Interview with Elaine Young - ISTA Lead Faculty and Tantric Shaman
I work with people around wholeness, freedom, power, sovereignty and sexuality. I work with their emotions and the consequences of not being able to express their anger and grief, looking at what that does to our bodies and our beings. To do that, I work with a number of different modalities which range from traditional tantra and shamanic work to somatic sexology and a practice called sexological body work, which works with the body in a less spiritually focused way. It is working with sexuality in a way so that we’re looking at the physiology, personality patterns and how they can relate.
Somatic sexology is essentially working with sexuality and sex in relation to the body as opposed to the mind. A clinical sexologist would work more in the therapeutic and psychological domain, whereas with somatic sexology, we want to connect with the body and find out what’s being held in the body.
ON THE BENEFITS OF HER SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND
I’m told by many people who come to sessions or events that they find my background to be reassuring and it makes me resonate more with them. My first degree was biomedical sciences, very much laboratory based, and when I graduated I ended up working in a completely different environment in vascular surgery. We were working with ultrasound to try and create diagnostic techniques for people with vascular disease; we were working with soundwaves and energies to look inside the body, for restrictions, blockages and clots. So I was very used to looking inside people’s bodies, feeling flow, feeling energies, vibration and frequency. It’s not so different to what I do now; I see now that many of those people were at the extreme end of the scale; they were very sick by all the things going on in their bodies and their systems.
So I find it useful that I can talk about the tantric energy, kundalini, the chakras, but I can also explain that the kundalini is related to the dura of the spine, the wrapping that tenses and controls our adrenal function, spinal fluid and the blood flow to our genitals. I can also explain that the chakras are related to the endocrine glands, so people who are cynical and sceptical have a physical and grounded position that they can relate to and from.
Breathwork itself is a very widely used and validated technique for mental and emotional wellbeing, for transforming into altered states of consciousness. Shamanic breathwork was a creation of a teacher of mine who worked as a shaman and also as a holotropic breathwork facilitator. She created this combination of using the breath with chakra attuned music and shamanic intention to make it a deeper journey and experience, rather than just using breath to release emotion from my body. It’s a multi-dimensional thing, so some people come to the workshop and they don’t believe in anything to do with spirit or shamanism, yet they have the journey, they have their experience and so they don’t need to believe. Essentially, it allows you to connect the conscious to the subconscious mind; I see the subconscious mind as the inner shaman and the deeper wisdom that we all have. Thankfully now in the Aquarian age of healing, we’re working with empowering people to be their own healers because we all have that capacity. So the breathwork works in that way, in that I create the space, create the container, teach people the technique, but they take themselves on this journey to meet this deeper part of themselves. This may be their inner child or emotions stuck in their body, or pieces of their personality that as young children were pushed into the shadow because they were told it wasn’t okay to be loud, or sexual, or okay to be whatever. The personality and the ego starts to split in early childhood and we become the person that is acceptable to everyone else.
There’s a brilliant book called the Molecules of Emotion, where they’ve tested how emotional chemicals get weighed down in the body and get stuck, in the jaw, in the psoas muscle and in the cervix. When you release this, when you physically move the body, there’s many different ways, those peptides and proteins are released from the tissue. We can see it as our soul piece coming back to us or we can see it as our body physically shaking out these chemicals that have been trapped there, particularly if you’ve had a traumatic experience, been sexually abused or if we have been the victim of violence, but even if we have just been bullied and excluded as a child. So the thing about sound that’s important and links to the frequencies of ultra sound, is that sound is purely a vibration of energy and energy is emotion in motion.
So for me, it is so important to make the authentic sound that really is connected to the event, the emotion and the experience; when that happens, then there is a release. Many of us are very restricted in our throats; we’re told not to breathe too loudly, we’re told to be quiet and we’re trained to be quiet during sex because we have neighbours or parents. So a lot of us in tantra talk about the throat chakra being very restrictive because we can’t speak the truth and we can’t express ourselves. It’s really important in doing anything, whether that be self-pleasuring, shamanic breathwork or during sexual connection with someone, to really make sound. You know, the uprising of gong bath and singing bowls are not by chance?
