Come Home to Your Body: Sex, Kegels, Jazz, Trauma, and Healing — A Conversation with Anaïs Salibian
Share This Article:
Anaïs Salibian practices and teaches Rosen Method Bodywork. In Rosen work, the practitioner lays hands on the client, using gentle touch and words rather than manipulation, to help the client discover and release patterns of tension. This allows the client to experience greater emotional freedom and more joy, and often results in healing from chronic health conditions. Anaïs is also a writer, and offers classes on writing memoirs and writing to heal.
Anaïs has been my dear friend for twenty years, but I only recently began to understand the essence of her work. In both her writing and Rosen work, what Anaïs is helping people to do could be described as waking up, inhabiting their bodies, reaching embodied self-awareness, coming home to their bodies, or being fully present in their lives. My goal in this conversation was to explore what this means for women — in particular, how coming home to our bodies can affect our kegel practice and our experience of sex. Most importantly, I wanted to learn more about how to recognize, and follow, the path that leads us home to our bodies. In our culture, most of us don’t even know that such a path exists.
Anaïs has experienced great hardship in her life. She was raised by survivors of the Armenian genocide; when Anaïs was a child, atrocities and murder were everyday conversation topics at the family dinner table. As an adult, Anaïs is a two-time cancer survivor. In spite of her history, Anaïs radiates a sense of calm, love, and safety. She says it’s her ability to fully inhabit her body that allows her to live in the present moment and feel good, even in the hard times.
Anaïs lives with her husband in Rochester, New York. She may be reached at www.awareness-heals.com or 585-586-1590.
You may listen to my recorded interview with Anaïs here, or read the edited transcript of our conversation, below.
Listen to the recorded interview here:
Kegel Queen: What you’re helping people to do could be described as waking up, inhabiting their bodies, or helping them reach embodied self-awareness. You’re helping people be fully present in their lives.
Anaïs Salibian: Yes. I think when people talk about being fully present, it’s this they’re talking about.
Kegel Queen: Let me address how this is connected with my work as the Kegel Queen. You do much better kegels — any physical practice is so much more effective with awareness and with integration. We as women so often are really cut off from our bodies, in particular this part of the body. Integrating and inhabiting this part of the body is part of what I help women do. What you’re doing is so huge and so much more; [it] addresses integration on so many more levels. Also, one of the things that I love to help women with is having better sex. And it’s worlds apart, particularly something so pleasurable and so physical as sex, when you’re really in your body, really inhabiting your body, fully experiencing that moment. That’s why I wanted to bring this conversation specifically to the Kegel Queen blog.
How long have you been practicing and teaching Rosen Method Bodywork, and what is Rosen method?
Anaïs Salibian: I became a practitioner in 1996. I’ve had a private practice since then, and over the years took several steps of training to be a teacher of it, so that now I’m a senior teacher, which means I can train teachers as well as practitioners.
I have to admit that the first three years that I took Rosen training I couldn’t get it. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t get it, I was driving my teachers crazy. [Laughs.] And I didn’t realize that it was because I wasn’t embodied. I wasn’t in my body. I was forty-five when I started the training.
One day, I landed in my body — and the whole world changed. The way I describe it is that I had been living in a black and white movie, and all of a sudden the movie was technicolor. And after that I got everything I ever wanted in my life. But since that moment, which was kind of mysterious to me, there’s been a lot of neuroscience research that explains what all that is, how that happened, and what happened, and what we’re actually working with.
Kegel Queen: I want to hear about that science.
What happens on a simple material level in a Rosen session, just so people can picture what that practice is?
Anaïs Salibian: If you can remember or imagine a time that you were going to have feelings that you didn’t necessarily want to have, what do you do to stop yourself? You tense your muscles, and you hold your breath. Right? So you don’t cry, or you don’t feel your fear, or you control your anger, or whatever it is.
So holding muscles and tightening your breath becomes a chronic body posture, a chronic way you are in your body. And there’s a certain amount of tension you [are aware of]. Sometimes you realize, “Oh, my shoulders are up around my ears, I’m going to let them go.” And you can.
