Review: Ananda Nidra: Blissful Sleep (Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson)

I’ve been curious about tantra for a long time, so I was happy for the opportunity to review Ananda Nidra: Blissful Sleep, a two-CD meditation set by Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson.  These meditations combine Yoga Nidra, the practice of “yogic sleep,” with the sensual themes of tantra.  I had two questions when reviewing these CDs–how effective are the meditations compared to other meditative practices, and how effective are they specifically as a sensual or tantric practice?

The two CDs are very similar–each 44-minute meditation starts with an extended period of relaxation, moving the focus through each body part, and then moves into sense-focused cues intended to evoke a feeling of pleasure throughout the body.  The meditations are followed by a 16-minute music track.  One CD features Michaels’ voice, and the other features Johnson’s, so the listener can select a meditation based on a preference for a male or female voice, or for one of the featured artists used for a backing track.

Compared to other audio meditations I’ve used, I found Anandra Nidra to be very effective.  Though, like most meditations, I had difficulty staying awake through the long relaxation portion, afterwards I felt rested and slightly heavy in my limbs, a feeling I’ve sought from my early yoga practice without success.  I would use these CDs to meditate for that effect alone, aside from any sensual desires.  I was pleasantly surprised that my first experience with yoga nidra was in fact more effective than a “regular” meditation.  My only complaint on this point is that the instructions at the end of the CD guide the listener through waking and movement, which makes it harder to maintain the meditative state through the additional music track.

As a sensual practice, I have more mixed feelings.  I like the idea of focusing on different sorts of pleasurable sensations, but the cues are specific enough to alienate some listeners.  For example, a reference to penetration may pull some out of the meditation.  The meditation also assumes that the listener has, or has had, a sexual partner, and has had specific sexual experiences with that person.  I did appreciate that the culmination of the practice does not put pressure on the listener to have an particular experience, but I didn’t feel that the meditation gave me any special sort of sensual or sexual experience, either.  I am curious about whether over time, this might be a way of becoming more in tune with one’s sexuality or sensual experience, but it’s probably a good idea not to have your tantric expectations set too high as a beginner.

If you’re interested in purchasing this CD, it can be found through the TantraPM website.

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.

Enthusiastic Consent Should Honor Quiet Communication, Too

This is a response that I originally posted on Tumblr in response to a post on enthusiastic consent.  The quoted point was in a list of bullet points on examples of when someone about to have sex (or having sex) with a person should stop.

So in general, I really, really agree with this.  However, I wanted to bring something up about one of the points, because it is an interesting question, and it’s part of why I’ve struggled with the way enthusiastic consent is presented, while at the same time loving the model.

the moment she softly or UN-emphatically says “fine” or “yes”

It’s problematic that we require a “no.”  I have been in situations where I was silent when I wasn’t sure how or whether to say no, and while in context it wasn’t rape, it was a little dodgy.  We need to respect that often it IS rape in that circumstance, because someone is not able to speak for whatever reason, or decides not to because they don’t think the person would stop if they did and don’t want to go through that, or whatever else.  It’s also crucial to pay attention to a partner’s tone in sex.  I can easily imagine a tone in which someone could say fine, especially—fearful, resigned, etc.—that would to me signal “STOP.”

But at the same time, I think that sometimes enthusiastic consent is presented in a way that limits the sexual options of those who are shy, or experimenting, or trying something they DO want but are nervous about.  That’s why the communication piece of enthusiastic consent is so important, of course.  If you’re having sex where you’re not talking much, and that soft “yes” is the only thing someone has to go off of, it’s very difficult to know where your head is.  If you’ve talked, if someone knows that, for example, you’re shy and this is really hard for you and it’s a battle to speak up in sex but you’re trying and that soft yes is a triumph, then it’s easy to proceed and know everything’s consensual.

I have a problem with the idea that everyone must be loud, enthusiastic, unapologetic, and shouting from the rooftops about sex, because often we feel that way inside but it’s hard to vocalize.  Or maybe it’s easy in some cases, but hard in others—a submissive in subspace, for example, may find it harder to talk when hir head is there.  If that’s the case, then partners can talk in advance, come up with non-verbal ways to communicate, or just accept that a quiet “yes” is going to be all the consent a person can manage to get out of hir mouth.

I have found that enthusiastic consent in terms of communication, negotiation, and being specific about desires is pretty fucking awesome.  And so sometimes that quiet “yes,” even when you feel silly about your barely-audible voice, even when you’re shaking, even when to an outsider you might look like someone about to end up in a pretty dodgy situation, can be amazing to get out of your mouth.  That can be a real achievement, and I’d like to see that recognized alongside other means of consenting.

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.