Our Complete Holistic Sexuality Quiz is Here!

Holistic sexuality is IMG_4795a balanced engagement of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual components of sexuality. It’s about nourishing all of you through sexual connection, exploration, expression, and play.

Atacama Counseling has designed an assessment to help you identify what parts of your sexual self are nourished, and what parts could use a little love.

The complete quiz includes an introduction to holistic sexuality, a full assessment of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realms of your sexuality, as well as suggestions for how to fully thrive in each of these areas.

We hope you find it insightful!

The quiz is your gift to keep forever when you sign up for our free bi-monthly email publication, Shadow Hieroglyphs: Writings on Creativity, Mindfulness, and Presence (…and if you don’t love it, you can unsubscribe at any point).

Get your Complete Holistic Sexuality Quiz Now! 

Fostering Intimacy With a Romantic Sanctuary

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The couples I work with all too often struggle with making time and space for sex in the context of the rest of their lives. When we have families and careers to juggle, sex all too often falls by the wayside. Yes, time and energy are at a premium for many of us. But there is also deeper level to this dynamic. We often find that juggling our different roles also makes it difficult to keep the fire alive. It is hard to switch from our role as a professional, or as a parent, into a sexual being. Instead, we may find it easier to numb, ignore, and starve our sexual selves.

The process of reintegrating this part of our beings can be a complex journey, one unique to each of us. And while it would be impossible to address the totality of this dynamic in a single blog post, I can offer you one of the starting points that has fostered intimacy for many of the couples I see, especially those with children.

Create a romantic sanctuary.

Have one place in your house that can transform into a space where your sexual self can thrive. Set the intention to spend time here a couple of times a week, whether or not you choose to have sex. When we build a fire, we need a physical pit or fireplace—a special place for that purpose alone. We also need enough space for air to pass through, and enough time to nourish the flame. So too with the fire within do we need space to breathe and time for growth. We also need to send it the message that it is an important part of our lives.

Here’s how:

  1. Pick a place in your home for your sanctuary.

The bedroom is the obvious choice for many, though it doesn’t have to be. If there isn’t one place that can be just for you and your partner (say, for example, you are co-sleeping with your child in your room), pick a place you can transform with candles, music, pillows, etc. when you and your partner want to connect. You could even add soft lighting to a bathroom and take a bath together. Wherever it is, make sure it is a place where you feel safe, comfortable, and confident that you will not be intruded upon.

  1. Let your five senses guide you in your transformation of space into sanctuary.

What smells turn you on? How does temperature affect your sexual enjoyment, and what is your ideal temperature? How do the fabrics on your bed or couch feel on your skin? How does lighting affect your mood? How about sounds? This is you gathering the wood to fuel your flame.

Consider adding candles, twinkle lights, or other soft lighting, a way to play music, or aromatherapy to the room. Leave your phones, TV, and other screens off or outside.

  1. Make sure you feel safe and comfortable to be yourself.

If you are worried about being seen through the window, make sure you to close your curtains/blinds. If you are concerned with being heard, try adding a white noise machine by the door.

  1. Set the intention to spend time together in your sanctuary fostering intimacy, whether sexual or nonsexual.

Make actual dates, and follow through with them, even if they are only for 15-minutes a night.

And if you are too exhausted/triggered/anxious/etc to have sex, spend time in your sanctuary anyway. Listen intently to your favorite album. Give each other massages. Take a bath together. Have a meaningful conversation. Create art. Enjoy a good glass of wine. Fall asleep in each other’s arms. Find a way to harbor connection to each other and to your sensory experience.

Have fun!

 

 

Happy Winter Solstice!

 

If the darkness of winter has been weighing on you, remember, it only gets brighter from here.

May the fires of self-compassion, strength, and inner wisdom illuminate your path when the sun is nowhere to be found.

May you always find your own guiding light.

solistice

Learning Emotionally-Focused Therapy

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A little over a week ago, I attended a four-day intensive training in Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT). Around seventy therapists sat in a windowless conference room, nestled against the rain and flood warnings pitter-pattering the cell phones we had agreed to tuck away for the sake of presence and connection. Banana bread and popcorn nourished us as we grew in understanding of the practice and in warmth towards one another. I was able to get to know some of my fellow trainees well, while others didn’t get a chance to meet. Still, by the end of our time, the room felt safe and intimate; there was a sense of the human bond running between us. It reminded me of sitting together with strangers to witness the wedding of mutual loved ones; though many of us did not know each other, what we had shared brought us to drink in the same joy, hopefulness, and love that we had all felt. And in that sharing, we had opened in connection to one another.