Shamanism is a funny thing; you’ll get a million different definitions and one of the explanations I find most useful is that shamanism embodies a number of ancestral methods that have been developed in many countries through the world and over many civilisations to promote healing and to problem solve. One of the ways of doing that is by journeying and this can be done with percussion. It can be done with any type of repetitive sound that can bring you into a trance, one of which is drumming. It can also be done with breath as we are connecting the conscious and sub-conscious nervous systems; therefore we have access to this altered state. It’s a bridge; it’s an access point in the breath to a deeper layer of altered consciousness. You can also use plant medicines for journeying, however breath for me is perhaps more empowering for many people because they’re not having to use an external substance or an external source and also, you are still totally in control of your journey; you can choose with your breath to go deeper.
THE THREE METHODS OF SEX
There’s an interesting breakdown around the three types or methods of sex and this creates a lot of confusion with people and with sexual interaction between partners. One of them is trance, so for many people, what they want and what they go to naturally when engaging sexually with someone, is that they go into this trance space, this journey space, which takes them very much away from the connection with their partner; however that can be something that’s beautiful to experience. The other type of sex is what you would call partnered, which is about the connection with the partner and being in contact, being in flow and being in exchange. The third type is role play, where it’s about working with letting go of our power or being dominant, allowing ourselves to be submissive or playing whatever role it is that is your thing. People are not always clear what type of sex they want to have or what their default is. So if you want someone that has partnered connection making love with someone who likes trance, then you get a big problem because the person who wants connection is going to feel very abandoned by the person that goes off into some kind of trance journey.
I think it’s good to have experience of all of them, to have an awareness of all of them. You might have your particular preferences and you might have agreements with your partner around what type of connection you’re having and what type they need. So for me love making can indeed be a journey; it can be a very spiritual experience. For some people it can be very healing and manifesting. If you are completely in your body, connected to the energy of the body and the breath and you don’t have the fear and judgement still controlling you about the way you interact sexually because of religion, upbringing, shame and guilt that often people carry around then it can be very spiritual.
There is a big problem with a lack of intimacy in our society. Sex as a function and sexual penetration is quite easy for a lot of people. My belief is that if people were fully connected with themselves on all levels when they’re having sex, then during love making we would probably cry, laugh or scream with anger. All of that is there in us but it’s not really accepted and people get frightened if partners start shouting or crying.
THE MASCULINE AND THE FEMININE
One of the courses I teach, a huge piece of it is actually around the masculine and the feminine; the terms themselves are very charged and a lot of people don’t like them. However, they are just a model; it’s not about men and women and you have to be very clear when talking about men and women, that men is not masculine and feminine is not women. Yet as you say, people call it the yin and the yang; it is this forward, driven, goal orientated energy that is directional of the masculine and then the more circular, more yin flow of creativity. Each of us has those within us in different proportions and many of us have unhealthy versions of those running our lives. For example, the immature or the unhealthy masculine is the aspect of us that likes to go smash stuff up when angry. Many of us haven’t been taught how to grow that up to a healthy aspect of someone who is there as a protector when needed but doesn’t lash out in place of a lack of consciousness. So the masculine gets a bad rap and often I think wrongly because the masculine in the healthy form is essential for us in the world and is very supportive. It’s about consciousness, awareness and creating safety without judgement. I often think of the masculine in terms of the universe as consciousness which is holding everything. Then I think of the feminine as the earth, the planets and the matter. So the unhealthy feminine, rather than smashing up your car, is far more likely to destroy your reputation. This is the difference between these energies and most people, whether you’re in a man or a woman’s body, can identify the part of you that’s the unhealthy, immature, feminine or masculine. So there’s two things and people often talk about integration and acknowledging both, which is true. Some of us are more stunted in our growth of the masculine or the feminine; it is important to grow them both up so you have the balance and you have access to your emotions and creativity, but also so you can be productive. I see a lot of people who are very inner feminine and very creative, yet can’t get anything done; they can’t make any money or get a project off the ground because they haven’t got that masculine there. Many people, in many bodies, are very driven and very exact; they create empires but haven’t cried in twenty years and haven’t danced since they were a child.
