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Can you breathe your way to a better relationship?

If you struggle to let your guard down when it comes to intimacy, harnessing the power of your breath could help, as one writer discovers.

I both crave and fear intimacy. But as I move into my late 20s, I’m growing tired of adhering to a one-date-per-week routine or relying on red wine to release inhibitions around physical intimacy.

While intimacy does not come naturally, neither does falling asleep, managing stress, and finding relaxation - all issues that regular breathwork practice has helped me overcome.

Already familiar with the breathwork app Othership, when I saw they launched an intimacy breathwork campaign, I immediately signed up.

This program demands a level of vulnerability that surpasses previous challenges. If given the choice, however, I would much rather plunge into a bath brimming with ice cubes than suggest intimacy-building activities with a partner.

I sought the wisdom of Dr Cat Meyer, the campaign’s host and co-creator, regarding my aversion to intimacy, and she reminded me that modern life is full of stress and an incessant demand for productivity. Therefore, many of us prioritise external achievements as proof of our worth. This fixation on outward achievement comes at the price of being unable to surrender ourselves to vulnerability and acts as a blocker to authentic connection.

Eager to break my cycle of pushing potential partners away due to intimacy fears, I decided to give Othership’s intimacy challenge a red hot go.

Here’s what went down.

Intimacy and breathwork

Chances are you've tried, or at least heard of, mindfulness meditation—a practice that requires one to simply observe the breath without altering it.

Breathwork takes a slightly different approach. It requires the intentional manipulation of the breath through techniques like controlled, circular, rapid, or alternate nostril breathing, in order to influence the body's physiological state.

Once I learned how to use various breathing techniques, breathwork became a powerful tool to quickly achieve desired states like calmness, increased energy, or focus.

But can breathwork yield the same level of success when it comes to achieving intimacy?

According to Dr Meyer, breathwork has the power to enhance pleasure, arousal, and yes, even the Big O. Studies show that deep breathing releases nitric oxide, which relaxes smooth muscles, increases blood flow, and eases tension in the pelvic floor muscles.

Why it all starts with our breath

The first session slash rendezvous, called Pleasure Activation, was a 22-minute experience led by the illustrious Dr Meyer that drew inspiration from classic sex therapy techniques.

First, we had to select the “lover” who would be the giver of actions and the “lover” who would be the receiver of said actions. As the receiver, I was encouraged to surrender to sensual strokes, straddles, and slowed breathing.

Halfway through the session, I felt fidgety, driven by the uneven exchange—receiving without reciprocating—and I wanted to switch. That moment never came.

A cop-out would be to go down the horoscope route; blaming this on the Libra urge to balance the scales of fairness. More likely, this stems from something deeper-rooted intimacy issues — receiving without reciprocating makes me feel indebted and limits the sense of freedom I require in relationships.

According to Dr Meyer, there is a correlation between fears around initiating physical intimacy and our tendency to associate self-worth with productivity or achievements. Because of this, we often end up living in our heads instead of fully embracing our bodies. So, when we are encouraged to be vulnerable with others and be present in our bodies, numerous cues may arise in our minds that convey the belief that "intimacy is dangerous”. We worry about rejection, being seen as weird, stress about performance, and doubts about whether the other person is attracted to us.

In the second session, "Weaving Love," the focus shifted to synchronised breathing and intense eye contact.

Any potential rewards of building intimacy through eye contact were lost on us. I found myself torn between the extremes: too much eye contact and I felt exposed and overly invested; too little and I felt jittery, incapable of connecting with composure.

We decided to keep our eyes closed. The direct breathing exercises that followed helped curb said overthinking and allowed us to push past the discomfort as we moved into a state of co-regulation aka breathing in sync with one another.

As Dr Meyer told me, this method of breathing can help us train ourselves to self-regulate our stress levels (especially for early-stage couples or when intimacy doesn’t come naturally) and build a reference point of how intimacy can be safe.

The verdict

The benefits of intimacy breathwork vary based on your relationship stage and receptiveness.

To me, the sessions were most instrumental in helping me embrace vulnerability and let go of control. For my friends, Angela and Tony, a couple in the early stages of dating, the sessions helped them slow down in the present moment, and be attuned to each other's needs without being overcome by sexual tension.

Many of us, myself included, must first reshape our internal responses to construct a healthier framework for intimacy.

To do so, Dr Meyer emphasizes one golden rule: consistency. By making intimacy breathwork a daily or weekly practice with your partner, you can retrain your nervous system responses and build practices that contribute to longer-term, healthy relationships.

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