3 Steps To Ramp Up Your Sex Drive Post-partum

This article orignally appeared on The Baby Chick

Feeling sexy can be a monumental task during the hormonal ups and downs of pregnancy and postpartum. Not only is feeling sexy possible during this time, but it’s important. Sexual intimacy produces oxytocin–the “love” hormone–but sexual intimacy also requires oxytocin for lubrication. Without that feeling of love and adoration–for yourself as much as your partner–sex can feel labor-intensive (no pun intended) and anti-climactic. Now let’s be clear–that “feeling” of love and adoration is not usually our baseline state when we’re running on three, maybe four hours of sleep and intervals of diapers and crying. BUT, it is possible to learn to cultivate your own sex drive after baby, and harness your hormones for pleasure, as long as you’re willing to take a few preliminary steps.

As women, we naturally understand the phenomenon of ebb and flow that accompanies hormones, but we don’t get much information on how to work with these fluctuations rather than simply tolerating them until they pass. We want, need, believe and do wildly different things during our hormonal intervals, and these hormones can be harnessed like horses pulling a chariot using your food, rest and movement choices. Bottom line: getting in the mood requires getting in the present to help you feel like a tigress more often than not.

1. Tending to your nutrition

Hate to say it but caffeine, alcohol, and sugar are sex saboteurs. These substances provide instant gratification to our fatigue, stress, and fluctuating emotions, but ultimately further scramble the hormones that were out of whack to begin with.

Appetite, cravings and digestion are all tied to your hormones. This means that what you want to eat and what you need to be eating fluctuate, and sometimes it’s hard to interpret the body’s messages. Bottom line, you’ve got to keep your blood sugar balanced. That means eating regularly and well. You need fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbs and a source of protein. You need lots of water throughout the day. And guess what? So does your child! Whether or not you’re breastfeeding, there’s a consistency and quality to feeding that you’re tracking in your child. It’s 100% easier to put yourself in a relaxed state to feed and encourage your child to eat when YOU feel nourished.

If you have identified this as an area of need, get help. Enroll your partner in the morning to make breakfast and play with the little one while you eat. After baby’s bedtime, prep the next day’s meals for yourself. Have carrots and apples and peanut butter and hummus on-hand and ready to go. Eating enough to feel satisfied, but not so much you feel bloated happens when you’re present with your food. Turn off the TV, put down your phone, and the 5-10 minutes you have to yourself can actually feel like enough. For a more extensive understanding of the hormone-food connection, check out Woman Code by Alisa Vitti. Balanced blood sugar is the foundational step to being able to feel anything other than NEED. When your basic need of sustenance is met, you can get on to feeling what you WANT.

2. Tending to your sleep

We could all use more sleep, especially new moms. There are a few realities in the first months of motherhood, and sometimes longer, that must be faced fearlessly. Lack of sleep is one of them, and heightened stress levels are another. In the midst of short sleep intervals and a whole lot of physical, emotional and mental output throughout the day, deep relaxation practices are an indispensable resource for your wellness.

The good news is, you can practice deep rest in a few minutes. Longer is better, but doing the practices is what really counts. Start by feeling your breath. This simple check-in can immediately restore a sense of ease. You are, after all, entirely dependent on oxygen, and in a heightened stress or deep fatigue state, oxygenation tanks. Breathe in and out slowly five or six times. Then bring attention to your body — your bones, your muscles, your skin. Where are you gripping? Where are you numb? Does your body want movement? Water? A gentle stretch?

 

Little check-ins like this, throughout the day, can happen with a baby in your arms. A longer check-in like this at night before bedtime can also encourage deeper, more satisfying sleep. Social media is the antithesis of sleep, and television is another thief of restfulness and calm. Try checking in with yourself and pushing pause on everything else right now. These moments remind you that you are right here, right now, and empower you to feel nourished and cared for–the ultimate aphrodisiac.

3. Tending to your Self

Moving your body is the single best thing you can do for sex drive. I list this step last because it will be bolstered by Steps # 1 and 2. What I’m suggesting here is not to take a kickboxing class, or even exercising (although that should be part of your program, too) because often those practices are depleting. I’m actually suggesting that you take time to move yourself.

