First published in the Elephant Journal on May 24, 2014.
Yes, I just put the words Mindful and Masturbation in the same sentence.
Personally I prefer the term “self-pleasure” because the etymology of the word masturbation refers to defiling oneself with one’s hands.*
By self-pleasure, I mean using any and all of your embodiment faculties—touch, movement, sound, breath and any sensory organ—for the purpose of bringing pleasure to yourself. Self-pleasure can include touching the genitals and other erogenous parts of the body, but it doesn’t have to.
As a somatic sex educator, I teach my clients to engage their full humanness and bodies through embodiment practices combining pleasure and mindfulness; to express and access their erotic intelligence. Our erotic intelligence informs our wild or generative nature, and supports our ability to be embodied.
This is the part of us that lets us know we’re creative beings; that we’re animals; that we’re alive!
Being embodied and accessing and expressing our wildness, or erotic nature, is made potent by also engaging in mindfulness practice. Mindfulness practice is one of the most powerful therapeutic and educational modalities we possess.
Researchers and neuroscientists have been studying the affects of mindfulness and its benefits for several decades. In one article,** researchers suggest a definition of mindfulness that incorporates attention and awareness with acceptance.
Daniel Siegel, a neuroscientist studying mindfulness practices, claims that “With mindfulness practice, we may become more nonjudgmental, develop equanimity, be more aware of what is going on as it is happening, and develop the capacity to label and describe with words our internal world.” (The Mindful Therapist, p. 31)
Neuroscientists have also suggested that mindfulness may be cultivated through practices other than meditation.***
This is where mindful masturbation comes in. Being fully present during masturbation, or self-pleasure practice, can be very beneficial for the practitioner.
Not only does it cultivate more awareness of what is happening during arousal, but it also creates more acceptance for our bodies and our sexuality.
Another benefit is that self-pleasuring is a practice that combines mindfulness with embodiment. Not only does it feel good, but it also benefits our whole being and our well being.
Mindful masturbation helps the practitioner feel the body more, often leading to more mental clarity and feeling more grounded. The practice also helps cultivate self-love, which leads to greater confidence.
Mental clarity, groundedness and confidence are key ingredients to knowing what we want and how to go after it.
When we bring more mindfulness into the body, we can be more present in all that we do.
Mindful masturbation is a wonderful way to bring together the generative energy of the body (embodiment) with the brilliance of our mind/awareness (mindfulness).
Here are some tips for starting your own practice (or refining an existing one):
1. Create an intention each time you practice.
The combination of placement of attention and the focus of an intention are fundamental pieces for creating mindfulness practice. Example intentions might be “I am fully present to sensations in my body;” “I welcome all parts of myself, including my sexual, generative energy;” “My practice is about noticing my sensations, feelings and thoughts, while remaining goalless.”
2. Set a timer for an amount of time that is realistic for you.
This may be five minutes. Ideally, your practice might be somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes, but start with five if that’s all you’ve got.
3. Find a location and environment that is conducive to you feeling pleasure and relaxation.
This may be difficult if you have a hard time finding alone time in your home or schedule. Even five minutes in the shower can work. If you have a partner, ideally you could ask your partner for time alone in your bedroom. This practice will likely benefit your sex life and connection with your partner(s).
4. Commit to practicing over a period of time to reap greater benefit.
Like any mindfulness practice or meditation, the benefits are cumulative and have a greater impact the longer you practice. You can start small with three 20-minute practices a week for two weeks and build your commitment from there.
5. Mix up your practice each time so that it does not become habitual or mundane.
Part of what keeps our interest and awareness is variety and paying attention to that variety.
When we form habits, we start to know what to expect, making it easier for us to go on auto-pilot and check out. Use your breath, sound, touch and movement to create a different practice each time. Sometimes you may be laying down, others standing, and others dancing or all of the above. Sometimes breathe fast; others slow and deep. Experiment with sound—moans, grunts, screams, “dirty” talk, or affirmations.
If you always touch yourself the same way, try new types of touch in new places on your body. If you always masturbate using a sex toy or vibrator, try some practices without those or vice versa. Dress in sexy clothes and have fun taking them off like you might with a lover. Engage your curiosity to help your practice remain mindful and fun!
6. Savor your practice.
A key aspect of this practice is savoring. Take time to feel your body after the practice; to deeply feel the sensations you’ve created—pleasure, relaxation, arousal, etc.
Use the last five to ten minutes of your practice (or one minute if you’re doing a five minute practice) to lay, sit or stand in stillness and just breath deep and savor what you’ve created in your body (similar to savasana in a yoga class).
Notice what’s different in your body/mind from when you started the practice. It’s very common for this practice to start as “doing” and to end in “being.”
Recall your intention for your practice. Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t follow your intention or if you got distracted a lot. Simply recalling it creates the opportunity for you to place your attention on your intention once again.
7. Be patient and compassionate with yourself.
Like other mindfulness practices, this can be difficult. You may be flooded with thoughts, distractions, and resistance. Just notice that and keep coming back to the practice and yourself.
This is why it is called practice and not perfection.
And remember to create pleasure during your practice!
* Online Dictionary.
** Bishop et al., Clin Psychol Sci Prac 11: 230–241, 2004
*** Brown and Ryan, Clin Psychol Sci Prac 11: 242–248, 2004