It is always hard to explain the inspired exhaustion that follows a good psychotherapy training. The best trainings I have attended stir their way into me so that I understand them in all layers of my being, from the cerebral down to the emotional, personal, and primal. When learning EMDR, this meant watching my own hidden shadows move and shift within the somatic realms of my body and mind, as I rode emotional waves into greater peacefulness. In the art therapy trainings and consultations I have attended, it has meant expressing my own feelings and experiences that have been silenced in colors, shapes, and symbols; I have always left with a greater understanding of myself. This is what Contemplative Psychotherapy is all about; it is my mission to continually get to know myself and my emotional process so that I can be as fully present and empathetic with my clients as possible.

It would make sense that an emotionally-focused therapy training would leave me feeling warm, close, and connected with those around me. EFT is based in attachment theory, with bonding at its center; it guides couples (and individuals) in shifting away from destructive cycles and disconnectedness by fostering the safety for each to vulnerably express his/her needs and emotions, creating a secure bond. Through EFT, this bond becomes reliable, consistent, and a source of support and strength. This not only helps the communication in relationships, but it attends to some of the most basic, primal needs as humans. In this way, it is holds great potential to heal mental illness and emotional suffering.

Each training day of lectures, watching sessions, and practicing/receiving EFT with my colleagues, I found myself in a place of more profound openness and connection, not only with those around me, but with my own loved ones outside of our cozy conference room. I felt increased appreciation, empathy, and curiosity towards my own partner’s experience in our marriage, and have found myself in deeper appreciation for the relationship we have built together. The experience has made me even more excited to bring this beautiful healing modality to my clients as I continue to grow from it, both personally and professionally.

Thank you to Jim Thomas, Lisa Palmer-Olsen, and the Colorado Center for Emotionally-Focused Therapy for a great externship experience!

Three Ways to Love Yourself This Valentine’s Day

valentines dayValentine’s Day can be difficult for many reasons. For some, it brings about loneliness, sadness, or self-aggression. When this happens, a powerful antidote can be the cultivation of self-love and self-appreciation. Here are a few ways to intimately connect with yourself this Saturday.

  1. Take your inner creative out on a date

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron offers the concept of the weekly “artist date,” as a crucial part of the creative life. Simply put, we take our inner artist, or our inner child, out on a date by setting some time aside, listening to his/her longings, following them, and having fun! On my first artist’s date, I felt nostalgic for my past home of Valparaiso, Chile. There, on free afternoons, I would often put on headphones and meander through the hilly city, letting my senses guide me to ocean overlooks or hidden pockets of street art. On my date, I decided to bring the ritual to Boulder, and aimlessly wandered the city for hours. I ended up back in front of old houses I had lived in during college—places I hadn’t revisited in many years. I let myself dance with old memories, while connecting with my gratitude for my current stage of life. It was a perfectly intimate and special day I could have only shared with myself. Try, for an afternoon, to touch into that intimacy you have with yourself—with the parts of you that only you can understand. If you are feeling nostalgic, revisit the past through old music, photos, or places. If you are feeling adventurous, try something you never envisioned yourself doing, just for kicks (it could be bungee jumping, but it could also be hanging out in a different part of town, test-driving fancy cars, or trying a spa treatment you’ve never heard of). If your soul is feeling hungry, take in inspiring art, or indulge your senses through a trip through a spice shop or a delicious meal. However you are feeling, have a special experience that only you will understand.

  1. Create a vision board

A vision board is a place for you to gather and clarify what you want to invite into your life. A simple way to start is by hanging up a corkboard (poster board can also work), and perusing magazines, books, or visual websites like Pinterest, paying attention to what images, words, or phrases stand out to you. From there, you cut/print them out and collage them onto your board. It can be difficult for us to know what we want with the next chapter in our lives, and a vision board is a great way to gain understanding of what your soul is longing for—what is to calling you. Vision-boarding is powerful because it puts you in touch with what you really want—a feat that can be difficult when noise from friends, family, and the media seem to want to tell you what you need and crave.