Put on your favorite album and dance, step into the grass barefoot and do cartwheels, jump on your bed! Get your feel-good-chemical cocktail on from a place of abandon, playfulness, and self-gratification.

With a new baby, no matter how joyful and enriching the experience, there is a massive increase of obligation and output. This is depleting of what is called in Yoga, ojas–your vital essence. Ojas is considered the key to your vitality and longevity and is embodied in us as reproductive fluid — literally the lubricant that makes procreation possible. If you love to dance, dance! Get a babysitterand go take a class. If you love to take baths, take a bath — or better yet, book a spa day! What gets your juices flowing? Think about it. This is a non-negotiable part of your week.

When mama’s happy, everybody’s happy, because you are the heartbeat of the household. Your sense of being held and nourished will amplify your ability to hold and nourish tenfold. Your self-care matters. Feeling joy and ease in your body matters. You have been transformed by the birth of your baby, and now it’s time to harness that powerful experience and fuel your passion for life. Keep it simple! The objective is that it feels good, so if money’s tight, invest in a bath bomb, request an hour to yourself and make a special playlist. Make the bathroom your sanctuary, or, hell, your closet! Make your space sacred and it will be sacred. Love on yourself, and you will be ready and receptive for your partner to love on you.

What Orgasm And Birth Have In Common

*This article originally appeared on The Baby Chick*

Beautiful-girl-have-orgazm-466051112_1256x838.jpeg

Sex makes babies. That much we know. And while sex and childbirth don’t seem to have too much in common other than one preceding the other, in fact, there are several noteworthy similarities for those who are expecting. Just like breathing, orgasm and birth are events which happen in large part beyond our control, but in which we can actively participate and have an impact on the outcome.

Surrender and Engagement

Two seemingly opposed qualities enhance both the orgasmic and the birth process and those are surrender and engagement. Surrender is one of the most challenging qualities to embody as a human. Life is, ultimately, out of our control, but we make concerted efforts to keep our bodies looking a certain way, to do our best work and succeed, to maintain safe living spaces. In other words, we are working very hard everyday to control our circumstances. We cannot, however, prevent injury or a layoff or a catastrophic flood.

This is where Engagement comes in. By engaging with the physical sensations as passing events, multi-layered experiences, and curious albeit harmless phenomena, we can more easily surrender to uncomfortable (in the case of labor) or overwhelming (often in the case of orgasm) experiences. This psychological surrender is crucial to staying present. Getting clear with oneself about what the “hang-up” is–maybe it’s the mess that we’re worried about, the strange sounds uncontrollably pouring from our bodies. Whatever it is just notice that it’s happening and engage with it.

The way we experience sensation is subjective. All of the senses are subject to individualized chemical combinations, tolerance, genetics and experience. While you might think Sriracha is way too spicy, your spouse douses it on everything for “flavor.” Now rather than them being “wrong” and you being “right,” you’re each having an individual experience. Sex is the same. And, yes, even birth is subjective. You have to know your body intimately in order for orgasm and birth to be empowering.

Anxiety

Anxiety is the number one inhibitor of sexual pleasure, and the reason for that is the body tightens and movement is restricted when we experience anxiety. Physiologically, anxiety is a manifestation of stress over something we cannot control. Whenever we are “bracing” for something we are restricting normal biological patterns of movement, impulse and response, a category to which both birth and orgasm belong. If there has been physical pain or emotional shame around sex or the sexual organs, orgasm and birth are going to be complicated. Muscular tension is the nervous system’s response to stimulus (aka stress,) and chronic tension can indicate an internalized, frozen stress response. The defining characteristic of both orgasm and birth is muscular contraction AND release. If our musculature is not supple enough to release, we won’t experience climax, we won’t release a baby from the womb. Pleasure decreases and pain increases.

The emotional reality of orgasm and birth must also be addressed. In her book, “Sex That Works,”self-professed Loveologist Wendy Strgar posits that the foundation of lasting pleasure and satisfaction is feeling. A willingness to feel is tantamount satisfaction because what feeling really is presence. A willingness to feel means one is willing to be here, now, with exactly what is happening. This way of being is actually quite rare and hard to come by, because it means feeling it all–the good and the “bad.” Losing control and expressing whatever fear or need or frustration that arises is fundamental to experiencing freedom in the body and in the mind. The more we restrict ourselves from fully expressing our needs and emotions, the less available we are to deal with the present moment, because at a primal level we don’t feel safe.

