassion, forgiveness, connection – all are natural outgrowths of this practice of kind, loving attention. And it may just be the best formula for intimacy there is!