But there’s still a residual amount of physical tension that you can’t consciously let go. And that’s what the Rosen practitioner touches, helping the client to bring their own awareness to “Oh, I’m gripping like crazy there and I didn’t even know it.” Sometimes you know it because it hurts. Sometimes you don’t know it because it’s numb. But it’s physical tension that keeps you away from yourself — from knowing yourself, from feeling yourself, from knowing what’s actually going on inside you.
So we’re addressing the physical tension, not by forcing it to be undone, not by massage, or energy work, or anything like that, but by really, really paying attention together to… what’s happening here? Wherever “here” is, your shoulder, your head, your neck. And when you start experiencing as if you were that muscle, what your job is to hold on that tight — here’s the miracle thing — and you can name it out loud, it lets go.
I remember one experience I had was, “Oh, my shoulders are so tight, I can’t let go there.” And the more I went into that space with my attention, and my awareness, the younger and younger and younger I started to feel, until I was a little, little girl who couldn’t handle the enormity of — well, basically, genocide, which is what my family had been through. I just couldn’t deal with it. So I had to shut it down, and that’s how I did it. Tight. Hold.
Kegel Queen: Most people in our culture here in the States haven’t had the history of genocide that your family from Armenia had. But it’s still really common for people to have these patterns of tension, even if what they might have experienced is something really simple, like they got bullied, or their parents didn’t listen to them. It doesn’t have to be a profound insult in order to create these tension patterns.
Anaïs Salibian: Well, that’s the thing. I’ve come to the conclusion that we all have profound insults that don’t get recognized because they’re not so obvious as genocide. Or as racism. Or as sexism. We all have what I call trauma. Trauma is any experience you have which, at the moment you’re having it, is so overwhelming to you that you can’t neurologically process it. You have to shut it down. Now, if you had a human being helping you and supporting you through it, and allowing you to feel and think through it, it wouldn’t stay. You would resolve it then.
Kegel Queen: If that were during or shortly after the trauma.
Anaïs Salibian: But we don’t get that [support]. Some of my clients have been bullied, for instance, to the point of physical harm, and never got it processed as a child, or even as an adult. And I think things traumatize us that we don’t recognize as trauma. Ordinary things, like surgery. Women’s experience — most of us have been assaulted, abused, insulted in some way sexually. I don’t know what the statistics are, but I believe most.
Kegel Queen: If you include insulted, or have felt unsafe at some point, that would probably be 100 percent.
Anaïs Salibian: Right. So what do we do with it? We tighten up and hold our breath. And what that does is distance us from knowing our actual experience. Because the actual experience is intolerable.
Kegel Queen: So what happens is that if people tighten to a painful experience out of necessity, they then are unable to [have] a pleasurable experience because of that remaining tightness.
Anaïs Salibian: It’s the same doorway. Yes.
Kegel Queen: When you do Rosen Method Bodywork, you’re helping people to release that tension so that they can be fully present in their bodies and fully alive, and have their experiences, fully. You said [to me privately] it’s about people experiencing things instead of thinking they’re experiencing things.
Anaïs Salibian: Yes.
Kegel Queen: Is it very rare to meet someone who is actually experiencing things?
Anaïs Salibian: [Laughs.] I would say so, because it’s not just trauma that divides us from ourselves. I think we live in a culture that has a bias toward thinking. And thinking that thinking is what makes us alive. I think therefore I am.
Kegel Queen: Yes. So what’s the other way to look at things?
Anaïs Salibian: Can I do a little neuroscience here?
Kegel Queen: Yes, please!
Anaïs Salibian: You have two different parts in your brain that register your self-awareness. One part registers what you think about yourself. Another part registers all the signals you’re getting from your body — internal sensations, things like hunger, or hot or cold, or butterflies in my stomach, and things like where I am in space and what my body parts are doing in relation to each other. All these signals come from your body and register in another part of your brain. They can’t both be on at the same time.
Kegel Queen: So one system is information from the body and the other system is information about thoughts.
Anaïs Salibian: Yes. These two parts need neural connections in order to talk to each other, and for one part to be aware of the other part.
Kegel Queen: The thinking part and the body part need to be able to communicate with each other.
Anaïs Salibian: Right. And evolutionarily, they were meant to work together. But in this culture, we have idealized the one part over the other part so much that the thinking part often doesn’t even pay attention, or doesn’t even understand its language — it doesn’t speak in English, or any other language.
