The Hedonic Yoga of Becoming Study

Hypothesis: Can three months of simple low tech practice meaningfully alleviate trauma, prompt peak experience and forge loving connection? We wanted to find out.

12 Couples

We accepted twelve couples who’d expressed interest in this research and who had enough stability and focus to successfully complete a three-month longitudinal study.

6 Metrics

Measuring Ecstasis, Catharsis and Communitas in objective ways, cross-referenced to other studies in the field

1 Practice

Hedonic Engineering: A combination of stacking practices (breathing, embodiment, music, sexuality and substances)

Why Hedonic Engineering?

Combining practices like in this study provides two very specific advantages compared to stronger singular interventions—more responsive steering and shorter durations.

If you use only one tool from the Hedonic Engineering toolkit—say, psychedelics or high-tech brain stimulation—then if things go sideways it can be much harder to correct. Your thrusters are set full throttle in one direction.

When stacking methods together, we can add or subtract from our recipe, making micro-adjustments across several domains.

It also makes it easier to reverse effects if someone runs into challenges.

Objective Metrics

Ecstasis Measures

Johns Hopkins Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ30, weekly/episodic):

A thirty-question instrument that measures sense of the mystical, positive mood, transcendence of time and space, and ineffability.

Flow State Scale (FSS, weekly):

A nine-question assessment determining the level of mastery, engagement, and reward someone experiences in daily life.

Communitas Measures

IOS relational closeness scale (weekly):

Inclusion of Other in the Self (IOS)
scale is a simple instrument where raters score how close they feel to another based on a seven-point scale from completely separate, to partially overlapping, to totally merged.

PANAS positive affect scale (weekly):

Ten questions measuring positive emotions based on a five-point Likert scoring. The instrument also has ten questions measuring negative affect, which we omitted from this study.

Catharsis Measures

PCL 5 Trauma score (pre/post):

A twenty-item self-report measure that assesses the DSM-5 symptoms of PTSD. It does not take the place of the clinician-administered CAPS trauma assessment in dedicated trauma studies but can serve as a helpful initial benchmark.

Resting HRV (via Oura) (daily):

Heart Rate Variability measured overnight
by the Oura Ring, a biometric wearable device. Heart Rate Variability is a marker of how balanced our sympathetic (fight/flight) and parasympathetic
(rest/digest) bodily responses are.

Cortisol Waking Response (weekly):

Urine-based sampling upon waking
to determine cortisol levels as an indicator of rest, recovery, and activation levels
and as a measure of balance of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

The Protocol

A baseline-suggested commitment for the 12 weeks of the project.

Daily

15 mins clitoral stimulation of the female partner (or comparable genital stimulation for gay couple). This practice was intended to create a neurochemical baseline of priming and to serve as a comparison to the existing research on this practice.

15 mins of partner yoga, Thai massage, and myofascial release (with an emphasis on soft-tissue structural integration using basic tools like rollers, balls, percussive therapy guns, etc.).

Monitoring of sleep data & overnight resting HRV.

Journal entries.

Twice Weekly

60 min sessions of Hedonic Yoga

15min clitoral stimulation.
30 mins of exploratory sexuality and body work (using the Rule of 9s practice—which is a structured sequence of deep and shallow thrusting combined with breathing and eye contact.)
15 mins of breath work/closed-eye recumbent meditation to curated musical soundtrack.

Once Weekly

120 mins fully integrated Hedonic Yoga practice

– 15 mins of clitoral stimulation, followed by mutual bodywork, including traction of joints and palpation of soft tissues, “edging”, intensive hyperventilatory breath work followed by gas-assisted static apnea.
The “52.1 Method”—fifty hyperventilations, followed by two deep breath holds with 100 percent oxygen, followed by one inhalation of nitroxygen and maximum-static apnea combined with pleasure/pain optimization.
15 mins of closed-eye recumbent Savasana meditation to music.
– Documentation of insights.