  1. Practice Maitri

Maitri, literally translated as “loving kindness,” is a Buddhist term that often refers to the practice of being unconditionally loving and friendly toward yourself in whatever experience you may be going through. This means that if you are feeling lonely, allow yourself to be lonely, remaining compassionate towards yourself as you have your experience. It means noticing when you want to be angry with yourself for feeling how you are feeling, and choosing to love yourself instead, acknowledging that your feelings are sometimes out of your control. There are times when we receive the message that to achieve happiness, we must transcend negative emotions like anger, jealousy, or fear. Practicing maitri teaches us that these emotions are normal and sane parts of ourselves, and we are whole and loveable, no matter what we feel. Here is a five-minute exercise to help cultivate maitri: Find a comfortable seat, and begin by closing your eyes and noticing your breath. Notice it just as it is, without any need to change it. If you notice your mind drifting away, simply come back to your breath compassionately, without judging yourself. Rest your attention here for a moment. Now scan your body from head to toe, noticing where you may be holding tension or emotion. Take a moment to acknowledge this part of yourself, again, without any need to change it. Let it be just as it is. Imagine that it is a physical mass of energy, and you are able to wrap your arms or a blanket around it to comfort and love it. Ask it if it needs anything else, and imagine yourself giving that thing to it.

How to begin loving your body during sex.

IMG_2850Most of us consider sex to be fun, important, and deeply gratifying. So it can be confusing to find ourselves avoiding it. There are several reasons why our discomforts keep us out of bed with one another; at the top of this list is our uneasiness and embarrassment in our own skin. When we are unhappy with the way we look, nakedness can be intimidating at best, unbearable at worst. And when we are filled with these emotions, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to fully enjoy sex.

So what are we to do? One answer lies in cultivating love and compassion for ourselves, just as we are. Here are a few ways to begin:

1. Develop an appreciation for your body and your sexuality alone.

Spend time with yourself naked, and notice what insecurities come up. Observe your thoughts and feelings as though you are not only undressing your body but also undressing your anxiety, letting them both be there without any need to change them. Stay curious about what you are feeling; you may gain some insight into the roots of your negative feelings.

If this feels tolerable, you can also try looking in the mirror, or masturbating in such a way that allows you to explore your own body. See if you can discover your erogenous zones, the features you consider to be your sexiest, and the parts of yourself that may feel a little too vulnerable to be touched. Get to know yourself in this way.

  1. Consider sharing your discoveries with your partner.

If you feel comfortable, let your partner know what you discover during your alone time. Are there areas of your body that feel a little too vulnerable to be touched or kissed? Or do those parts crave some loving attention? Clue him or her in, and don’t be afraid to make requests.

You may also want to share which parts of your body you love, and ask for some extra affection in those places too. Don’t be afraid to adore your amazing butt, and let your partner tell you how much s/he adores it too!

  1. Listen to your boundaries.

Your vulnerability and insecurities will fluctuate, and with them, your needs. If you are feeling more insecure than normal about your body, check-in with your comfort level. Do you feel ready to have sex with this particular person right now? Maybe you want to be intimate, but aren’t comfortable turning on the lights quite yet. Your nakedness is a fragile being; venturing outside your comfort zone is part of healing, but pushing yourself too far or too fast can leave you feeling over-exposed and eventually closed off.

  1. Adorn yourself

There are so many ways to adorn and celebrate your body. Try wearing clothes and/or jewelry that make you feel sexy on days or nights when you may anticipate having sex, or go straight for some lingerie that makes you feel smoking hot. Consider playing dress-up or trying out body paint. Try some home spa treatments to leave your skin extra soft and kissable before a date. Experiment with different perfumes/colognes, or even edible goodies. Let yourself believe just how yummy you are!

If you try out these things and your body image continues to block you from enjoying sex, there may be a deeper underlying issue or trauma that is contributing to your anxiety. Consider counseling as a way to explore and heal these feelings.

Five New Year’s Resolutions for a More Passionate Life

IMG_3209We are all passionate, creative, and inspiring creatures; this is at the very heart of what it means to be a human being. We grow—as a species, as families, as individuals who yearn for meaning in both purpose and connection. We care about the nature of our existence, and feel a deep longing to see it evolve and thrive.

 

Yet, our existence is also riddled with distraction, confusion, and disempowerment. Sometimes, in the midst of the complex human experience, we disconnect. We disconnect from deeper intimacy—both with others and also with ourselves. We disconnect from both our playfulness and from our heartfelt longings, from spontaneity and from the joy we derive from meaningful personal evolution.

 

The resolutions that follow are not about changing ourselves. Rather, they intend to offer guidance in rediscovering what is already deep within us. They are about coming home to the passionate beings we already are.

 

  1. Start each day with an intention.

 

An intention is different from a goal. We set a goal to do something. Intentions are not so much about doing, but are rather about being. How do you want to be different? How would you like to feel at the end of the day? How will the world look differently to you if you are deeply satisfied?

