Fostering Intimacy With a Romantic Sanctuary

IMG_2818

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!

 

 

Three Ways to Bring Mindfulness Into Sex.

IMG_2239

Mindfulness is a way of being—both in the world and in your own skin. ‘Mindfulness’ refers to the art of paying attention—to bringing awareness and compassion to our experiences and to the life surrounding us. It’s about staying awake to everything that is going on—our emotions, our sensations, the world around us—and enjoying the present moment to the fullest. I teach mindfulness to both therapy and coaching clients to help with a wide range of issues, and have found it to be especially effective in helping people find sexual fulfillment.

Mindfulness helps us to ground ourselves in what is happening in the here and now; it is an anchor to the present moment against the waves of thoughts and worries our mind creates. Sex is supposed to feel great. Its passion is supposed to dissolve the mundane world around us. It seems strange that in the heat of the moment we would become distracted. But we do. We think about how we are doing and what we look like naked. We wonder why we can’t orgasm or focus all our attention on holding in our orgasm. Our to-do list pops into our brain against our greatest efforts to keep it out of the bedroom. This is why bringing mindfulness into sex can be so helpful. Here are a few ways to start:

  1. Check-in honestly with yourself (and your partner).

Before the clothes come off, take your emotional and somatic temperature by mentally scanning your body. Ask yourself how you are feeling in this exact moment. Are there any thoughts or emotions that are blocking the flow of sexual energy? Where are your sexual boundaries at right now? What parts of your body are inviting sexual contact, and what other parts are asking to be left alone? Take note of your findings without judgment, and communicate to your partner any needs you have in this moment. This could look like saying, “I’m feeling really excited, and also kind of nervous. Let’s take it slow.” Keep in touch with your emotions and needs (and those of your partner) throughout sex. Practice differentiating between unnecessary distraction and your body’s communication of needs. Some things are important to think about (such as, ‘do I feel comfortable doing this?’). Listen to yourself and to your partner.

  1. Use all five senses to stay grounded.

Yes, all of them. Add in sensory experiences into your environment: dim lighting, candles, lacy lingerie, a hot shower, scented oils and perfumes, sexy music. Ask yourself what relaxes you, turns you on, and grounds you, and bring that into the bedroom (or wherever you are). This way, when your mind wanders, you can rest your attention on our sensory experience and ground yourself back in the present moment. Spend a moment noticing the softness of the sheets against your back, or the smell of your partner, or the warm glow of your shadows along the wall. Indulge in the sensory richness of your sexual experience.

  1. Enjoy the ride.

Our culture has a problem with looking at sex through a goal-oriented lens. All too often, we miss the best parts of our experience by moving our attention away from the moment and placing it on the future. Whether we are focusing all our energy on “getting to the good part” or keeping tabs on the frequency with which we are having sex, we are cheapening it. Set the intention to enjoy all parts of the experience—kissing, touching, whispering, tingling anticipation—for their own sakes. Challenge yourself to let go of a linear concept of sex and enjoy exploring, moment by moment.

 

Colorado Storms

IMG_1061

Thunder Clouds-

A midafternoon dusk

whitewashed

by work shoes

and lunch commutes

and sugar as fuel.

Our sun sets

into itself

under the covers

of a Colorado nap.

We all feel a drizzle,

whether we are outside

or not.