Once Monthly

3-4 hour deeper dive with full exploration of all
above practices


Plus potential addition of more intensive visionary elements—extended breath work, prolonged sexual and sensory stimulation, longer-acting compounds.

Ideally timed to coincide with week of ovulation for female partner(s).

The Kitchen Sink Method

In the Kitchen Sink Method, we literally throw “everything but the kitchen sink” at the problem. We combine anything that has an evidence-based rationale for impact until we absolutely, positively get the result we’re looking for.

Blow yourself sky high, in other words, then go back to the lab to figure out what put the might in your dynamite. With the desired outcome established and repeatable, we can work backward to figure out which elements were “nice to have” vs. which ones are “have to have.”

We can back off a variable at a time until we observe an undesired drop-off in results.

Then we can tune the sweet spot for an optimally shareable protocol, confident that we’re including the full spectrum of treatment options without adding unnecessary bells and whistles, or cost and complexity.

It won’t replace double-blind placebo-controlled studies, but it might be a more helpful method for figuring out the nuances of how we heal and grow, in all of our baffling contradictions and complexity

The Hedonic Engineering Matrix

What follows is a map that takes academic insights and converts them to protocols people can actually use. Every time we read a study or learn of a new
technology or practice that reliably impacts neurochemistry, physiology, or psychology for the better, we can add it to this new chart.

What results is a matrix mapping how to harness our deepest survival circuits in our bodies and brains for reproducible state-shifting transformation. Think of it like Build-a-Buzz Bingo.

Partners were encouraged to explore and experiment within this matrix, with an encouragement to “start low and go slow.”

They were then free to add additional intensity and complexity only after comfortably integrating prior practices.

The Findings

Ecstasis Results

In assessing the category of peak experience, we wanted to try to capture both micro and macro non-ordinary state experiences. We wanted to see if there was an increase in easefulness and autotelic functioning (known as a flow state), along with any more significant experiences of mystical states.

Flow State Scale (FSS)

Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ30)

Communitas Results

In general, people felt happier over the course of this study, and more connected in their relationship with each other. This is not particularly surprising, as focusing on a relationship for three months is likely going to be more intentional than the default settings of most lives. But there were serious challenges as well—as evidenced by those who abandoned the program, or ended their relationship subsequently.

IOS Relational Closeness Scale

PANAS Postive Affect Scale

Catharsis

The relatively low initial trauma scores of the cohort make sense considering that selection criteria for the study did not focus on previously diagnosed symptoms or adverse incidents. The range, or variation from highest to lowest scores, was greatest on the PCL5 of all six metrics we tracked, reflecting the asymmetric impact or absence of trauma in subjects’ lives.

Additionally, women scored higher initially and remained above the “sub-threshold” level in follow-up testing, but they did record the strongest improvement in resting HRV. This would indicate a positive neurophysiological reset of some kind, and a lessening of residual stress in their bodies. Since the PCL5 is self-administered, we would likely need to clinically administer the more robust CAPS test to separate out people’s subjective self-reporting from a more accurate diagnosis.

PCL5 Trauma Score

Resting Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

Participant Journal Reports

The following are excerpts from the weekly journal entries that participants kept over the course of the three-month experiment.

(Lightly edited for clarity and consistency, grouped under categories of experience type)

Initial Experiences with the Protocols

Ms. V: "At first, it felt awkward and kinda forced to have to schedule our sessions. We’ve always thought of ourselves as spontaneous—especially when it comes to our love life. But once we got over that, we started valuing the ‘sexual fitness’ time, knowing that it was going to be there no matter what—and with kids in the house, we definitely found it easier to squeeze in these smaller chunks of time together than if we’d been holding out for a full romantic date night.”

Ms. Y: “Once I got used to the routine (and I made sure to set up our space nicely and put my favorite music on my headphones), I found that I could get into some pretty dreamy spaces during our [daily fifteen-minute] sessions. Only time I’ve felt something similar was during long mountain runs or ninety-minute intense yoga—but this was much faster to get to same place.”