Kegel Queen: So the body might be sending signals all the time, and is sending signals all the time, but if our attention is cut off from that, we don’t know what’s happening.
Anaïs Salibian: Right. I’ll tell you an extreme example of what I mean by not having embodied awareness. I had a client once who was on the table and I noticed she was crying. I asked her what was bringing the tears, and she said, “I’m not crying.” And then she started wiping away, and she says, “There’s this wetness, but I’m not crying.” So her thinking mind had an idea about what was happening that was different from her actual experience.
Kegel Queen: Tell me if this is what you think is true. Our thoughts — and I think anyone sane would agree — our thoughts aren’t always correct.
Anaïs Salibian: Oh, totally.
Kegel Queen: Our thoughts might be completely out of range. They might have nothing to do with reality, actually.
Anaïs Salibian: You’re totally right.
Kegel Queen: And that other input network from the body, is that always real information? Or can that be mistaken sometimes? Certainly we could receive information from the body and add an incorrect thought on it, we could misinterpret it, but is that information from the body always true?
After the interview, Anaïs added these comments (italics):
I guess the short answer has to do with, true for when? If you’re living with an unprocessed trauma experience, the memory of it is not encoded in your brain the way ordinary memories are. The sensations and emotions of the trauma are all over your body, and in imagery instead of language. So people can have “relives” where their bodies are experiencing something that is not actually going on in the present moment. Then one might say that information from the body is not true — but it is true about the past.
When your present-day consciousness knows something isn’t true now, but your body is experiencing something else, you can’t simply change your mind. This is what drives me nuts about affirmations or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or positive thinking. The reason these things often don’t work is that the body is not experiencing anything different than the old trauma, so why should you believe something different? Thoughts can’t change thoughts unless they’re accompanied by an actual experience.
With my clients, say they’re feeling unsafe but know that they “should” feel safe now. They feel stupid because they can’t just relax in my office. They know (in their heads) they’re not in danger of getting abused, but something in them won’t obey. So I make it clear that their body has to experience the safety for them to believe it. We direct their attention to present-time, concrete experience: Do you feel supported by the table? How do my hands feel? What are the outlines of your body? How big are you?
Experience is how the brain gets wired and rewired. In other words, the body gives rise to the mind. So that’s why the two parts (thinking and body awareness) have to talk to each other.
Anaïs Salibian: This is a good example of why they need to talk to each other. Let’s say you were walking in the forest one day and a snake fell on you, and scared the hell out of you. So your adrenaline pumps up, your breathing speeds up. Your amygdala, which is the fear center in your brain, is turned on — it’s fight or flight. Right? And you don’t have the opportunity to have someone come along and see you through it.
Two years later, you’re walking in the woods and there’s this curvy piece of stick on the ground. And your amygdala goes, “Aah! Snake! Snake!” Your body responds as if you were actually seeing danger. Your conscious brain is the one that has to say, “It’s just a stick, okay, it’s just a stick,” and calm down the fear center part. [Anaïs added the following after the interview (italics): Look at the stick, hold the stick, break the stick — anything so your body can really experience that it’s a stick and not a snake.]
The other thing I love about Rosen work is that there’s a connection between what your diaphragm is doing and what the amygdala is doing. Because if you’re holding your breath, if your breathing is tight (which [for] most of us it is), it automatically sends a signal to the amygdala that there’s danger around, when there isn’t. So to loosen the diaphragm means to ratchet down our level of stress and fear that we’re feeling even when we’re not naming it.
But naming it — this is why I love to teach writing also. Naming what’s actually going on calms down the whole system. Even if you don’t change it, naming it calms down the whole system. And that means that you’re conscious, and your body and your mind are together. That’s what integration is.
When your body-centered awareness and your thinking mind are talking to each other and aware of each other, and you’re using the pieces of information that each side has to think logically, you think clearly about what’s going on. ‘What do I need to do, to get what I want and need?’
Kegel Queen: [This is] very rare, I think.
Anaïs Salibian: Yes.
Kegel Queen: I want to come back to the term, “embodied self-awareness.” And I used the phrase I’ve heard from you before: “inhabiting the body.” What is that? And what is the difference between inhabiting and not? Is the difference that communication between those two parts of the brain is not happening? What is embodied self-awareness, and how can you tell whether you’re experiencing that, or whether someone else is experiencing that?
