I’m romantic when I want to be. That is to say, most nights I brush sexy stuff out of the way and wear granny panties and moisturising gloves to bed even when I’m sleeping over at my boyfriend’s of three years. The question “food or sex?” does not trip me up. (Food, duh, have you had penne vodka?) In all my past romantic relationships, I've been the partner who is tired, has a stomachache, or honestly, just wants to watch the next episode of Modern Family when pursued intimately. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sex, I just happen to enjoy giggles, cuddles, and dark chocolate more. I show my love through thoughtful gifts of homemade honey mustard from the local market, or sending an article about natural remedies for eczema. But one evening, my boyfriend Nick asked if he was doing something wrong romantically — if I was unhappy. He pointed to the three candles he had lit and then to the bowl of cereal I was slurping. I got the message.
Nick and I met freshman year of college. I instantly had a crush. In the midst of figuring out how I felt about the long-distance relationship I was in, we kept it friendly, hanging out at parties and chatting at the bar. By senior year, I was ready to make a move though—and from there it was all about ordering Indian food together, going on hikes, and taking romantic trips to Harry Potter World.
I love Nick’s style, his honesty, and his sense of humor. His hugs, his heart, and his eyes. He’s a great partner to get stuck in traffic with, which is saying something, since we live about an hour from each other and love road trips. When he brought up our sex life, I was ready to make adjustments to find a happy middle ground between our two expressions of love, but didn’t know where to begin. Little did I know the 200 hours of yoga teacher training I signed up for was going to be my answer.
When I told Nick my weekends would be tight for about five months, he was in full support and said we can plan time together around my training. So every Friday and Saturday, off I went with a lunch packed and a yoga mat on my back. My teacher, Jen Aires, ERYT-500 and owner of Essential Yoga School, taught asana, philosophy, and how to integrate balance into life off the mat with love and honesty. Sure, I was learning about Indian goddesses and how to flow up into a headstand (a.k.a. the coolest things ever), but I was also learning important tools for healthy relationships, self-care, and genuine communication. It wasn’t rocket science. It wasn’t couples therapy. It was looking inward and finding balance 101, which I needed some major help with. And now, I'm sharing exactly what I learned with all of you. Here, five ways yoga helped me find balance, and ultimately transformed my sex life.
WE MAKE CONVERSATION MORE MEANINGFUL
In the beginning of each lesson, our class of five circled up with bolsters and blankets to chat about our week. Did Alessandra get the courage to sign up for cooking classes? How was Eric’s new job? Sharing and connecting was all part of the training, even though it didn’t look like yoga. We were complete strangers on a deep spiritual journey together. We created a safe environment that welcomed tears, laughs, and questions.
All our open and honest chats got me thinking: What is the quality of communication in my romantic relationship? I started to notice the weak parts, like the short unfulfilling phone calls during the day about how tired he felt or how I didn't feel like working out. I also noticed after spending time apart, I wanted to catch up about our week, and Nick wanted to, well, catch up.
So we decided to ditch the hurried midday calls and save our talks for evening FaceTime sessions, where we dedicated space and time to chitchat about our day. As for catching up in person, we’re still working on striking the perfect balance, but I notice us both more conscious of the other’s needs. Which turned out to be pretty sexy.
I SPEAK WITH MORE CLARITY
Little did I know, teaching a yoga class is a lot like being a linguist, because everybody in the room understands cues differently. I learned it’s important to get creative and explain each pose in a few detailed phrases to get the whole class into the same relaxing forward fold, for example, and not flailing all over. From this, I became pretty good at explaining myself in general. Instead of simply saying, “My stomach hurts, I don’t feel like having sex,” I started saying, “I’m frustrated that my stomach is so sensitive, and when I’m confused and feeling funky, I don’t feel sexy.” This way, my partner and I are both on the same page and it no longer presents as an excuse or blow-off. This technique also helps me personally, because it forces me to view my words and actions from a few different angles, to better understand how they may come off to others. I had no idea Nick felt like I was unhappy with our sex life, but looking back at my one-dimensional communication, I can see how it may have seemed that way. Gotta break it down like Warrior I.
WE REFRAME INTIMACY
I’m sure you were waiting for it: The physical practice of yoga helped our sex life! Yay, Nick and Larell! But seriously, my legs, core, and arms are stronger. My hips don’t pinch up as much and I even have more range in my legs. So saucy, I know. My stamina has increased and we’ve been getting more creative. One of my favourite integrations is partner stretching, a playful form of foreplay we do every so often. From this, I learned I wasn’t off base with feeling fulfilled intimately by our cozy cuddling and holding, because it comes in many forms. When I explained this to Nick, he smiled and said he loves those silly moments too. Ever since that short conversation I notice how much he soaks them up. Before, cuddling would have led to sex. Now it has the space to exist alone. It’s so nice to have lots of little intimate moments throughout a day together.
WE STOPPED HAVING TIRED SEX
One day in teacher training, we focused on tantric sex, an ancient form of sex that connects mind and body. I learned one of the reasons I kept saying “no” to intimacy at night was because we both weren’t fully present (a.k.a. we were exhausted). After I’d decline the offer, he’d start snoring three minutes later like clockwork. I brought it up and he admitted that he pursues me even when he’s tired. I told him that was flattering, but let’s be more decisive. That’s not to say throw spontaneity out the window, just be more aware of each other’s current needs and energy levels. Now I feel like we’re better at reading one another and try to have sex earlier in the evening, so we can relax and get a good night’s sleep. Now we have the playfulness of college, and the connection of mind and body, without the unhealthy sleepless nights.
WE CELEBRATE THE SMALL CHANGES
One of the most important lessons I learned from teacher training is little improvements are pure magic. Like balancing in Half Moon a few seconds longer, teaching a Sun Salutation without looking at notes, or remembering to cue both side of the body. In discovering this, I also learned not to take yoga so seriously. And why treat a bed any different than a yoga mat?
We already have so much to celebrate about strengthening our romantic life, even though it’s not perfect. (Sometimes I still just want to eat raviolis in bed and watch The Office.) I can see his love for me in everything he does, from cooking with that jar of honey mustard to changing the sheets before I sleep over. We laugh more, share more, love more. I can tell he’s more confident. It gives me butterflies. When we go out to dinner, we hold hands. At night, maybe I skip the moisturising gloves or maybe we nibble on leftovers in sweatpants. To me, that’s magic. All the little things. That’s the stuff that makes romance special.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US