Mr. S: “When I first looked at the calendar for this study, my heart sank.We’ve really fallen off the horse as far as romance goes, and the idea that we had to make time to have sex three times a week seemed pretty excessive. I mean, who has time in their life for that? But a month into this, it’s almost the opposite. We can’t wait until our next session.”

Ms. O: “I found it really uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of the ‘fifteen-minutes’ practice. I realized that all of my life I’ve been so conditioned to be a pleaser that to just lie back and receive sensation, and not even have to stress about climaxing (or satisfying my partner), was incredibly difficult for me.”

Mr. Z: “To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the daily practice much at all. Figured it was gonna be kind of boring to just sit there and ‘twiddle my thumbs.’ It was way harder than I’d expected. Paying attention and really learning to go slow and soft was, for me, a good challenge and it forced me to really tune into Z’s signals, which I thought I had dialed, but realize I kinda didn’t!I’d never realized how much I was wired for harder, faster ever since learning to masturbate as a teenager. This felt like I had to reprogram my entire arousal routine.”

First Exposure to Peak States

Ms. Q: “First time we tried the deeper-dive weekly session, there was too much going on to really relax and experience it. It was like going to a tango class and all I could think of was getting the steps right. But the second and third weeks? OMG! When we finally got the breathing and edging together, along with the music? I found myself on another planet. I came back laughing and crying, it was so beautiful.”

Ms. T: “I didn’t have what I would call my aha moment until now [week5]. It was my turn to do the edging/breath work process, and when I held my breath and Mr. T stimulated me, right as the song kicked into another gear, everything went still, I felt like I’d slipped outside of time. I saw perfectly howI’d been afraid of my big creative project at work and how it all traced back to a spelling bee I choked at in grade school! It sounds crazy—but it made total sense—I’m still thinking about it.”

Mr. U: “At first, we set it up so I was in the ‘driver’s seat’ for our weekend sessions. Figured I’d rock my lady’s world. But then, when it came to my turn[with the gas-assisted breath hold], I dissolved into this place where I heard a voice say, ‘So, this is where you’ve been sending your lover without any idea where she was going?’ I felt like a total fool—like I’d been given a dunce cap and had to sit in the corner!”

Mr. Q: “Our weekly ‘Sabbath’ practice has turned into something pretty indescribable. It makes me think of that ‘vomit comet’ airplane that does those big roller-coaster loops in the sky and leaves everyone weightless, like they’re in space. Doing the protocol and the vital respiration breath hold, it feels like we’re taking turns lobbing each other into zero G—but for our minds. WhenI’m there, I can think anything I want, about anything I can think of, with a 300 IQ for five to ten minutes. It’s like jacking into the mainframe of a cosmic computer!”

Relational Experience of Sustained Practice

A note from one of the couples who dropped out of the study:

Mr. O: “Sorry to say, don’t think this study is for us. We gave it an honest start, but then things got pretty uncomfortable. I know this was supposed to enhance our intimacy, and we did try that—but that meant getting more intimate with some pretty major problems in our relationship (mostly unresolved sexual history stuff). We’re gonna bow out, maybe try some couples therapy, but, to be honest, I’m not that hopeful. Not the right time or approach for us.”

Ms. R: “When we first met, we were constantly physical and romantic together, but over the past few years of my business getting hectic and our kids, I didn’t realize how much we’d just settled into teammate roles. We still cared for each other, obviously, but the spark had kinda fizzled. But just doing the daily practice did something crazy to our attraction. It was like electro-magnets that build up charge from spinning. We couldn’t wait for ourTuesday/Thursday sessions, and by Sunday I couldn’t think of anything else. I thought those kinds of feelings were in the rearview mirror!”

Mr. N: “I have to admit it—I’ve always had a high sex drive and a wandering eye, and the thing that always terrified me about ‘settling down’ was all the fun and adventure I’d be missing out on if I did. But now that we’ve been exploring this Hedonic Engineering together? It’s not even in the same ballpark! I feel likeI’d trade all the flirting and novelty in a heartbeat to keep going down this road together. It’s expanding my life, not limiting it. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can commit with no regrets.”