RECLAIMING YOUR MASCULINE/FEMININE BALANCE
When you bring them together inside yourself and you then relate externally in relations of sexuality, you are not trying to find the missing piece. If you’re a male body and you’re not connected to your feminine, quite often you are outwardly trying to find someone to fill that for you, who can fill that feminine and you can be with them and feel complete. However, that is not the healthiest thing because you are living off the other person’s feminine energy. Or you have people in women’s bodies that are all over the place and can’t get anything done and so they look for the man with a strong masculine. What that does is it polarises us into these roles which then leads to unhealthy relating. If we have both inside ourselves, it’s like there’s two people; it’s almost like a foursome! Until we bring that balance into our consciousness, our relationships are essentially unconscious projections of all of those things playing out. Relationships in some ways are vessels to learn about ways of relating.
But also in sex, I often see with male clients that they feel like they always have to be the ones on it, to have a constant erection, to always be ready and to keep going for ages, that it’s his responsibility for his partner’s orgasm. With this, there’s no space for many men to be in a more gentle, receiving and relaxed expression of being in a sexual connection.
WHAT PREVENTS THE BALANCE?
The beliefs are the conditioning; mainly the conditioning of being told that this is what a man is and people think they’re doing their children a favour by telling them that. Society shows us in movies and billboards and then pornography shows us that this is what a man is.
Some women in their more dominant, aggressive and active side fear judgement, that if they are active in sex, or having any kind of dominance or kink, then they are sluts or whores because that’s what the church or their granny told them. There is still this belief that there are women that you marry and there are women that you have sex with; there is still a lot of conditioning around women not wanting to be seen as promiscuous. Now there’s the Virgin Mary overriding archetype that can stop women being free and expressing their sexuality, believing that if they truly make the noises and express themselves in in the way their body should be, would someone find that attractive or would it be a turn off.
So one of the biggest hindrances on both sides is communication and being willing to talk about what your boundaries, fears and desires are, not having to know it all and to ask for feedback and do what you like without having the fear of being judged for being a bit strange or a bit kinky.
MAKING LOVE OR HAVING SEX?
I hope there will always be space for a very animal based quickie because that is an expression of who we are. There is an element of once I start doing tantra, I can only have tantric sex; it has to be this and it has to be spiritual and one of the things around sexuality is linking sex and spirit, soul and sex. Generally, they’ve been very disconnected. Sex we’ve been told cannot be spiritual and cannot be sacred unless we’re married and if we’re making babies.
But the reality is, whilst we are spiritual beings, we are also physical animals with bodies that have desires and that have earthly things, so if we’re authentic, sometimes we’re just going to want to have sex. We don’t always need to be creating a sacred intention where we were going to constantly use our breath and move through our chakras, holding ourselves from having an orgasm and really bringing energy up into our crown and making that a transcendent, blissful experience; it is amazing but it’s not going to happen every day. Also if we did that all the time, it might not become that interesting!
PORNOGRAPHY AND FANTASY
It has a role to play in that for some people, that’s where they get most of their sexual education, which is a little sad because in some respects, the education and expectations get distorted. Many people think their kinks and fetishes are unique and that there’s something really wrong with them, but actually being able to go online and see that there’s a whole load of people who are into this particular thing and working with any particular type of fantasy, kink or fetish, can actually be a massively healing part of reclaiming our sexuality.
