Intimacy and Ecstasy
When we're young, and especially if we're in the treacherous waters of the dating pool, having a true spiritual connection in a sexual relationship can seem like asking for the moon. "In your teens, 20s, and even 30s, sexual desire can be wrapped around getting a partner, having a partner, moving in, building a life together," Ogden notes. In treating relationships as something to be accomplished or achieved—much as we often approach our careers at this time in our lives—and having specific expectations for what we want, we're likely blocking the way to a more authentic connection between spirit and sexuality.
"When I talk to people in their 20s, there's a powerful sense of the way things should be versus the way things are," says Jeon, 46. To counter that, Ogden suggests meditation—with your partner or on your own—with "the intention that you will learn about your next step in connecting your sexuality with the larger meanings in your life. What is the next step that your body is leading you to?"
This means overcoming the mistrust of the body that most of us have been taught. "We are told over and over that we learn through our minds, not our bodies, so sometimes it takes a process before you can fully trust the body and learn to separate egotistical tendencies from life-enhancing ones," explains Jorge Ferrer, Ph.D., an associate professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. "If an experience—including sexual experiences—is egotistical, normally it gives you short-term satisfaction and later a sense of emptiness. If it's life-enhancing, there's a sense of satisfaction with the body."
True self-acceptance is a crucial part of combining yoga and sexuality in the service of a richer spiritual life. It's also something that Americans frequently stumble over, particularly during our youth, claiming that we don't feel any shame about our bodies or our desires. But, says Ogden, who's seen thousands of women who say they want more meaningful sex, "guilt often gets in the middle of the desire for spiritual meaning." Whitwell has observed that almost everyone feels self-conscious or "bodily inhibited" to some degree. Which means that it may be necessary to take a hard look at how you're defining what's "normal" when it comes to sex. "You want to begin to shift the focus on the body from its being either dirty or shameful, or as a tool to attract someone, to the body as sacred—not in an inviolate, virginal sense, but as something to treat responsibly," Ogden explains.
And, how, exactly, do you make such a shift to overcome inhibitions or discomfort with the full expression of your sexuality and spirituality? (After all, talking about God often feels more taboo than sharing every detail of our sex lives.) First, says Ogden, recognize that we're all bombarded with "cultural messages that sex and spirit are very separate. Those messages are everywhere, so if you've come to believe them, it doesn't mean you're strange or sick." Women in particular may still hold ideas about what "good" girls should and shouldn't do, she adds.