Anaïs Salibian: I can describe different states of the nervous system that we’re in, a range from completely relaxed to completely freaking out and stressed out. And there’s an ideal place in between where it would be nice to be living [laughs], where your nervous system is aroused just enough so that you’re really engaged and you’re really interacting with whatever it is that you’re doing. It could be running a business or it could be painting a painting, or whatever it is that’s your passion that you’re doing.
And [when] things get in the way of doing that, of achieving your goals, [when] you have problems, they don’t feel like they’re going to defeat you. They feel like challenges you can really grapple with and actually have fun grappling with, and then you get so involved in doing…
Have you ever had this experience, that you’ve just spent five hours and you thought it was half an hour? You’re engaged, you’re alive, you’re present, you’re thinking, you’re feeling what you’re feeling when you’re doing it. When you’re not in that state, you’re probably shut down in some way, or you’re simply in a relaxed, open, restful, rest-and-relax and repair state.
But when we get to the other extreme end of stress and freakout, and tightness and tension and vigilance and not feeling like you trust anything, that is not an embodied self awareness state. Because actually I have found that when I am really… you can call it inside my body, but you can also say when I’m checking in and tracking what I’m actually experiencing in my body. When I turn my attention inward and say, “What am I experiencing right now?” a lot of the time it’s very different than what my brain thought I was experiencing. My brain could be busy worrying about something; my body is like, “Ah, we’re fine. We’re good. Things aren’t desperate. And by the way, there’s power in here to trust.” It’s a very different experience than just the mind. And if you’re a person who’s in worry mode a lot, it probably means you’re not embodied.
Kegel Queen: That must be what you were here to say to me. [Both laugh.]
Anaïs Salibian: Yes, because the body is more grounding. You know the difference between feeling grounded and not grounded?
Kegel Queen: I think so. In my own way. It’s hard to talk about it objectively; it’s inherently subjective.
Anaïs Salibian: So to get grounded I tell people to do things like walk barefoot, have someone touch your feet, really sit and feel the chair under your butt.
Kegel Queen: So tuning in to physical sensations is one of the easiest ways to wake up our connection?
Anaïs Salibian: I would say that’s step one. Physical sensations. Step two or three is what difference does it make that you’re having these sensations? They need to matter to you in some way. So what?
Kegel Queen: Why should they matter?
Anaïs Salibian: Because sometimes I ask people, “Okay, what are you feeling here?”
“I feel a sleeve on my arm, I feel an itch on my hand.” You can name everything you feel, and if you don’t have a subjective response to it, you’re like a robot.
Kegel Queen: What does that subjective response look like?
Anaïs Salibian: It could be, “I have an itch there, I’d like to rub my back against the chair. Oh, that feels good.” Or it could be, “Wow, that chair is pressing hard on the bottom of my thigh there, I might want to move.”
Kegel Queen: So it has something to do with what feels good and what doesn’t feel good. It’s about sensing what’s happening and recognizing what you want to do about it.
Anaïs Salibian: Yes. To enhance your well-being. For instance, this teacher screams at the class all the time. How does that feel to me inside? Am I going to stay with it? Or am I going to move away from it? Or am I going to act in some way to change what doesn’t feel right to me?
Kegel Queen: In that situation, you could ask your body, “What do I want to do about this?”
Anaïs Salibian: Instead of sitting and taking it because that’s what you’re supposed to do. I think if you really, truly register your actual experience of certain things, you don’t put up with the bullshit. [Laughs.] Pardon my language! And we put up with it when we numb out of how we actually feel about something.
Kegel Queen: This idea of inhabiting your body, or embodied self awareness, is fundamentally about taking care of yourself, in a way.
Anaïs Salibian: Yes. On a basic survival level. But it’s also about having a sense of your own being. This is where it gets into what I call the spiritual level, because you can’t know who you are if you don’t even know how you react to things. Right? But the more inside the body I go, the more I feel a presence of a being, who is me, who is greater than my thoughts, my sensations, my emotions, my perceptions. All of those things aren’t that being.
Kegel Queen: So this part of you that is part of, or connected with, something divine and universal…
Anaïs Salibian: I can’t even know about her if I’m not in my body. And I think that’s where I used to not even understand why people meditate, because I used to think all you did was zone out. And maybe for years that’s what people thought meditation was. But I’ve heard that in more recent years, meditation teachers themselves have said no, it’s about noticing your bodily experiences and really being present to your actual experience.