One of the most damaging things that it’s done, from my experience with clients, is that it’s disconnected us from the sexual experience within our body. So I think there’s this direct method of pleasure whereby, ‘I touch someone, someone touches me on my skin, I feel a sensation, this goes up into my brain, it lights up the pleasure centre and I feel pleasure.’ That’s the direct body based method. What happens with pornography is that it’s an indirect method; we’re looking at an image, the image is turning us on, our minds are being turned on and it’s totally bypassing the body. So the body still might respond in some way; it might become physically aroused but the sensation is not being felt through the body.
However, in saying that, Jospeh Kramer has created this system of orgasmic yoga and in that he acknowledges that some people use porn; he takes the steps of re-training your body to feel touch. He’s just launched a twelve week online course called Porn Yoga that’s actually directed at people using porn, to teach them to use it in a better way, to teach them to use it in a more embodied way, because the reality is it’s there and it’s not going to disappear.
Sexual fantasy, in our heads, is another way we have become disconnected and I see it the same as porn. So with pornography and fantasies, we’ve hard wired the neurology from the genitals and these nerves become super highways and so our body wants to take us there. So in some ways it’s just as unhealthy I think to view your sexual pleasure by running a fantasy in your head. Orgasmic Yoga works with trying to not rely on fantasy or imagery and to actually feel your body and it’s actually very challenging for some people to feel their own body. This can be because of shame or because they are somatically not connected and therefore unable to feel the sensations. Shame and trauma can damage genitals and can make them feel uncomfortable. People get bored touching themselves because they can’t feel their own sexual energy and they get distracted. For me, if you want to work on your sexuality, before you go to any tantra class, you want to learn how to self-pleasure, so you can actually feel your own body and so you know how to connect to your own sexual energy, because otherwise you’re going to be constantly interacting and taking from someone else, leaving them to light your fire and not be responsible for your own arousal. Sexual fantasies are not wrong and I’m not judging them.
CORE EROTIC THEMES
There’s an amazing piece of work called the Erotic Mind by Jack Morin, who was working with Joseph Kramer. He was a psychologist or psychotherapist and one of the things he did was send people to body workers to help them try and deal with their sexual challenges; what he unravelled and created was this idea that every one of us has a core erotic theme and this is formed partly by the being that we, having been born with some of those expressions, partly by what we witnessed in the primary parental sexual relationships and what happened in our early sexual experiences. If we don’t understand our core, we often go around having a lot of interactions which are not actually what we want, are fulfilling or true. In order to understand the core erotic theme, fantasies are essential to look at. Some people feel ashamed because they view fantasy as something which is outrageous and that they would never want to happen in real life; it’s very common for women to have rape fantasies for instance. However, it’s not actually about rape; the fantasy about being raped is the woman’s desire for deep surrender, which is totally different. The other piece that comes into the core erotic theme is looking at what are your peak sexual experiences, listing four or five of them and then trying to see what the common thread is; it might not always be so obvious.
One of the courses I teach, we look at fears and desires whereby you play it out in a scenario in groups of four and you ask people to speak out what their biggest fear is. That might be being murdered or being raped, being old and dying alone; whatever it is, you then create that experience, not fully, but played out in a workshop theatre way and you make it very real in the energy. What you can do then is discharge that fear from the body to some extent. The next part is, what are your desires, and then also going to play that out in a place that gives that person a chance to experience that within their body and to move through it, or to feel that it is no longer is driving them. The fascinating thing is that our desires are fears, and our fears are our desires.
When you start looking at core erotic themes, sometimes once you have them and you’ve explored them, they dissolve and they lose their power. So it can be something you’ve been needing to shift. Other times you just find out that it’s the thing you like and so you just keep doing it. Sometimes it’s something that needs to be cleared to get rid of the shame; it needs to be done and faced. The most effective way of removing or transforming shame around sexuality, is in my experience, to work openly around sexuality in groups or in one to one sessions. So you take yourself to the place where that shame is and often it’s not really shame around this current present moment; it’s shame held from when you were younger or something that was put on you, something you were told. You can have really good experiences where people learn to let go of that and recognise that it’s okay to be a sexual being.