It splashes our faces,

picks at our skin,

gets us out of our chairs,

remembering each other’s existence.

~~~

Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Sensual Saturday: 5 ways to revive your senses in downtown Boulder.

IMG_2131Spring has sprung!

Which means that (if you’re like me) your long dormant senses are tingling with anticipation of warmth and vibrancy. Skin craving crisp sunlight and flowy fabrics. Eyes and ears and nose awakening to the abundance of human life now emerging from winter’s shells. Toes ready to cast those winter shoes to the back of the closet. One of my favorite places to engage my senses and gather inspiration is in downtown Boulder on a warm weekend afternoon. If you decide to indulge in some springtime wandering around Pearl Street, here are a few fun ways to practice mindfulness and enliven your senses:

  1. Sight

Try sitting and watching people come out of places where they have just treated themselves: women leaving the salon with fresh and bouncy hair, couples stepping out of a bookstore with new armfuls of inspiration, kids walking out of an ice cream shop, getting ready to take their first bite.

  1. Sound

Find somewhere to engage in some sound meditation. Hang out in front of a street musician for a while and soak up each note of music, or try sitting down by the creek and focus your attention on the newly melted water rushing by. If you are feeling like moving, take a stroll through a toy store and see what sounds you can derive from toys, chimes, and games.

  1. Smell

Try exploring these three shops with your sense of smell:

–       a spice shop

–      a tea shop

–      a store with natural beauty products and essential oils

Between these three, you can spend hours. Try to pinpoint how different smells make you feel or what they remind you of. Have fun with it!

  1. Touch

Enjoy raking through different fabrics in one a clothing store, or reconnect with the feeling of old paper in one of the many second-hand bookstores. Notice your feet pressing against the bricks and mix of hot sun with crisp air.

  1. Taste

I may have to let you decide on this one, as the sensual treats are endless. Ask yourself what draws you most: a perfect cup of coffee? A delicious handcrafted truffle? A refreshing and nourishing fresh juice? Let your taste buds explore!

Have fun and enjoy the weekend!

5 Ways to Have a More Satisfying Relationship to Food

Having trouble feeling connected to the food you eat and your relationship to nourishing yourself? Movement towards a more peaceful, honest, and effortless relationship to food can feel like a huge leap. The thought of cooking, or even knowing how to stay healthy, can feel daunting. But it doesn’t have to. Are there small changes you can make to bring yourself closer to feeling nourished by what you eat and grounded by the role preparing it takes in your daily life? Try selecting one of the following small changes towards making food a source of strength and not stress:

IMG_18601. Let your senses guide you.

And not just your taste buds. If you feel depleted but don’t know what you’re missing, try chucking the grocery list and follow your intuition. Stand in the produce section and see what colors of vegetables peak your interest. Check in with your imagination: does the sound of crunching down on an apple appeal to you more than that of snapping a carrot? Engage the memory of sounds, smells, sight, and touch in asking your body what it needs.

Another favorite shopping exercise is letting your sense of smell guide you in a specialty tea or spice shop. Savory Spice Shop in Boulder is a personal favorite. Spend at least a half hour smelling the smells and imagine all the fun ways you can integrate them into a cooking concoction. Make shopping into a playful, whole body experience. You are more likely to feel inspired rather than daunted, and your body is more likely to get the nutrients it is asking for.

2. Set aside a fixed time to plan your meals.

We’ve all been there: You are tired from a long day at work, and remember it is your turn to cook dinner. You stay in the office a while longer to scan recipes online. Then you run to the store to pick up what you need. Get home and thaw the frozen fish. then begin cooking, all with the stress of just wanting to get it done so you can have something in your stomach after a long day. No wonder the thought of cooking is stressful!

While weekly meal planning may feel time consuming, it not only ends up saving time, but a lot of expended energy. Take a few minutes on Sunday to make a schedule for the week, and then get all, or most, of your supplies before the week starts.

Maybe on the night you know you are working late, your plan is to throw a pile of veggies in the crockpot in the morning. Or maybe its to whip up some yummy tacos that you know will only take you a half hour. Whatever it is, it is going to cost you zero energy during the week in worrying, planning, and shopping because all of that is already done. Your food is already in the fridge, and you already know that you didn’t sign yourself up for an unmanageable project. Plus, once you are in the routine, you’ll notice your favorites. And then you even take out the energy of trying to learn new recipes on days when you know you don’t have the time.

3. Plan for leftovers and snacks.