In a scientific study about the physiology of orgasm, researches reported that not only did certain areas of the brain light up, but several areas of the brain shut down. “‘Shutdowns in the brain’s prefrontal cortex appears crucial… ‘It’s the seat of reason and behavioral control. But when you have an orgasm, you lose control.’ Regions called the temporal lobes also showed damped activity. In fact, the less activity these regions showed, the more sexually aroused the women felt.” In order to experience release and deep pleasure, the prefrontal cortex (reason, judgment, rationale) must be turned off. Sex and birth are not intellectual experiences, they are beastly and beautiful and body-based.

A great deal of the work of orgasm and birth is done for you physically. The proper hormones (oxytocin and adrenalin) are released at the right time, and contractions are paced for optimum experience, as long as we are willing participants. The arduous task of both experiencing sexual fulfillment and having a fulfilling birth experience is to get out of our own way psychologically and emotionally. The human body is fairly ingenious, and learning to trust the body’s cues is no small task in a culture obsessed with “mind over matter” and “grin and bear it.” When pain becomes a part of sex and pleasure is no longer a part of birth, we have to ask ourselves where the obstacle exists in the mind and in the heart. In order to have a sense of freedom and empowerment in both our sex and birth experiences, we must learn to trust the body, to feel it all and let go.

We don’t have to be feeling “good” in order to feel love. In fact, a lot of being in love has to do with realizing you don’t always feel good–relationships are complicated–but there is an underlying commitment and desire to be with another person. Love is not easy, but it is a powerful bonding agent, and it shows up in your body as oxytocin.

Orgasms are difficult to define, let alone reverse-engineer. A few blueprints, however, have already been sketched out.

First, stimulating the genitals sends electrical impulses along three main paths–the pelvic, hypogastric and pudendal nerves.

Next, these titillating signals enter the spinal cord at the base of the spine and zip up to brain regions that respond to genital sensations.

Then other parts of the brain leap into action. Some send signals back down to the body with certain instructions–lubricate the vagina, stiffen the penis, pump blood harder, breathe faster. The intensity builds to a crescendo, and just like a long-awaited sneeze, tension is released in an explosive rush. The heart rate doubles. In women, the uterus contracts rhythmically; in men, sperm-carrying semen is propelled out of the body. And somehow, by mechanisms not yet understood, the brain perceives all this activity as a darn good feeling.

They found that orgasms elicit strong activity in the nucleus accumbens, the reward center, which also lights up in response to nicotine, chocolate, cocaine and music; in the cerebellum, which helps coordinate muscle tension; and parts of the hypothalamus, which releases oxytocin, the trust and social-bonding hormone. Intriguingly, areas of the cortex that respond to pain also responded during orgasm. “Perhaps it’s related to the fact that people often have pained expressions at the time of orgasm,” Komisaruk says.

The amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, and the hippocampus, which deals with memory, light up too. Holstege’s group has also studied the sexually stimulated brain, and his findings suggest that orgasms are not just about how the brain lights up, but also about where it shuts off.
There were several regions of activation, but the most striking result, Georgiadis says, was how certain regions in the front of the brain shut down during orgasm, especially one just behind the left eyeball. Researchers have long noticed that damage to this area–the lateral orbitofrontal cortex–can leave people with wildly antisocial and impulsive tendencies, including hypersexuality.

Shutdowns in the brain’s prefrontal cortex appears crucial, Georgiadis adds. “It’s the seat of reason and behavioral control. But when you have an orgasm, you lose control.” Regions called the temporal lobes also showed damped activity. In fact, the less activity these regions showed, the more sexually aroused the women felt. These deactivations might explain the appeal of autoerotic asphyxiation, the researchers say. Depriving a brain of blood during sex not only provides a dangerous thrill, but also shuts down key brain regions, leading to addictive orgasmic euphorias.

Feeling is not just in reference to emotions, but also sensation. We often experience a physical response to external circumstances before registering emotion or even conscious thoughts about a situation. And because of our cultural priority on achievement and consistency, most of us have learned to become less sensitive to physical sensation. How else would we be able to sit in office chairs and withstand fluorescent light and restrictive clothing? The HeartMath Institute has stated that the body responds seven times faster than the brain to stimulus–both internally (endocrine system) and externally (motor function.) This means that when we shut down that pathway, our brain is not getting the information it needs–it may actually be getting incorrect information. Muscular tension in the hips and shoulders, for example, may indicate to the nervous system a threat is imminent as opposed to, “I’m tired of sitting in this chair and have poor posture.”