Kegel Queen: It’s interesting. When I initially had a lightbulb [go on] about what your work was really about, helping people to connect with themselves and wake up in this way, suddenly I saw it everywhere. This is why people meditate. This is why people love their pets, because animals don’t have that disconnect that humans do. This is why it feels so good to be around babies and little kids because they’re really integrated. There’s no separation or disconnection. What you see is what you get, and they know what’s going on. They know what feels good, and they don’t need to tell themselves a story about why they should talk themselves out of feeling how they feel; they just feel it. And they’ll tell you.
Anaïs Salibian: Right. Exactly.
Kegel Queen: And I started to wonder about so many other things. Is this what makes the difference between an artist who is working on the surface and creating something mediocre, versus an artist who is creating something phenomenal? Is this the difference between someone we see on stage who is interesting, versus someone who is incredibly captivating? Or a leader who really inspires people?
Do you think that being connected and aware in this way is a requirement for expressing real genius? I mean operating at a really outstanding, inspiring — some people would say inspired or divinely inspired — really, really high level in whatever your work might be. Is it a requirement to have this kind of internal awareness and connection?
Anaïs Salibian: I think the great artists worked hard to get their technical skills, but without this other human presence… somehow they have transmitted that through the paint and the paintbrush on the canvas, and they did it well because they knew the technical skills. But the technical skills without that, you might as well just snap a picture.
I just came back from France. My husband is a trained painter. We’re standing in front of this Braque painting. I don’t particularly love cubism, but I’m standing in front of this painting ready to cry. I’m so thrilled, and I’m having all these bodily reactions, and he’s going, “What?” because his training taught him what intellectually these people were trying to achieve with this kind of painting, and he’s looking at it through his mind. And I’m just reacting to it. We’re having different experiences. [Laughs.]
I have this trick. Here’s another way. Anytime you do anything, whether it’s a walk in the woods, or stand in front of an abstract expressionist painting, or listen to loud “headache jazz,” instead of letting it in through your eyes, let it in through your gut. And your entire experience will change. I’ve written about this. I can look at abstract art and go, “Oh my God, my kindergartener could throw those colors on, what is it?” and then drop the mind, go to the body, take it in through your heart and your gut, and you’re seeing somebody’s soul. You’re seeing their struggle. You’re seeing them naked.
It’s the same with certain kinds of jazz. I remember being in a jazz club in New York and getting a headache — McCoy Tyner. All of a sudden I said, let me try the belly trick. In two seconds I was ready to worship these guys as shamans of some sort. They were doing something phenomenal. It was spiritual. And they were doing it together, without rehearsing. Ah! So the body has a whole other kind of knowing than the mind. And I think to be truly creative you’re including that.
Kegel Queen: What else can being embodied do for us?
Anaïs Salibian: It can make you happy.
[Both laugh.] It can make you happy no matter what’s happening. I remember, in the recovery room after a bilateral mastectomy, waking up and feeling so much full of love and full of light that it was… nothing is ever wrong. [Both laugh.] It’s not about denying what’s not right.
Kegel Queen: I know when you had cancer, not every moment was a picnic like that. How did your ability to be connected and embodied inform your experience during the more difficult times?
Anaïs Salibian: I think that early on when I had cancer, I got so scared, so terrified, that I left my body. So the process is how do you come back? You may have to cling to people. That’s primary. For some reason, we evolved to need another person’s presence. Actually, our nervous system regulates toward theirs. If someone has a calm nervous system, our nervous system will get calmer.
Kegel Queen: I find that fascinating, that we have this electromagnetic field coming out from our bodies. This is the energy that’s picked up by an EKG. Your heart is putting out electrical energy that can be sensed on a machine. This is common, everyday medicine, like an EEG, where they put the little electrodes on your head, and they’re sensing the electrical activity of the brain. The electrical activity of your brain extends out, I think, three feet or something from your body. The electrical activity from your heart can be sensed at something like thirty feet. I’m just making those numbers up, I don’t remember them. I’d like to know what they are. But we are constantly putting out, surrounded by, this electrical field that we create, ourselves, and it makes perfect sense that we are sensitive to each other’s. And newborns literally need regulating. They need to be held because their immature little nervous system can’t take care of itself by itself, they need to be physically close to an adult, and getting loved.