 

Each morning, consider taking a moment to set an intention for your day. This aligns you with your power and helps connect to purpose. Note that an intention may be highly personal—a change only you can see.

 

For example, if yesterday didn’t go so well, you could say “I intend to allow the disappointment I feel to flow through me in its natural course,” or “I intend to catch myself wallowing on yesterday’s disappointments, and remind myself that today is a new day.”

 

If you are hoping to feel more present, some intentions may be, “I intend to pause in gratitude and appreciate the people and circumstances around me,” or “I intend to be fully honest with my emotions today, whatever they may be, and refrain from trying to change them.”

 

Revisit your intention throughout the day, continuing to align yourself to it.

 

  1. Get to know what true passion feels like in your body.

 

Passion does not always equal hard work. Sometimes, hard work can feel like you are attempting to swim against a current. You can barely move, and it feels like you are spending all your energy trying to simply stay on course. Surfing or body boarding feels much different. Your efforts collaborate with that of the waves; your movements become aligned with those of the greater ocean. You are still working hard in body and mind to stay on course, yet your efforts feel exciting, natural, and harmonized to the universe around you.

 

True passion feels much like this. There are times in both our work and in our relationships when it feels as though we are kicking against the current, and other times when we enjoy riding the waves. Take note of the moments you are truly enjoying what you do—whether it is in your career, in a conversation, exercising, or even making love—look for those moments when your effort somehow paradoxically feels effortless. When you find yourself energized rather than depleted.

 

Pay attention to what this feels like in your body. Do you feel a fullness in your chest? A sense of weightlessness? Make friends with these sensations, and let them help to be your compass, alerting you to your alignment with your own happiness.

 

  1. Absorb something inspiring each day.

 

Passion is a two-way exchange of yourself with the world around you. Open yourself to the inspiring life swirling about and enjoy soaking it in. Some days, this could mean reading a poem or admiring a work of art. Others, it could include attending a talk, listening to a podcast, or closing your eyes and enjoying your favorite song to the fullest.

 

There will be times when you feel exhausted, closed off, and only able to open your windows to the world the slightest crack. On these days, your inspiration may come from a short walk, where you notice one beautiful thing, perhaps a bird’s stamina to survive the snow, or the empathetic gaze of a stranger walking by. It may come from within—a simple acknowledgement of the strength it has taken you to get through this day. Believe that you, too, are inspiring.

 

  1. Make a list of adventures you would like to have, and challenge yourself to do as many of them as you can.

 

Adventures large and small are like yoga for your conception of what is possible. When you expand your comfort zone, you are stretching the limits of what your life can be.

 

Consider adding adventures of all sizes to this list, from visiting Patagonia to getting naughty with your wife in the library stacks to ice skating for the first time in your adult life.

 

What are things you have always wanted to do in your town? How about in the state? The country? And even abroad? It’s ok to plan big and let your imagination run wild. It is also ok if you don’t get to many of the things on your list. The point is that you are dreaming up all that is possible. You are opening to the reality that there is an infinity of experiences that the next year can hold.

 

  1. Create daily.

 

Just as it is important to soak in the world around you, it is just as vital to give of yourself. One of the most profound ways to share yourself is to create—to express an outward manifestation of what is inside that passionate soul of yours.

 

Look for ways to be creative in your work and in your relationships. Reinvent a system that is no longer working. Surprise your family with an adventure. Take a painting or pottery class so that you have many ways to express yourself.

 

Create anything! Create art or poetry, even if it is only five words, scribbled into your notebook. Cook a meal. Write a thoughtful letter to a friend. Create connection through a deep conversation or by making love. Build a shelf in the garage. Add some little bit of yourself to the world each day, and enjoy the momentum of passion snowballing around you.

 

Here’s to a beautiful and fulfilling new year!

 

 

A Thanksgiving Mindfulness Exercise to Cultivate Gratitude

IMG_3038Consider trying this practice by reading it aloud as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner.

Take a moment to notice your feet on the ground, your back against your chair. You have arrived at this table. It may have been a journey across the country, on a mere few steps into your dining hall. Either way, thank yourself for being here, for the efforts it may have taken to work through a family conflict or logistical hiccups to be able to come together.

Feel the clean air moving through your lungs. Find gratitude for the simple fact that the air has always been there to feed you, and for your lungs in their persistent dedication to sustain you, even when the rest of your body feels exhausted.

Let your awareness scroll down your body, from head to toe, noticing any places that may be holding tension or excitement, frustration or peacefulness. Just notice how you are feeling, without any need to change it. Your body is so full of wisdom, and it will alert you to what feels right or wrong, safe or dangerous. Discomfort can even clue you in as to when you may need to take action or make a change. Thank your body for its honesty and guidance, even in this instant, as it allows you to understand this exact moment a little more intimately.

