Downward Dog to Doggie-Style: How Yoga Can Improve Sex
Despite being a longtime sex writer who, by default, spends a lot of time thinking about sex, I’ll admit it: The oversexualization of yoga makes me feel squicky.
Lewd jokes are told about how those who are flexible yogis must be fantastic in bed. Social media feeds are filled with slim, white bodies contorting themselves into Cirque du Soleil-like inversions and arm balances. Poses are prescribed like pills, with claims that they will fix your sex life, if only you do them on the regular.
All of this does yoga—a practice meant to cultivate stillness and self-awareness—a huge disservice.
At the same time, the benefits I’ve derived from my own practice—both as a student and as a teacher—have undeniably had a positive impact on my intimate life, too. Considering the many physical and psychological factors that can influence our desire levels, our arousal, and more, this correlative relationship between yoga and sexual fulfillment is unsurprising.
How might your practice affect your bedroom activities?
Yoga teaches present-moment awareness.
The dirty dishes. The endless to-do lists. Body hate. Performance anxiety. Our racing minds can be a huge culprit when it comes to the problem of missing libidos and dissatisfying sex. Our thoughts can keep us from experiencing desire. And even when engaged in physical intimacy, we may feel too distracted by what’s going on in our heads to notice what feels good. To experience arousal.
Researchers, such as psychologist Lori Brotto, Ph.D., have studied the benefits of mindfulness exercises in service of sexual satisfaction. In her book, “Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire,” Brotto writes, “In my opinion, it is mindfulness—to be fully present with each sensation without judgment or without commentary—that I think has been missing from sex from the countless women who are dissatisfied with sex.”
Yoga is a perfect vehicle for cultivating the mindfulness so many of us are lacking. Sure, there’s asana: the physical postures. And there’s no doubt that asana can be a kind of movement meditation. But if you push yourself to explore all eight limbs of yoga, as defined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, you’ll also find practices like pranayama (breath control), dharana (concentration), and dhyana (meditation).
All of these are yoga.
I’m someone who struggled with pain during intercourse, and who was quite frustrated by her lower sex drive. I can say that the body awareness and mindfulness I developed over the course of my yoga practice helped me get to a place where I wasn’t fighting my own dang self so much during sex play.
Yoga can help ease your anxiety.
Research shows that those with anxiety disorders report worse sexual functioning than those without anxiety disorders. This makes them more likely to feel sexually inhibited.
Meanwhile, other research shows that yoga has a noticeable positive impact on those dealing with stress, depression, and anxiety. I can attest to this; it’s the number one reason I practice yoga.
In fact, some therapists speak to the yogic idea of nonattachment when it comes to treating folks with sexual anxiety. Those with orgasmic disorders tend to carry a lot of anxiety around sexual performance. I once interviewed psychotherapist Dan Pollets, MD, about this: “This anticipation of what might happen during sex can sabotage or hijack their body’s arousal,” he said. “Instead of paying attention mindfully to sensations of pleasure, they end up paying attention to fearful thoughts.”
To combat this, Pollets taught his patients how to not get attached to those thoughts about what might happen. Instead, stay focused on the relaxing and pleasurable sensations.
Yoga can help you regain a sense of agency over your body.
When I was 19, I found myself in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship. In the aftermath of that relationship, I felt that I lacked control over my own pleasure. I was afraid of intimacy.
Yoga has helped me reconnect to my body in a way nothing else ever has.
Trauma-informed yoga, in particular, shows practitioners they have agency over their body. It reminds them of that agency and helps them reclaim it.
For more on trauma-informed yoga, I recommend resources like Lara Land’s “The Essential Guide to Trauma Sensitive Yoga” and Gail Parker, Ph.D.’s “Transforming Ethnic and Race-Based Traumatic Stress with Yoga.”
Yoga can help cultivate an appreciation for all your body is capable of.
Research shows that when individuals are unhappy with their bodies, they experience sexual anxiety, which makes it difficult for them to enjoy sex. And in an age in which systemic anti-fat bias and internalized fatphobia runs rampant, this brand of sexual anxiety is especially common.
I’m not about to tell you that yoga has cured my complicated relationship with my body. (Buahahah sob.) What it did, however, is shift my focus from what my body looks like to what it is capable of.
And sure. Asana can make you more flexible.
When I first started practicing yoga postures, I couldn’t touch my toes in a forward fold. Now, thanks to hip openers like pigeon pose and baddha konasana and hamstring stretches like pyramid pose and downward-facing dog, my hips and hamstrings are perpetually open.
So yes, I do feel that a greater number of sexual positions are now more accessible.
Finally, while yoga is about much more than the postures, as with any physical activity, it can lead to improved endurance and blood flow—both of which lead to better sex.
When I teach yoga classes, I like to tell the other practitioners to listen to their bodies more than they listen to me.
The same applies to sex. Listen to your body. Pay attention to what feels good. Take in that information and share it with your partners. The more you strengthen that mind-body connection, the better sex will be.