Anaïs Salibian: And getting loved, as part of their physiological development. And an adult — say you’re really stressed about something, or scared, your heart’s beating fast. If you sit next to someone whose heart is slower, the slower heart always slows down the speeding heart.
Kegel Queen: So this was a tool that helped you when you had cancer?
Anaïs Salibian: Yes, just cling to people.
Kegel Queen: What were the tools that helped you effectively come back, besides that, when you felt scared?
Anaïs Salibian: Actually, I remember a Rosen session where I couldn’t feel, couldn’t feel, I was so numbed out and gone, and my practitioner simply put her hands on my feet. And it felt like, you know when you let go of a helium balloon, it rises? It felt like she tugged on the string and brought me back down, and I kind of landed back in my body.
I am very curious about finding out exactly what works for people to bring them back.
You know what else I think? I think we move too fast. I think slowing way down is a requirement to even notice what our bodies are telling us we feel, because our minds will override it really fast.
Also, by the way, the signals from the body aren’t myelinated, meaning the actual nerve signal travels more slowly than thought to thought. You can think thoughts in an instant, but it takes more time to really register some of these internal signals.
Kegel Queen: Part of staying aware and waking up and staying connected has to include not plugging yourself into media input 24/7. You’ve got to turn the TV off and put your phone down, and not have sensory inputs and verbal inputs happening all the time.
Anaïs Salibian: Right.
Kegel Queen: Let’s talk about kegel exercises for a minute and how this relates. Just a couple nights ago, I was doing one of my Q & A sessions that I do with my members. It’s a topic that I’ve covered many times over the years, but I thought about it in an entirely new way based on some of what I’ve been learning from you. The topic was kegels and stress reduction. In the Kegel Queen Program, we make the kegel workout inherently relaxing, so that it feels good. It will be like candy that you keep coming back to, because if it’s not fun you’re not going to stick with it. And the easiest way to make it fun is to make it relaxing.
Looking at that through the lens of tuning into the body… I’m talking on the call about how we breathe. We do this nice, relaxing deep breathing and focus on the sensations in the pelvic floor as you contract it and relax it. What I’ve been attempting to do without even realizing it, all this time, is to help women, during their kegel workout, achieve moments of embodied self-awareness.
How powerful that is, particularly for women. Particularly regarding this body part, this whole area of the body [where] so many women have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse. So many women have experienced cultural abuse around their sexuality, or their sexuality isn’t free, or it’s shameful.
Even as kids, toilet training, or being punished for not toilet training properly. We start when we’re in diapers, we start cutting off the feedback loop. Traditionally for thousands of years people didn’t use diapers, because they’re an invention of our modern world. Now that we have diapers, the kid is supposed to pee or poop and just go on living as if it never happened. And we start with this “diaper training” that begins to cut people off. For any of you who have children or grandchildren, or nieces or nephews on the way, I highly recommend going diaper-free. This is something we did with my daughter, and you can find out more at diaperfreebaby.org…staying aware of what’s happening in that part of the body.
Anyway, for most of us, we grew up in diapers, and we grew up in an atmosphere where it wasn’t safe to have sexuality as women — at all, really, so what we’re doing with kegels… It’s interesting how I didn’t even realize this whole side of it about waking up those neural connections in that way. How do you think women can women maximize the ability of their kegel practice to help them wake up?
Anaïs Salibian: Well, I haven’t learned them, and I don’t know what the exercises are, but it’s making me want to do them, to get my whole self back. I think that pelvic area is where we have our connection to our soul and to the whole life force of what’s in everything in the universe. And if we do the kegel practice as, okay, first of all really noticing what I’m feeling when I do it, and then noticing how I feel because I’m noticing what I’m feeling.
Kegel Queen: Noticing how you feel physically, and then how you feel emotionally about the physical sensations?
Anaïs Salibian: Right. My image is the deeper in you go into the body, there’s a space there. The pelvis is a room. and if you go into that room, and deeply go into it, the broader your connection to the universe, to the planet. So I think kegel exercises, I would approach them as a spiritual exercise. [Both laugh.] It’s all inclusive, it’s not just so you’re not incontinent when you’re older. It’s so you have your whole self back. And that self is pretty damn huge.