A note from a woman in a couple who dropped out:

Ms. N: “I said yes to this study because Mr. P was so excited by it and I guessI thought/hoped that maybe it would help change things up for us. It really hasn’t helped. If anything, it made things worse. We can’t even agree on how to do the ‘daily fifteen’ together. I get mad at his controlling, he gets mad at my nagging. Pretty soon, the mood is done, and we don’t even want to talk to each other. We’ve got enough on our plates as it is, this isn’t our hill to die on.”

Ms. Z: “Our ‘romantic hookups’ still happen, but adding sexual fitness—something we commit to ahead of time and just do—I didn’t know that was an option. Now I treat it like flossing my teeth or going for a run—we do it because we know we feel better having done it.”

Ms. V: “At first I was a little irritated and self-conscious about the daily stuff. Then I relaxed and basically surrendered to it. It felt good, and my day sseemed a little lighter. It wasn’t until [this couple took a two-week hiatus due to a family event] and we stopped that I actually realized how much of a positive difference it had made. I guess I was like a frog in a hot tub! But those two weeks I felt more stressed, was snapping at Mr. V, and had a harder time falling asleep. Wasn’t until we got back home and started practicing again that I felt that tension go down again. I’m getting used to this ‘new normal’! Can’t believe we were trying to make it through the grind without it before.”

Mr. Y: “Since college, I’d pretty much settled into a familiar evening routine where I’d have a couple of beers and maybe a joint. It’s been how I decompress from work and turn my brain off. Since we’ve been doing this practice,I’ve found myself wanting that less, and even saving up our ‘state shifting’ todo together on our weekend sessions. I’m like a boy scout now—six days a week;).”

Intimacy and Trauma

Ms. M: “Actually, we’ve kind of run into an issue that’s pretty scary for us. I’m concerned this is becoming an addiction? At first I was pretty skeptical that anything out of the ordinary was gonna happen. We both had our fun in college and in our twenties—I figured this would be pretty tame in comparison.But once we started doing the daily and weekly stuff, especially combining with substances, it became something we started doing all the time—like Sun-day practice every day. I’d joke that I was like Charlotte in Sex and the City[where she gets a Rabbit vibrator and her friends have to stage an intervention].But now I’m seriously having to question priorities and whether this is ‘too much of a good thing’?”

Ms. X: “This didn’t really start happening until we were into the second month and got a little more comfortable with the extended sessions with lots of stimulation and more intense breathing—but when we were making love and holding eye contact, I saw Mr. X’s face start shape shifting—he flickered between a madman, a Viking, even an almost demon-looking dude, before coming back to himself. At first I was really scared, because it reminded me of flashbacks of when I was molested growing up, but when I breathed through it and trusted him, it turned into something really powerful. It was almost as if we weren’t just me and him anymore—we were every man and every woman ever—like we weren’t just doing our work, we were doing ‘the work.’ But with-out the love and trust I have for my man—there’s NO WAY I would’ve felt safe enough to explore that. It still scares me, tbh.”

Mr. Z: “I’m a pretty type-A alpha kind of guy, but this week we tried thatVagal Protocol we’ve been discussing on the chat [a modification involving the male partner wearing the Aneros prostate device, along with throat massage and abdominal palpation], and something broke open in me. When Mrs. Z started to push on my lower belly, I felt all this shame and vulnerability rush through my body—I flashed to my Army dad making me stand up straight with shoulders back and my gut sucked in. Same in high school and college locker rooms. I still catch myself looking sideways in the bathroom mirror to make sure I’ve still got a six pack. That whole time, I never realized how much self-loathing and fear of weakness I was hiding in a rigid stomach. But she kept pushing deeper and deeper—almost like her hand was gonna press into my spine. Then I couldn’t take it anymore and took a huge sucking breath. I cried in big, giant spasms, and my whole body started trembling and shaking uncontrollably. Afterward, I felt calmer and more grounded than for as long as I can remember—I can actually feel my center now as I’m writing this.”