One of the things I do when people have had a certain amount of training, exposure and experience, in a very safe and honouring way, is to create rituals of groups of pleasuring and they’re some of the most healing places I’ve experienced. People are allowed to be seen there as a sexual being with their desire and not to be judged, rejected or feared for it
SEXOLOGICAL BODY WORK
Sexological body work focuses reconnecting and re-sensitising the genitals physically, but also letting go of all the emotional pain, things that people call yoni massage, tantric massage and vaginal mapping. These are all different names for what is essentially women going to the inner vagina and G-Spot and releasing all of the emotions that may have arisen from painful sex to trauma and to just unconscious sex, maybe an unpleasant medical examination that left you with a traumatic experience. So you actually go with awareness, with breath and there’s somebody holding space for you; you engage the physical body and what’s essential is that you engage the emotional body because that’s where it’s held and then you bring it forward. So you let out the anger, you let out the pain and sadness and the same is also true for those in male bodies, particularly from routine masturbation of a lot of backwards and forwards repetitive masturbation patterns. This can lead to the shaft of the penis becoming really numb or the frenulum of the crown becoming hyper sensitive; it’s different in every one. But it’s to do with this repetitive, non-connected movement and the body feeling a constant pressure to be erect and perform and it creates tension and it creates stuff in the tissue. So the different type of massage and body work for male genitals and also in both sexes, which I’m going to talk about a lot less, but anal tension and anal trauma, whether that’s physically connected trauma or whether that’s trauma of constantly being in a state of intense high alert or fear, you can go to the body and you can work on, even with anal breathing practices without even touching, you can work on a level of anal relaxation. But anal massage and prostrate massage or sacred spot massage as it’s called in tantra, is working with the male prostate and releasing old emotional pain, tension, trauma, fear from that tissue where the specific body work. And the male prostate is the same tissue as the female G spot. It’s the piece of tissue which holds a lot of emotional energy, same as the cervix in women. The G spot or the sacred spot in terms of tantra, is an access point or a gateway, which is a point that comes out in the tissue when you’re in a certain point of consciousness, when you’re in a certain point of expansion and through that you can access other states of being bliss, connecting to spirit. It can be done very much as a physiological piece of body work to release peptides from tissues, or it can be done in the way of, “I’m really going in here to connect with the energy of the female goddess and I’m going to bring that in.”
LA PETITE MORT
In Tantra, there’s this thing called ‘Ojas’, which is only for males, but it relates to the amount of sexual reservoir you have. There’s this belief in terms of ejaculation that you have a limited amount of ojas and when you have used that in your life, it’s done. It seems to be a fear and negative based thing. There’s a few different translations for masturbation and I can never remember which languages they’re from, but one of them translates to manual stupidity whilst another one is something like self-abuse. I heard there was a time in the Victorian age when they wanted the population to increase because in older societies, masturbation was self-love and it wasn’t necessarily shamed. In our culture, we don’t really engage in healthy self-touch, self-love and self-pleasuring; I think that has a huge consequence on our well-being, our relationships, our sex lives and our self-confidence.
It’s important to notice what comes up when you start to touch yourself; maybe the body doesn’t know the difference whether it’s being touched by yourself or someone else. It’s important to notice if there’s feelings of shame that arise and doing some journaling and reflecting on what they are. Is it that your mother always appeared at that moment or is it that you don’t feel deserving? A lot of the time, people don’t feel deserving of that attention and I’d like to bring awareness how much time people can spend on this. If you do have an amazing lover that you are totally in love with, how much time and effort would you spend pleasuring their body? What would you often be willing to do? Compare that to the amount of effort, attention and time that you’re willing to give to your body.
ORGASMS – WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?