Planning is not just about making dinner easier; it’s about freeing up your mental energy throughout the entire day. Planning to make enough for leftover insures that you don’t have to spend more energy, money, and time than you need to having a good lunch. Even if you don’t have enough for a whole meal, maybe there’s enough to throw atop a salad or to mix into an omelet.

Keeping a few healthy snacks around also helps insure that you don’t throw together an unhealthy meal (or go pick one up) because you’re in the middle of an emergency blood sugar crash. It’s even ok to have a little snack while you are cooking. Give yourself permission to enjoy the process by not feeling famished.

4. Bring your spirituality into the relationship.

A few words of thanks before eating reconnect you with the food in front of you. If grace isn’t your thing, it can be helpful to spend a moment thinking about the journey the food on your plate took to get there. Think about how the entirety of the universe came together in that pile of peas: the soil, the rain, the sun, the farmer, the farmer’s mother, and her mother, and hers.  Growing a handful of your own food, shopping at a farmer’s market, and eating food according to its growing season in your climate are all ways to connect with your food on a more profound level.

5. Keep it simple.

There is a universe of possibilities in the good old-fashioned fruits, veggies, and proteins you’ve always known and loved. Develop a relationship with these. And with the spices that entice you. Let each meal be a creative process of bringing together the basics in new and interesting ways. Try saying goodbye for a while to the sauces and cans and packets so that the whole foods themselves may radiate their flavor. Try not to mute them with prepared foods or condiments. It may seem difficult at first, so try starting with recipes until you get the hang of improvising from scratch.

Valparaiso, Unbound

Below is a contribution I made to a collaborative writing project with Patrycja Humienik and Callie Sumlin about the gritty, inspiring city of Valparaiso, Chile. It is also an excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Valparaiso, Barefoot. I hope you enjoy this sensual wandering. [Excerpt from Valparaiso, Unbound, Twine Magazine. Find the original at http://www.twinemagazine.com/valparaiso-unbound ]

Valparaíso was unmade. She was that artsy girl in high school who never brushed her hair, who had holes in her clothes but whose affection even the straight girls lusted after because of the way she played guitar; the way she held the edge of her sleeves up to cover her dirty finger nails like she was clutching the skin on your back; the way she sketched the raw secrets of the universe on the edge of her homework assignments if only to be lost in the depths of her backpack. Her wires hung tangled in every which direction on the verge of a dreadlock.

Her streets and sidewalks looked like they DSC06078had been sewn together last week with scraps found in a bucket of rags: tiles dropping into cracked cement into a square of marble into a patch of grass. Unwaxed and unshaven, her cracks sprouted with bitter aloe plants and swirling red blossoms in the dirtiest places where no one walked but me (or so it felt). Every spare wall of her body was tattooed with murals of love or birds, broken mirrors or communist stencil art, swirls of spray paint that everyone but she was too old to understand. Sometimes the unwashed skin of her streetlamps and benches would find itself overgrown with bursts of tile mosaics, adorning her like rubies and sapphires by admirers to whom she had barely given more than a wink. Sometimes she would surprise us all by giving one of her tiny hilly streets classy cobblestones or a dozen papaya trees or guardrail for young lovers to sit out of the eyes of all but the ocean’s.

And the sun was obsessed with her, even in winter.

She wrapped her legs around the Pacific Ocean until it was at her beck and call. She giggled as it brought her colorful crates from all over the world like long-stemmed roses, splashing playfully in hopes of tickling her feet. From every part of her body, one could look the ocean in the eyes. At night one could see its neurons bringing Valparaíso’s lights through its body, letting its waves become electric like her. Her curves folded into messy hills; there was not a patch of Valparaíso’s flesh that was not seductively rounded and voluptuous. She was a woman forever unbound by corsets, Chinese shoes, hair ribbons, whitewashed walls, and fire escapes. She was the moon that would be howled at—that would take away all sense of space and time until life was nothing but an infinite fraction of a second. They said she was the Valley of Paradise, though I knew already she had been seduced from paradise long ago. And there I stood in front of her: terrified, hungry, already obsessed.

Keep reading…

12 Quick Ways to Ground in the Senses

Grounding exercises can be helpful in many different instances, whether you are experiencing something as horrifying as a panic attack or simply feeling a little disconnected from the world around you. Finding ways to ground in the senses helps to bring you back in to the present moment, and can both calm the nervous system and help to detach from spinning thoughts.

IMG_1509