Ms. W: “Once we got the hang of things and kind of settled into a rhythm that worked for us (about weeks three to six) we started consistently getting ‘there.’ We were literally high-fiving and laughing on the bed some days. But as soon as we felt we had this totally dialed and couldn’t miss getting to what we started calling ‘the Yum,’ we hit a brick wall. Old stuff, from way back in our relationship where I had a brief affair, while Mr. W had been drinking and working too much. All of that came roaring back and I honestly didn’t know if we’d make it as a couple—never mind sticking with this study.”

Later related entry by Ms. W: “It was confusing to go from such high highs to low lows. If we hadn’t had the other couples going through this, I’m not sure what would’ve happened.But we stuck with it and kept going with our practices. Some days it felt awful.We literally hated each other’s guts! But we did it anyway. (That was a complete change for me, as I used to withdraw and withhold sex when I was pissed at him.) Then, all of a sudden, we were back in the Yum again! It felt like psycho-archeology—just burning through all the layers of our relationship.”

The Ws hit two more rough patches over the course of the study.

“The second one was just as hard and confusing. I actually ended up spend-ing a couple of nights away at a girlfriend’s house, it got so bad. But by the third time, we could kind of remember the pattern, so it didn’t knock us so far offtrack. One night we wrote a Post-it note: ‘Remember—we did this ON PUR-POSE!’ and stuck it on the fridge. That saved us more than once! Now when we get to those rough patches, we know they’re coming, and keep practicing through them. It’s weird—you don’t actually have to talk about all your problems all the time. At the end of a session we often feel better, and half of the stuff we were fighting about just doesn’t seem that important anymore. (that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods, it just means we’re slowly learning some new ways to deal when things get sh*tty).”

Mr. X: “This is kind of awkward to write about. I was raised by liberal parents in NYC, a feminist mom, progressive schools, etc, and I always considered myself super-respectful of women. When Ms. X first wanted to explore more intense sensation play and pleasure/pain I was really conflicted. It was so against everything I thought a ‘good guy’ did, and there’s literally no models for how to do this outside of porn, which seems not okay and not safe. Then our second month special night, Ms. X started to playfully tease me into whipping her—but she called me out on how confused I was. ‘You’re whipping me like a little boy who doesn’t know what he’s doing,’ she said, ‘and that makes me not trust you. Whip me like a strong man!’ she said. ‘Whip me like a dangerous man,’ she said. ‘Whip me like a good man!’ she said. ‘Whip me like a loving man!’ Each time I tried to do what she’d asked. It was powerful to have her lead me like that, and really interesting to explore all of those different flavors. Her trusting me let me trust myself. We both realized violence and disrespect have nothing to do with exploring more intensive sensations. You can want the latter without ever having to put up with the former.”

Deeper Dives––Innovations with the Protocols

Mr. S: “Week Ten we finally figured out what we called the ‘whole enchilada.’We were pretty comfortable by that point with the breath work, blending plea-sure/pain, working with cannabis and nitrous, and we had our space and musicpretty locked. Then we added in oxytocin and ketamine nasal spray. WOW!We ended up doing spontaneous yoga on our backs—pushing and pulling onour bodies and joints, doing back bends and massaging each other’s bellies—itfelt like getting in a month of yoga in an hour. By the time we actually gotaround to lovemaking it was super sensual—but I also got a ton of insights intoour life—where our daughter was maybe suffering in school more than she’dtold us, and even why we have the circle of close friends we do—it was almostlike looking at our life through a crystal ball.”