Pain Management

In general, we think orgasm is the result of penetration, build up, climax. For men, this is generally the case. Women’s bodies, however, operate–well, differently.

Birth is a whole lot more than a gush of water, writhing in pain, and then a baby. What we need to be talking about is the fact that the same exact parts, hormones and psychological techniques are required for a woman to enjoy her body’s capacity to roll through several orgasms in a row, and her ability to ride the waves of contractions during labor and birth a child without excessive pain.

“An orgasm is a major event for the body in either gender, involving huge coordination between the genitals, the organs, the hormones, and the brain. The mechanism of female orgasm is actually a series of rapid, rhythmic contractions. And they’re not just in the vagina: an orchestra of pulses go through your genitals, anus, uterus, and pelvic floor all at once, extremely rapidly.” (Ref.)

Not only are these sensations out of the ordinary, but the body parts put on high alert, the body parts having the experience are those which are the most covered up, clamped down, least discussed, at least with any sort of rawness or realism.

 

Home Practice: How to Begin

"How do I start a home practice?" is an oft-asked question in the yoga world. Initially, figuring out how to do yoga on your own can be a mystifying, overwhelming, and even nerve-wracking process. For many, home practice is the ultimate “come to Kali” moment; it’s just you and yourself—truly and inescapably. And with no teacher to tell you what to do, uncertainty, lethargy, frustration, and distractions often prevail. Plus, there’s no way to know if you’re going to do the right thing and no way to know how long you're meant to do that "thing" for. There are so many options! Why even bother?

For one, home practice is a radical form of self-care. A bold declaration of self-empowerment, self-acceptance, and self-awareness. After all, following someone else’s cues and direction is usually a heck of a lot easier than coming up with your own way of doing things. It’s in our nature to question the validity of things, including our own capabilities, and sometimes, within gaps of uncertainty, to allow someone else to step in and take control of the decision-making process is just simpler. But imagine setting aside time every day to honor the part of you that feels deeply, to acknowledge what you know on a deep and undeniable level, to facilitate a trusting—even reverent—relationship with your body. That is the power of home practice.

How to Get Started

Let’s make this simple. Have you ever left a class thinking, “That was exactly what I needed today"? A really great class or workshop can serve as the spark that ignites your home practice. Take something you love home with you and recreate it the best you can, almost like cooking from a recipe. In her book "Yoga, Mind, Body & Spirit," Donna Farhi offers a really lovely comparison between yoga and cooking—in both cases, we need to learn fundamentals, and we also need to familiarize ourselves with the ingredients and the ways in which the ingredients complement each other. That's where teachers and classes come in: they introduce us to the ingredients, and once we get familiar with them, it’s time to get creative and cook for ourselves. And that's when things get really interesting!

Sometimes a great yoga class is simply the result of the perfect mix of ingredients—the teacher, time of day, sequence, playlist, and vibe. Home practice presents the perfect opportunity to distill the essence of this recipe. The work will be to examine these ingredients and make them your own through a process of self-inquiry. The first step? Get on your mat and experiment!

But maybe you're thinking “I just can’t focus on my own for that long!”—but how long are we actually talking here? Home practice doesn't have to take 90 minutes; 10 to 20 minutes is plenty to start. After all, it's important to be realistic. The practice you truly need might take only 15 minutes, and you can always go to a class later that day, or the next day, and find even more interesting ingredients to play with. Soon, the amount of time you practice on your own will grow (I promise!).

And if you enjoy yoga classes for their social qualities, I offer you this: While gathering in groups does generate connection, within the context of your home practice you'll have a unique opportunity to connect with yourself. You might even discover that you enjoy taking some time out to be alone. When my home practice first got going it was almost exclusively about that: a time to close my door, turn off the phone, and have quiet (or music, or mantra) for an hour. I realized that I had a lot on my plate, and I often felt depleted. Home practice was an opportunity to create the quiet I so craved. I didn’t need much more than a few minutes to feel like I had gotten "my time" in. 