Kegel Queen: It is. What would you suggest for a woman who is in my program, and she’s beginning to wake up a connection with the pelvic floor, but it becomes frightening because maybe there are some memories there, or there’s some fear there that she needs help addressing? People who are in Rochester, New York can come and see you for a Rosen session. People who are elsewhere, what would you recommend that they do to get help? Rosen practitioners everywhere, surely, could help them.
Anaïs Salibian: I have a client who this exactly happened to. She was sexually abused as a child and came to the last intensive we did, and a whole section of it was about the pelvic floor, which really woke things up for her. I just saw her again, and she said it’s kind of scary, because now she’s feeling horny! [Laughs.] What do you do with that? And I said that I think she needs to really practice, take time to spend with the feelings themselves.
Kegel Queen: Instead of just acting on them.
Anaïs Salibian: You don’t have to act — you have to get used to the fact that they exist. And when you feel them, you have to take in that you’re safe now. Because you’re so associated with abuse. But you have to live again and again and again: I feel this, and I’m safe. I feel this, and I’m safe. Whatever way you can achieve that… it can be with your friends. It doesn’t have to be a practitioner of some sort. It can be with your partner. To get used to the feeling of being alive in your pelvis, and that you own it and it’s yours and nobody has the right to it. And that you know that. Then you can share it. It’s yours.
Kegel Queen: Yes. That’s great advice.
Anaïs Salibian: I had this dream the other night. We were outdoors, it was a group of people and everybody was horny as hell, and we were all so happy. Also, it was springtime. It was like, juicy life! Yaay! This is a gift. It’s about life, and being alive, and everybody in the dream was for everybody else’s life force to be expressed.
Kegel Queen: This is something we don’t experience on a daily basis in our culture. I believe that we have a cultural mandate not to be aware of our bodies, and by extension, not to celebrate our sexuality. Who knows, it’s a chicken and egg situation, but it’s very threatening to the thoughts… The cultural idea that thoughts are everything translates to a whole lot of different beliefs — about nature being something we can use instead of something that is a source for us. Women’s sexuality in particular being something that needs to be kept in a tiny little box and tightly controlled, instead of being something that women own and celebrate. I think if we were all really embodied and comfortable and at peace with our bodies, and when a feeling came up whether it was a sexual feeling or anything else, we could accept it without judgment, notice it, learn from it perhaps, maybe enjoy it or maybe move away from it or whatever it might be, but if we can have a dialogue with ourselves without so much judgment, we would live in a very different world.
Anaïs Salibian: You remind me of a story I heard [about] a little boy whose parents were being open and teaching him. Grandma was over for dinner and he said at the dinner table, “Grandma! I have a boner!” He was really pleased. [Laughs] “How nice, dear.” If we had that kind of freedom without threat of any sort…
Kegel Queen: Perhaps our sexuality, or it would extend to elimination, even — this whole region of the body is the center of so much in our lives. Understanding what’s happening with your chest or your elbows could be really powerful, but there’s something that happens about the whole pelvic region that’s connected with sex and elimination and birth…
Anaïs Salibian: Not just elimination, but absorption, actually being nourished.
Kegel Queen: Yes. It affects us at an identity level, in a way that other body parts don’t. We say, where are you? Where are you going? If your pelvis is there, that’s where you are. You can reach forward to something, lean forward, but if your pelvis is there, that’s where you are.
I wanted to say one more thing about sex. For me personally, it’s been a really interesting arena from which to explore what it’s like to really be in my body. Because it’s so physical, and it’s so pleasurable, and it’s sort of an easy avenue to get in. If I’m just sitting in a chair by myself, I might need to try a little bit harder to tune in to what the sensations are of my body, what my feet are experiencing.
But sex is so powerful and compelling, and with so many intense sensations. For years and years I’ve tried to catch myself if my attention wanders during sex, I can bring my attention back: no, I’m here, this is what I’m doing, I’m not thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner or whatever it is. What I’ve been working with more recently that I would highly recommend to any woman is to really try to bring awareness into your body in a different way during sex.
