FEATURE - August 2015 - Santa Fe
Full Spectrum Sex Is for Everyone:
A Q & A with Somatic Libido Coach Isa Magdalena
Isa Magdalena, a longtime somatic libido coach, recently relocated from Taos to Santa Fe, where she also just opened her new practice, The Amazing Body, with Pilates and Alexander Technique practitioner Sherry Stephenson. Magdalena moved to the U.S. from Amsterdam in 1991. Evolving asked her about her and her work, and if there really is a different between what women want and what men are after.
Evolving: What is the connection between sexuality and spirituality?
The energy that turns on our lust is the same energy that ignites love and connection to spirit, and, for that matter, creativity, power, inspiration, expression. That energy is our life force. We know it by such words and phrases as libido, sexual energy, kundalini shakti, ching chi. The central highway for this energy runs in our spine. All spiritual, mystical, shamanistic lineages use this pathway to climb the ladder, so to speak, from the realm of matter into the realm of spirit—invisible energy. The “engine” of this energy lives in our pelvis. Sexual stimulation cranks up the engine, but not only sexual stimulation, also rocking, dancing, even moving your pelvis while sitting. I've come to the term Full Spectrum Sex, rather than Sacred Sex, because it’s neutral, it has no moral connotations. It simply refers to the fact that we are Full Spectrum Humans, and in the end are most fulfilled when we can live our life full spectrum, in bed and out of bed.
E: Is sex mystical? In what ways?
According to the mystical path I'm on, Universal Sufism, mysticism is about the essence of things, rather than the outer form of things, with which religion tends to be concerned. So in that sense, yes, sex is one of the avenues that can open us up to our essence, which is Essence.
To elaborate, Sufism offers an Inner School and an Outer School, the first offers practices to deepen the inner life, the latter is about living in the world of form, which, of course, is the real test. I feel the same about conscious sexuality: inner practice makes us aware of our deeper self, from which we then relate to our partner, hopefully in a less cluttered way.
E: How did you get started in doing what you’re doing now, libido coaching?
It’s where I’ve come to after a long journey that once began, unconsciously, in search of healing the split between my love for sexuality and my love for mysticism. My profession as a massage therapist, way back in Amsterdam, was the bridge, when confronted with the sensations of arousal my clients almost always had during sessions. I didn’t consider those bad, nor did I want to go the “happy ending” route and those sensations simply came and went and came and went, enlivening the entire body and everybody was happy. But I wanted to know, what really happened? Tantric and Taoist literature emerged in that time, and eventually I began to understand the cause of all this: sexual energy. It still took many years to bridge my own split between sex and spirit and find ways to articulate it, as in the Full Spectrum paradigm, that shows what happens when we use sexual energy in a conscious way and as a means to become more whole.
I was invited to the U.S. and developed the women’s program for the Body Electric School in Oakland in 1992. That launched me into teaching workshops, very radical events, sort of like the fast track to heaven. I don't work that way anymore, because the fast track can overwhelm our nervous system and be difficult to integrate in our lives. So, the last 25 years I’ve spent learning to slow down and fill in the details along that track, especially through working with women and learning about trauma and the body.
E: What is somatic libido coaching?
Somatic means “body based.” Libido is our life force. Coaching is a model that looks at where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. Libido coaching is about body awareness, integrating the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional. It’s about cultivating body intelligence, differentiating various feelings and sensations, learning to express what we want.
To work with issues as charged as sexuality, it’s very important to be clear about boundaries and to establish safety and trust. We talk. We identify inner resources. We may use breath, focused attention, visualization. Touch can help to focus our attention and move energy. This may sound boring, but usually it's quite exciting when we rediscover parts of our self that had been lost or hiding. As someone recently commented, “It’s as if you’re reintroducing me to my body.”
E: Is there scientific proof of the existence of libido or its evolution?
Oh, my. You make me think about biology, even though I do not have a scientific background and might mangle this answer. For me, libido is a movement of energy that is contained in matter (our bodies) via the autonomic nervous system. Sex in all its stages—arousal, plateau, climax, and afterglow—is one of the only biological processes that use all three branches of the vagus nerve that is sheathed in our spines from brain to tail (stimulation, rest/rebuild and tend/befriend). The vagus nerve also manages the Four Fs: fight, flight, freeze, fuck. The nervous system is designed to respond and adapt, learn and grow. Every peak experience, whether in joy or fear, activates a vagus response cycle. Suppression of the nervous system gets us clogged up, which makes us more likely to be held hostage by old traumas. Most spiritual practices use conscious breathing to support our natural biology and keep this alternating system healthy or chronic stress from running off with our lives. Pleasure, play, sex, and meditation all use libido and they all help balance and clean out nervous system toxins, all the while stimulating evolution and awareness.
E: What are you trying to get your clients to do?
Tip number one (to number 5,083): Listen to your body! We tend to override the messages and needs of our body constantly and in sex that’s detrimental. We can end up performing according to an agenda our mind has made up, usually with all sorts of expectations that have little to do with how we feel at the moment, and we launch for a certain outcome. When that outcome is different, we feel we failed. This is a terrible set-up! So, here is tip number two: Let go of the outcome. This is easier said and not easily done, especially because arousal is an excitement of the nervous system, that, when it gets high, it gains a momentum of its own. So there comes a phase in sexual arousal, let’s say, between seven and eight on a scale of zero to ten, that we need to keep going, otherwise our nervous system gets jerked in a way that makes confusion, shame, hurt, trauma. But the entire business from zero to seven, let’s say, we have a lot—a lot!—of room to play. Arousal can go up and down, up and down, we can hold still or stop when we need to, when our body-heart-mind changed its course, for one reason or another, searching for a new destination. Maybe we don’t want orgasm after all, or want to kiss, or hold still, or wrestle a bit. Maybe we just want to feel the love, the affection, the lucky fact that we have someone, our self and/or a partner, to play with, to love with.
E: Are men, women, and gender fluid people different in their goals and motivations?
Yes and no. Deep down it’s about evolving, not only as individual people, but as a collective. In the West, the only culture I can talk about, we are the product of a sexually schizophrenic atmosphere that has separated sex from heart and spirit for a very long time. I feel that different genders hold a different piece of that puzzle. Please forgive my overgeneralization here, but in today’s western cultures, women may be more likely to get severed from sexuality by being dissociated from our bodies, men by being dissociated from their feelings, gender queer folks by embodying feminine-masculine in a unusual way. And all of us have been severed from the conscious use of life force, robbing us of our own inner guidance. In practicality, this means that as women, we tend to be insecure about our body and appearance; women are more likely to want to explore a lack of libido and sexual satisfaction. A lot of men have had more permission to explore sex, but come looking to improve their skills as a lover. Gender queer people can end up confused about their sexual role(s) and who to relate with or how. But in the end, we seem to all want the same: to love and be loved, truly, as ourselves.
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Isa Magdalena is the author of Libido, Where Sex, Science and Spirit Meet—A Map of Full Spectrum Sex. She is a certified somatic sex educator and coach, working with individuals, couples, and groups of all genders. The Amazing Body studio is a collaborative initiative dedicated to how we live in our body and our environment. Visit www.isamagdalena.com