Gaze around the table or onto your plate at all of the beautifully prepared food in front of you. Let your eyes rest on one favorite item—be it the stuffing or the potatoes or the casserole—and take a moment to ponder the journey it took to get to your plate. Imagine the labor that went into preparing it today. And before that, on the trek it may have made across the state or across the globe to arrive on your plate. Think about all those who contributed to bringing it from the soil to you: the weathered hands of farmers and packers, truckers and grocers. Think about the food and air and love that fueled them in their work.

Acknowledge that whether a turkey or a green bean, it was once alive. Take a moment to appreciate its spirit and thank it for sustaining you, without needing to feel guilty for this gritty part of the cycle of life.

Let your mind wander back to its origins: the sun and rain and nutrients of the earth that all played a part in it being here today. The entire universe exists in this bite of food; even its most basic atoms were once fused in the center of a star. Let yourself be baffled by that, and find gratitude for your world, a world that is still so full of mystery.

Lastly, look around the table at those around you, acknowledging the journeys each of them took to be here with you. Take a moment to touch into the infinite ways in which each one has added to your life: what you have learned from them, moments when they have inspired you, how they have colored your world in little or large ways—ways that no one else could. Reach your hands out to theirs, and give the ones closest to you a little squeeze, reminding yourself of the sacredness of connecting with another living being.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Why sex is a creative process.

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You, as a sexual being, are creative. You are creating and playing when you explore who you are as a sexual person. You may adorn yourself in lace, in body art, or in fantasy in the bedroom. You may choose to express your sexual self when you walk in the world as well: as flirtatious, as secretive, as erotically complicated. The way you whisper to your partner, the way you shadow your eyes, the way you dance—these are all expressions. You are expressing yourself just by being you, a carnal creature, completely unique.

Your desire is creative. Your body touched in a certain way. A part of you adored. A fantasy fulfilled—when you listen to your desires, you are listening to your imagination. You are holding a paintbrush to the canvas of your experiences and letting your inner creative run free, whether in collaboration with another or simply in your own fantasy. You are not creating because it’s logical or because it achieves a goal; you are creating because it’s what you crave. Because though it may not make sense, to ignore it seems to make even less sense.

The dance is creative. It’s where you bring your being and your desires to tango. To collaborate. To swirl with those of someone you love or like or just feel like creating with. You get to learn how to express yourself sexually, appreciate another’s expressions, and harmonize your unique rhythms to create a song unlike any other. This song includes attunement and compromise, which is all part of this beautiful process.

Your purpose is creative. Whether you are expressing your love or expressing your desire, you are expressing. If you are painting a memory or if you are conceiving a child, you are creating. Alone or with a partner, in your mind or in your body, when you awaken your sexual self, you are dancing. You are listening to yourself and to the world, and you are writing the story of what you hear.

Apparently, women can’t even be trusted to make decisions about their gluten intake.

This morning, I woke up to this satirical HuffPost Blog about “basic” white women and their decisions to go gluten-free. These authors, along with countless others throughout the last couple of years, seem to believe that they themselves have a much better handle on what is actually going on within women’s bodies than the women themselves do, and thus they are warranted to publicly shame and berate them for their dietary choices. They cite mockingly how doctors don’t even think gluten intolerance is a thing, implying that women really aren’t in any position to listen to their own bodies and decide what to eat accordingly (or to have the right to follow a diet for whatever reason they chose, body attuned or not).

So I have to fight for you to trust me to make my own reproductive choices, my choices around what clothes I wear, to take my word on when and how I give sexual consent, and now my choices about my gluten intake? Really?

Reading through the comments, countless women posted long-winded reasons for why they made the personal choice to go gluten-free, usually including lists of health symptoms they preferred to avoid. Their tones carried an all-too-familiar powerlessness and frustration; a sense of “owing” these strangers a justification for something that is really none of their business.

I speak up here because these instances of disempowerment, both small and large, hurt women. Policing women’s bodies and their choices, whether it is subtly through sarcasm or on a larger scale through political legislation, is traumatic. It takes away our power, our voice, and our connection to our inner wisdom. This is unfortunately one of the heaviest burdens I work through with my female clients. It starts when we are girls and it perpetuates the world we live in, even on progressive publications like HuffPost.

And so I call on you to help:

Start small; start with gluten. Next time you find yourself judging someone for how much or how little gluten they consume, let it go.

 

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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