I’ve been experimenting with this. If I’m taking a walk outdoors barefoot in the summer, which I like to do — in fact, I have a stone driveway, and I’ll often walk to the mailbox. I’m walking barefoot on my stone driveway and it hurts a little, but there’s a lot going on there and I like noticing what that feels like. And if I really pay attention to what’s happening with my feet, not just receiving information through my feet but if I really use my feet as a thing that can feel, the same way you would reach out with your hand to feel something, to find out about it… If I use my feet while I’m walking to really find out about what’s there, it’s great. Then if I use my body that way during sex, it’s amazing. So I might be not even moving, but let’s say my clitoris is receiving some pleasurable attention, if I can imagine reaching with it — what is the consciousness there? — really reaching with it to feel. I might not be physically reaching in any way, but if I’m reaching with my attention, it’s a completely different experience.
Anaïs Salibian: Right. Yeah, that sounds embodied. That’s what I mean by embodied. You’re actually in there.
Kegel Queen: And it’s a practice. It’s the work of a lifetime, I think, to get good at becoming embodied from moment to moment and to remind myself to notice and to be there.
Anaïs Salibian: Because actually, the brain was programmed to think about plans all the time. So it’s part of the natural function. It’s not like we’re doing something wrong.
Kegel Queen: When we go out of our body and think about the future, or our to do list.
Anaïs Salibian: Right. What’s off balance is when we don’t have an ease with the embodied awareness that, say, we did when we were evolving, or that tribal people did, or children do. We lose that, and then — one of my favorite jokes lately is “Did you hear about the time Descartes walked into a bar, and the bartender asked him if he wanted a beer? He said, ‘I think not,’ and poof! He disappeared.” [Both laugh.] Go ahead, try to exist if all you are is thoughts.
Kegel Queen: Yes, we are so much more.
Anaïs Salibian: I have a friend, a Rosen practitioner, who says — I love her phrase — “I feel safe because I am myself.” So when you asked, ‘What good does it do to be embodied?’ and I said it makes you happy, it also lets you know when you’re actually safe and when you’re actually in danger, and what you can actually do about it. And that even applies to sex, I think. In the moment. And here’s the thing with sex, though. It’s different than being in the moment by yourself. It’s because you’re actually there to experience the other person as well.
I remember a moment when things really shifted with me and my husband. When I was just not turned on, not turned on, not turned on, and I didn’t know what to say to him.
Kegel Queen: It wasn’t a long-time pattern, it was just in one moment?
Anaïs Salibian: Well, it had begun to be a pattern. So I finally just said, I give up trying to tell you, you figure it out. [Laughs.] And in the next instant the way he was touching me was… I’m swooning and I’m yours forever. [Laughs.] Do that! Whatever it is. I don’t know what it is. And his response was, “Well, I kind of imagined that my hands had eyes, and I was looking for you.” And I went, oh my God! His hands were about connecting, and my body found that a total turn-on.
Kegel Queen: He was really present in his hands.
Anaïs Salibian: Yes. And in relation to me.
I think that what he had been trying to do before was something around doing it right.
Kegel Queen: That’s a great lesson too. Something I need to learn over and over and over is the difference between trying to do it right and having a curious experience: what can happen here?
Anaïs Salibian: Exactly. What can happen here?
Kegel Queen: And that applies to everything.
Anaïs Salibian: Every moment of your life!
Kegel Queen: Sex, work, cooking, relationships.
Anaïs Salibian: Yeah. When I was in France, I had these moments. I’m standing in front of a painting in a museum, and I’m weeping and I don’t know why. I’m on top of a mountain at a glacier and I’m weeping and I don’t know why. I’m not Catholic and I’m hearing a mass in French at Notre Dame, and I’m weeping and I don’t know why.
I was trying to figure out what all those things had in common. And when I went into my body with what experience that was, it was as if each one of them was being present in a moment of creation. That each moment, something emerges that wasn’t, before. And that for instance, if I come back home, I can have that experience every time I touch a client. I can have the awe and I can have the mystery. Then, like you said, it expands to everything. If we don’t already know, we get to find out.
Kegel Queen: Yes. And how often do we think we know? ‘I’ve done all this before.’
Anaïs Salibian: And how often do people feel not safe thinking they don’t know, and what they must know? That’s another practice, getting comfortable with not knowing.
Kegel Queen: Thank you so much. This was fascinating. Wonderful!
Anaïs Salibian: This was fun!