No More Excuses 

Once I cultivated a home practice that was tailored to my needs, I also found that my list of excuses for not practicing grew considerably shorter. (This may actually be one of the less-talked-about reasons for not starting a home practice—it forces us to take responsibility!) I had often used my busy schedule as an excuse for not getting on my mat. If there are no classes I can get to when I have time, I can blame my lack of yoga—something outside of myself— for all of my stress, anxiety, and malaise. Except, with a home practice I discovered that the "I don't have time" excuse is a lot harder to justify. Any time that can be classified as “killing time” is perfect for practice, and just that well-used 5-, 10-, 15-minute practice session can ripple out into the rest of the day in profound ways.  

Deciding What to Practice 

My yoga practice actually started at home—granted I was following along with Patricia Walden and Shiva Rea DVDs, but I was in the privacy of my bedroom having a personal experience. When I left home for college and began taking classes in studios, "going to class" took over my understanding of practice. I was learning so much, and loving it!  A few years later I completed my teacher training and soon after I started teaching full time. I got to a point where my schedule (and energy levels) made getting to class a challenge, but more than that, I wasn't getting what I needed at the studio anymore. I found what I needed by once again getting on my mat in the privacy of my bedroom, with nothing else to attend to but my own experience. I first practiced a yin sequence that I remembered from a class, and afterward, I felt incredibly calm and nourished. That became the anchor in my week; every Wednesday around 4 pm, I gave myself a yin practice, and the rest evolved from there.  

These days, I generally practice on my own four to six times a week; I stretch my hips and legs for a few minutes, I practice agni sara, surya namaskar (sun salutations), a standing-pose series, backbends, relaxation, and meditation. Sometimes I scale back (depending on how much time and energy I have) and just focus on surya namaskar, pranayama, and meditation. Sometimes I just lie on my back in supta baddha konasana (reclined bound angle pose) and breathe deeply until I feel my body ask for something else. There is tremendous power in staying still until you know exactly what needs to happen.  

Keep It Fresh

Your needs change, and your practice will need to change along with those needs. A couple of years ago I felt my practice needed a jolt and I began practicing Mysore style. In this form of asana practice students are taught a full sequence of postures (starting with the Ashtanga primary series) piece by piece and expected to memorize what they’ve learned each day. Students arrive at the shala (studio) with mat in hand and sequence in mind and body, and work through their set of poses until the teacher determines they are ready to take on more. It is a humbling experience, especially if you started out going to mixed-level classes with a “bring-it-on” attitude like many of us have done. However, Mysore-style practice also sets the expectation that you are the real teacher; you are responsible for working with the sequence in a way that keeps you safe, and you set the pace each day based on where you are in mind, body, spirit.  

Lessons from Mysore-Style Practice 

Mysore-style practice taught me to be patient, present, and loving—qualities that have been invaluable when it comes to my home practice. I had to learn to be brutally honest with myself and my needs. On days when I was sore and sleepy (and definitely not in the mood to get up at 5 am), I had to learn to breathe and move with it, not against it, to focus on giving myself what I really needed in those moments of struggle. I was blessed with a teacher who reminded me to let go of expectations, that the only thing that mattered was getting to my mat. Mysore turned out not to be what I needed every day, but for me it solidified the notion that consistency is key, and when it comes to personal practice, "personal" is the operative word. I’ve since returned to my home practice with a renewed confidence in myself and my ability to give myself what I need. What I still love most about the Ashtanga practice is that its promise is so simple and so clear: "Practice, and all is coming."

Just Do It

And that’s the best advice I can give: Just practice! Keep it simple, and do what you know. For example, that might look like surya namaskar A and/or B, followed by five minutes of nadi shodanam (alternate nostril breathing), and ten minutes of meditation. No one’s watching, and no one’s rating your poses against anyone else's. It's either “Yes, I did my practice today” or “No, I did not do my practice today”—not “Well, I didn’t hold handstand, and my warrior I felt a little off.” If we are truly cultivating equanimity in body, mind, and spirit through the practice of yoga, then practice needs to shift with our changing bodies and minds so that ultimately it serves the spirit. Practice is about taking the time to gather ourselves into something that resembles wholeness. And only you know what that means. So practice. All is coming.