Could advice from a former Buddhist monk help improve your sex life? That’s the implication of “The Passion Book: A Tibetan Guide to Love and Sex,” originally written in 1938 by Tibetan Buddhist monk Gendun Chopel.
This collection of brief but sensual poems also serves as a joyful – and explicit – guide to sex.
“Gendun Chopel became a Buddhist monk when he was in his early teens but gave up his vows, including the vow of celibacy, when he was in his early 30s,” explains his biographer Donald S. Lopez Jr., who, with co-translator Thupten Jinpa, has brought the book to contemporary readers. “As a result, ‘The Passion Book’ is filled with the exuberance of someone discovering the long-forbidden joys of lovemaking for the first time.”
This excitement spills over into beautiful verses such as, “As long as the horse of the senses runs wild/And has the power to enter the land of passion/One should rely on the enjoyment of lust.”
But Gendun Chopel’s insight runs deeper than just poetry. The book is divided into chapters like “Acts of Kissing,” “Describing Modes of Pleasure,” “Playing with the Organ” and “Various Methods of Copulation.” He views sexual pleasure as a human right and stresses the importance of female consent and equality – a view that seems right at home in today’s #MeToo movement.
Bringing mindfulness to the bedroom
Reading “The Passion Book” reminded me of the importance of awareness in sex. Although what the West views as “mindfulness” is a much more simplistic version of Gendun Chopel’s tantric Buddhism, it can be a good starting place for couples who wish to infuse their sex lives with more focus and passion.
“Mindfulness can be described as present moment, nonjudgmental awareness,” explained sex therapist Rachel Needle. “It is when we pay attention on purpose and deliberately. And it’s about how we pay attention – nonjudgmentally and compassionately towards ourselves.”
But can practicing mindfulness actually help bring awareness in the bedroom, as well as on the meditation cushion? Yes, says Lori A. Brotto, executive director of the Women’s Health Research Institute in British Columbia. Her research has found that sexual mindfulness can be useful in a variety of situations, including compulsive sexual behaviors, intrusive sexual thoughts, sexual aversion, low desire, chronic genital pain and erectile dysfunction.
“Mindfulness allows us to tune into sexual sensations with more intensity during arousal,” said Brotto. “People may choose to pay attention to points of contact between their body and their partner’s. They can open their eyes and take note of visual sensations. They can tune into their own heart rate as they become aroused. And they can ‘catch’ the mind when it becomes distracted in thoughts and guide it back to their body and breath.”
From a neuroscience perspective, mindfulness can have lasting cognitive effects, said certified sexuality educator Heidi Crockett. “Mindfulness strengthens executive function, the part of the brain that ‘thinks about thinking’ and helps us overcome automatic responses,” she explained in an email. “It also improves executive skills like response flexibility (being able to pause between impulse and action) and fear modulation (unlearning a fear). These skills can be directly translated into the bedroom.”
Like any new skill, mindfulness takes practice. “In our eight-week group program, we guide participants through a body scan, or mindfulness of the breath, or mindfulness of thoughts,” explained Brotto in an email. “We do an exercise of mindfully tuning in to emotional or physical pain. After four weeks of consistent practice, we start to integrate these exercises into progressively more sexual activities – first alone (pairing a body scan with touching oneself) and then with a partner (focusing on sensations).”
If you want to try incorporating mindfulness into your sex life, you don’t necessarily need to take a class, but you should start outside the bedroom. “It’s important to practice mindfulness outside of sexual scenarios to build the muscle memory for it, so to speak,” advised sex therapist Sara Nasserzadeh. “You could start by breathing, going inside the body to check what does and doesn’t feel comfortable and pleasurable. Focusing on each sense as you take a shower, walk down the street, and even eat, can all add to sharpening your senses and strengthening your mindfulness muscles.”
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By using such techniques and then taking things even further with the insights found in “The Passion Book,” you may be able to increase passion and intensity with your partner, what Gendun Chopel calls, “finding the bliss of heaven in your bed.” As Brotto says, “Mind-knowing sex is the key to mind-blowing sex. Rewarding and fulfilling sex is simply not possible without mindfulness.”
Ian Kerner is a licensed couples therapist, writer and contributor on the topic of sex for CNN.