Here are some of my favorite ways to ground when one is away from home and only has a couple of minutes, or even a couple of seconds, such as in the middle of the workday (or even in the middle of a meeting!).

  1. Step into a bathroom and let your hands run under warm water in the sink. Wash them slowly while bringing awareness to the process.
  2. Take three intentional deep breaths where your mind follows each phase of your breath completely. Feel your body expending and contracting. Notice the temperature of the air passing through you.
  3. Alternating feet, tap your toes on the floor in a slow rhythm, back and forth. Let this balance your nervous system. Keep your mental focus on this rhythm.
  4. See if there is something around you that you can explore with your sense of smell—a piece of fruit, a pine cone, the lotion in your purse. If this proves helpful, you may want to consider carrying a small bottle of your favorite essential oil to smell when you feel ungrounded.
  5. Quickly scan your body to find a place that feels particularly tense. Place your hand on that part of you and feel the heat of your hand bringing warmth to that tension.
  6. Ask yourself if you feel particularly drawn to heat or cold. If heat sounds pleasant, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and bring awareness to each sip and the warmth of the mug on your hands. If coolness sounds soothing, do the same with a cold glass of water or other beverage. Notice your drink as it passes down your throat and into your belly.
  7. Look around the room you are in, noticing the four corners and where they meet the ceiling. Notice yourself in the context of the room as a whole.
  8. Pick a color, and now look around and try to find everything in the room or space around you that is that color. Let your eyes gaze softly in front of you as those colors now come forward in your consciousness.
  9. Let your mind rest in all the sounds you hear around you. Try to pick out any sounds in your field of vision and what direction they are coming from.
  10.  Let yourself stretch in a small way, even if it is stretching out your fingers. Notice each part of the muscles being stretched and how the movement effects them.
  11. Step outside for a short walk. Notice how the earth is pushing against the different parts of your feet at each point in your step.
  12. Pet a dog or cat. Feel the connection you have to the animal through simply making contact with them.

Serenity on Vinyl: How listening to music the old fashioned way can ease anxiety.

 IMG_1081

Be sure to read Serenity on Vinyl, my brand new contribution to Twine Magazine! This article highlights how putting the needle to the groove can help us to work through anxiety and stress and reconnect with the ground.

“When we invest in art, we invest in our own spirit. We invest in our inspiration, in our inner child, and in our relationship with Life in the purest sense of the word. We are telling that creative being dwelling deep inside our hearts, ‘you are important. You are worth something.’”

Read the article here.

How to Wander Aimlessly

IMG_1887

When we are in a new city, or mountain valley, or country, we find it easy to reside in the present moment. Every detail around us is new and exciting. Foreign street corners speak in dreamy song; morning dew along our backcountry trail radiates a celestial presence so new, we mistake ourselves for being under a different sky. We are mesmerized—engulfed in each moment. We find the subtle beauty in those around us. Whether street vendors or pigeons or crashing waves, we eavesdrop as though opening our ears to prayer. When we travel, we do this naturally. Because we have set the intention to discover newness, whatever it may be. We put our expectations aside, and instead approach our wanderings with curiosity. We are outside of ourselves, interested in what every turn has to offer.

The mindfulness practice of aimless wandering is a way to bring these dreamy, traveling inspirations into one’s everyday life. In many forms of meditation, we place our attention on our inward experience, such as our breath or the sensations arising in our body. When we aimlessly wander, we usually move through space (although the practice can also be done sitting), and let our senses be the focus of our thoughts. We take things in, just as they are.

IMG_1925

We connect with our inner child: naturally curious, inspired, unassuming, amused, and connected.

So why is aimless wandering a helpful practice, and how do you do it? Aimless wandering is helpful in that it grounds us in the present moment. It helps us appreciate the world around us, it slows our thoughts down, it gives us a break from anxiety, depression, worry, and stress, and by engaging our curiosity, we find ourselves naturally inspired. We may see a spike in our creativity, playfulness, and gratitude. And at the end of it all, we are guaranteed a different perspective.