Ms. Z: “This one’s a little embarrassing, but the more we got into this whole ‘sexual fitness’ space and really committed to it, the more I gave myself per-mission to explore my own edges and desires. And something I’ve always been curious about was having two lovers at the same time. But that’s so risky for a woman to admit! What are the odds of having a boyfriend/husband and then finding another trustworthy guy to explore that—and if I did really let go or like it, or not like it, then what would happen? Would I get slut-shamed if it ever got out? Would my husband ever look at me the same? Seemed too risky.Then [Ms. Q] shared on the chat about some of the toys they’ve been experimenting with, and I finally plucked up the courage to try it. Not the extra lover part—but the experience of making love to two men with just my man actually present and toys standing in. Holy Smokes! We played fancy dress-up, arranged the bedroom mirrors so we could see and be in the scene at the same time. I felt alive, in charge, and fully stimulated. It was like I unlocked some ancient temple priestess in me. Even dealing with the kids and lunches this morning, it all felt more doable—less crushing. Like I had a little secret I could come back to that only I knew. It was like I 80/20’d a threesome—80 percent of the fun and learning, and only 20 percent of the risk!”

Mr. Y: “Week ten. We figured we’d really go for it. So we got our doc to give us access to Meduna’s Mixture [carbogen, a 70 percent oxygen/30 percent carbon dioxide blend], the nitrogen [70 percent nitrous oxide/30 percent oxygen], and the [oxytocin-ketamine] nasal spray. We did our regular warm-up, body work, scene setting—even added in the Vagal nerve stack, too [anal plugs plus throat massage/traction]. And we mixed up our music playlist, so we had some darker, heavier stuff in there, followed by more angelic tracks. We did the breath prep and the carbogen just as the dark music came on loud (I had a blindfold on, too). It was awful! I felt like I was dying, like one of those horror movies where you’re buried alive. But Ms. Y just kept her hand on my heart and belly. The music was frightening and emotional—I was lost in the underworld and barely remembered I had a body. But then we switched to the nitroxygen blend right as the music went celestial. I’m not sure what did it—butI lost all track of time and space. I was just floating. Peaceful. Extreme tension followed by total release. Truly heavenly. I was looking down on my whole life, this whole human experience from another dimension. It felt super familiar too—like I’d always known this? But somehow was just remembering it again. It’s been four days, and I’m still trying to figure it all out. It felt like we’d just hacked some kind of timeless death/rebirth ritual.”

Ms. U: “Coming into this third month has been fun, fun, fun! Also heavy.Every week seems to bring up something we need to work through. Sixty dayof daily stimulation have left me feeling much more open, more playful, andmore relaxed. I like this version of me better. On our weekend sessions especially we’ve been getting to some pretty amazing places, and last weekendsomething happened where we kind of stumbled into something—magical roleplay, I guess? I’ve never been into the whole ‘sexy nurse/French maid’ thing—always seemed objectifying and cheesy. But when I found myself doing thebreath hold/gas and going down what we’ve come to call the Cosmic FuckTunnel (not mine, my partner said that one), I found myself flashing back to a sketchy, deeply regrettable one-night stand I had during pledge week in college. But instead of being that nineteen-year-old girl, I was me—now. My fullyempowered turned-on woman. And I got to relive that night and rewrite thescript. Turned-on me was there, showing that young boy exactly how to meetme. Calling the shots. Not putting up with any of his shit. Feeling my pleasure.It was super-empowering (and crazy hot;). It’s not that the old memory of whatreally appened’ is gone. It’s more like it’s dimmer now, and the new version isfresher and in color. It’s almost like I can time-bend and go back and reclaimmy past from my present.”‍

Mrs. W: “Okay. Maybe we were slow figuring this out? But OMG it seems so simple now that we have! We do the fifteen-minute stroking prep, then do some acro yoga together on the bed [partner-balancing yoga practice that is often taught in conjunction with traction-based massage techniques]. Then we’d take turns edging each other (orally) while one partner relaxed and did the breath work. With [cannabis] edibles and the N2O on board, we found ourselves naturally synching our movements, breathing and touching to the pulse of the music. I know that sounds corny, or obvious ‘make love to the music!’—but when we would do it (especially to that playlist the group’s been sharing), we would come unstuck in time! It was the dreamiest, easiest way to unlock really visionary spaces—it felt like horizontal dancing!”