Education, Health, and Safety

Exploring Joyful Intimacy: A Neuroaffective Approach

In relationships, one of the most beautiful things we can share is joy (and joyful intimacy). It's like a bright light that makes everything better. But sometimes, finding and keeping this joy can be hard. This is where neuroaffective practices come in. They can help us understand and feel joy more deeply, both by ourselves and with our partners. 

Understanding Neuroaffective Somatics

The Connection Between Mind, Emotions, and Body

Neuroaffective somatics teaches us that there's a deep and intricate connection between how our brain processes emotions and how our body responds to these emotions. For example, when we feel joy, our brain releases a cocktail of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which not only make us feel good mentally but also lead to physical expressions of happiness, such as smiling or a relaxed posture.

The Basics of Neuroaffective Somatics

  1. Neuro (Brain): This part refers to our nervous system, primarily the brain, which is the control center for processing our thoughts, emotions, and sensory experiences. It's where the initial recognition of emotions begins.
  2. Affective (Emotions): This term is about our feelings and emotions. It encompasses the wide range of emotions we experience daily, from happiness and joy to sadness and anger. These emotions are not just abstract concepts but have tangible effects on our physical state.
  3. Somatics (Body): Somatics focuses on the body and its movements, sensations, and physical states. It's the realm where emotions manifest physically, such as the tension we feel in our shoulders when stressed or the flutter of excitement in our stomach.

Understanding this connection allows us to consciously influence our emotional and physical state. By engaging in practices that stimulate positive emotions, we can promote physical responses that are beneficial to our health and well-being. Conversely, by adopting certain physical practices, like deep breathing or yoga, we can influence our brain's emotional processing and enhance feelings of joy and contentment.

Healing Smile image with information about how to practice the healing smile

Simple Exercises to Connect Joyfully

  1. The Healing Smile: The simple act of bringing a gentle smile to your face and sending it to self can bring forward warmth and pleasant feelings.  The included slide provides basic instructions, and you’ll note that this is also beneficial for your vagus nerve. This nerve is responsible for automatic functions like breathing and heart rate.
  2. Sharing Smiles: Take turns smiling genuinely at each other. Notice how it feels in your body and how it might make you both feel happier. Sometimes it’s odd to stare at your person and smile, so if that is your experience, simply gaze in your partner’s direction and smile. 
  3. Breathing Together: Sit close to your partner and try to match your breathing. This simple act can help you feel more connected and peaceful together. One fun way is to go back-to-back and FEEL….
  4. Expressing Gratitude: Tell your partner something you appreciate about them every day. It can be anything, big or small. Hearing positive things and expressing them can make you both feel good.

Health Benefits of Cultivating Balanced Joyful Intimacy

  1. Enhanced Heart Health: Balanced joyful intimacy promotes a smooth flow of Qi (vital energy) and blood, which is essential for heart health and preventing cardiovascular issues. By maintaining a joyful and positive outlook, individuals can naturally support heart function and prevent Qi stagnation, which in TCM is often linked to emotional stress and physical health problems.
  2. Strengthened Immune System: Joy and positive emotions are believed to enhance the body's resilience to disease. In TCM, a balanced emotional state supports the proper function of the Wei Qi, or defensive Qi, which acts as the body's first line of defense against external pathogens.
  3. Improved Digestion: According to TCM, the spleen is involved in processing nutrients and emotions. Joy and contentment can aid the spleen's function, promoting better digestion and nutrient absorption, while reducing issues like bloating or fatigue that can stem from emotional distress.
  4. Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Cultivating joy helps balance the emotional body, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety. Since TCM views emotions as interconnected with physical health, reducing negative emotional states can alleviate physical symptoms associated with stress, such as muscle tension or headaches.
  5. Longevity and Vitality: TCM teaches that a balanced emotional state contributes to longevity and vitality. Joy, being a heart-nourishing emotion, is particularly important for maintaining youthful energy, mental clarity, and overall well-being.

couple laughing in bed together

Cultivating Joy and Joyful Intimacy in Daily Life

TCM and the concept of the emotional body encourage finding balance in all aspects of life, including emotions. Here are a few ways to cultivate balanced joy:

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices like Qi Gong and Tai Chi promote the flow of Qi and help balance emotions.
  • Connecting with Nature: Spending time in natural surroundings can harmonize the body's energy with the natural world. This will foster a sense of joy and peace.
  • Nurturing Relationships: Positive interactions with loved ones can nourish the heart and promote emotional well-being.
  • Creative Expression: Engaging in creative activities like painting or music can release blocked emotions and stimulate joy.

What’s Next to Explore Joyful Intimacy?

Integrating neuroaffective practices into your relationship isn't just about adding another task to your day. It's about creating small moments of connection that bring great joy. These practices can light up your relationship, making everyday moments special. Start small, be consistent, and watch the joy in your relationship grow.

I invite you to join me in this exploration of joy, courage, and the generous spirit of love. Whether it’s through personalized guidance or the shared experiences of my workshops, my goal is to support you in nurturing a life filled with harmony and happiness.

For more insights or to embark on your journey to joy, please connect with me at

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Katherine Zitterbart

Article by Katherine Zitterbart

Katherine is a multidisciplinary – multimedia educator, facilitator, and healing

artist whose work centers Sexuality, Somatics and Sound Healing.  She works primarily with folks in the LGBTQIA+, chronic illness/pain, and Neurodivergent communities – as well as folks in helping roles.  Katie sees people in person in Pittsburgh PA, and online everywhere.

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