If a woman is not able or willing to have an orgasm, there’s nothing you can do. But men are told that’s their responsibility and women are told that if they can’t orgasm, they’re not goddesses, they’re not this or that. So they sometimes blame the man and ultimately, it’s not his responsibility, it’s your responsibility. The same can be true if a man does not ejaculate. Women can feel responsible, feeling that they’re not beautiful or sexy; what we need to do is take responsibility for our own bodies and our own sexual pleasure. Reclaim your orgasm! And if you can do that and not suck energy from your partner, you can be less selfish. But it’s not all about orgasm, which is why I really like the orgasmic yoga approach. There’s so much pleasure that can be had without orgasm that most of us never get to experience because we are rushing towards the goal. A lot of people use masturbation for stress relief, a lot use it for comfort obsessiveness and a distraction from other things in life. In fact, when you have that kind of sex with a partner, you might as well be masturbating because you’re just really using the other person’s genitals for your orgasmic experience.
It can also be really beautiful to share moments of self-pleasure with a partner. Actually, just being witnessed can be a massive shame busting exercise. It can also be that you learn things about your partner’s body by watching them. Actually, it may bring up a challenge for many people because it will challenge their own self-worth and how worthy they are as a partner. For instance, someone may think, “look she’s having a great time on her own, she never does that when she’s with me.” So you have to be responsible for your own level of confidence and not feeling unworthy from what you witness. Some people don’t like their partners self-pleasuring at all because they can think that something is wrong with their sex life. It would be a massive culture change if we could just accept and admit in our relationships, that it’s totally fine, healthy and actually beneficial and essential for everyone, even when they have a partner, to have some self-pleasuring connection with their own body.
IF ELAINE COULD DESIGN THE SEX EDUCATION CURRICULUM
The essences of it would be first of all embodiment because I think with all aspects around sex, we’re not living in our bodies; we’re living in our minds and we’ve disconnected with our bodies. It’s impossible to have a good sex education and a healthy sexual awareness if you can’t actually be in your body. Breath, movement, and all the things yoga and tantra are based on is being in the body. Understanding that sexual energy is the most natural thing in the world and that we’re all born from it and it has the potential to create life, therefore it is sacred, is magical. I think those would be the two corner stones, both being in your body and then to know that it is magical and sacred. Then we get onto the arrival of anatomy. A lot of people don’t know the anatomy of the genitals, don’t know where the G spot is or don’t know where anything is. How can you have good sexual energy and connection when you don’t actually know? Education around genitals and the way energy moves around the nervous system would be really important, as well as acknowledging that there’s emotion connected with sexual energy and giving the idea that that’s healthy and normal. I would also teach people communication skills around being able to speak out about what are their desires, fears and boundaries and also becoming comfortable with intimacy. Then there’s the practical things; there’s a belief in the spiritual tantra community that if you’re vibrating at a high enough frequency, then you will not catch any sexually transmitted infections. This is nonsense in my opinion. There’s a lot of shame value attached to STI’s and terminations of pregnancy, so teaching about how these can be transmitted would be important. Most people don’t even know that things can be transmitted from the hand to the vagina, the hand to the penis and the throat from oral sex. So I think it would also be important to teach them about those things and around what they can do and get rid of that “sex can’t be powerful and wonderful if you use a condom” or “it’s not right or weird if you’re using some kind of barrier.” You know things like wearing gloves, wearing gloves can actually be quite sexy with latex and things you know. I hate the idea how you can’t feel anything through gloves or condoms; that’s all in the mind. Sexual energy is a hugely powerful force that can create life but it can’t get through 2mm of latex? It is nonsense.
I hate this expression when people say, ‘Are you clean?’ How horrible is that? That someone who has an STI is dirty? So people need to learn all of that but all of that needs to come way after people learn to accept themselves and their bodies and to understand that sex is natural and beautiful. They need to know that their bodies can do and what pleasure is and be able to be intimate with someone else and talk about what you want and what you don’t want. Also people need to know that there’s no such thing as safe sex, there’s only safer sex. You can only choose to say I’m not going to use any barriers I’m going to take the risk. But if you do that in a place of choice and knowledge, that’s okay. But if you do it from a place of ignorance, then that’s not okay.
ISTA Lead Faculty and Tantric Shaman