There is practically no wrong way to aimlessly wander. Simply focus your attention on your senses, and explore! Take a walk. Pause to examine the things that catch your eye, your ears, or your sense of smell. Maybe you are pulled toward the swirly pattern of bark on the neighbor’s tree. Feels its texture! Let it remind you of something. Then let your thoughts go again, and keep wandering. Sit and watch the world when a bench or patch of grass calls your name. Step into a store you’ve never thought of exploring. Smell the smells. Pretend you just landed in this neighborhood from another planet, and you are seeing earth for the first time. What baffles you? What makes sense to you? What draws you in, and what repulses you? Be curious, and then let the thought go, and continue moving, without needing to draw any definitive conclusions.

IMG_1838

Wander for ten minutes on your lunch break. Wander after work, knowing you’ll end up home eventually. Wander with the dog, an equally inquisitive companion. Wander alongside your partner and family, detaching and reattaching like seaweed in the rocking tide of your curiosities. At the end, share with each other. Or journal and paint what you felt. Or just continue your practice, perhaps sitting on your porch, watching the leaves quiver in the wind.

If you are interested in some of my wanderings check out Valparaiso, Unbound, collaborative prose published in Twine Magazine.  This piece is a collection of writings by three women, including myself, and explores the wanderer’s paradise of Valparaiso, Chile.

Artist Trading Cards in Therapy

Image

Artist trading cards, or ATCs, are small, baseball card-sized works of art. They can be made from collage, paint, drawings, words, and can even include other material such as wire, fabric, glitter, feathers, etc. Traditionally, artist trading cards are just that: a card meant to be given away—sent out into the universe to find someone whom will benefit. They are unique, meaningful, and are small enough to carry in one’s wallet.

Image

Creating artist trading cards is an art therapy project I love to bring in to my work with clients. Here are some of the therapeutic outcomes of these gems:

1. Simplicity.

There is only so much one can fit onto a teeny tiny card. When we are overwhelmed by a feeling or an experience, it can be helpful to contain it to a manageable size (in this case, literally). When we only have a small card to work with, we are also forced to let go of the peripheral mental chatter and bring the essence of our feeling into focus.

For example, when I am triggered into remembering a shameful experience, it is easy to lose myself in a thunderstorm of thoughts, worries, or mental battles to escape what I am feeling. But what does this shame look like? What color would it be? What texture? If it could only say one sentence, what would it say? Allowing it to express itself on a small card helps us to process it, and it also helps us to contain it.

atc3

2. An object in transition.

Creating something that fits into a wallet can be really helpful in that it can come with us everywhere. Perhaps we want to cultivate self-love or connect with our sense of empowerment. Having a physical object that represents these things can be a powerful thing to have in your pocket. Artist trading cards and other small art therapy projects are a great way to help cultivate positive emotional experiences because you can bring them with you; they jump out at you and serve as a reminder when you need them. Once you no longer need them, you can send them back into the universe to find someone who does.

3. Letting go.

Several years ago, when I was working in an orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal, my mother (who is a talented photographer and lover of the arts) came to visit. She had the idea to photograph the children we were working with for a project. She brought their pictures to the high school in her town, and after collaborating with the art teacher, the art students were each given a photograph from which they would paint a portrait. Once they were finished, the portraits were brought back to Kathmandu and given to the children there.

The reactions of the orphaned children after this exchange were profound; for many of them, it was the first time someone had paid attention to the details of their face or had labored over a gift for them. Many of them reported feeling understood and seen by the artists whom they had never met. My mother reported a profound experience by the artists as well; many had a difficult time letting gatc4o of the projects they had worked so hard on. Feeling connected to and changed by a project and then giving it away to another person taught about community, connection with others, impermanence, and letting go.

Artist trading cards were developed in the same spirit. Creating art is immensely healing, as it helps us connect with unspoken parts of ourselves. Sharing that art can also be profound, in that it helps show us how we are not isolated in difficult experiences, but rather connected. Sometimes art can serve as a form of communication for emotions that we are unable to express with common language; it shows us that others feel the same way and it gives others the chance to grow from our work. It also helps us practice letting go of something we are attached to, an act that can ultimately help us to feel more peaceful with the ever-changing nature life.

If you come by my office, please feel free to take or trade a card with me!

Español

Página en español veniendo pronto! Para aprender mas sobre mis servicios, llame (720) 515-5184 o mande un email a rachaeluris@gmail.com.
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.
%d bloggers like this: