As a general rule, I don't like sexy yoga. I concede that yoga can be sexy, and sex can be yogic, but I prefer that the two- yoga and sex- sleep in separate beds. To the likes of Naked yoga, Playboy yoga, and the mantra My yoga isn't about namaste, more like T&A, coined by former professional wrestler turned Yoga for Regular Guys founder Diamond Dallas Page, I say no, thank you. For me, there's something incongruous about combining asanas and ass-ogling.
Thankfully, The Yoga Sutras caution against the misuse of sexual energy. Brahmacharya refers to abstinence, and interpretations of this sutra vary widely, from celibacy to a more metaphorical definition relating to one's energetic commitment to the yoga path.
Evoking one form of brahmacharya, my friend Marc (a fellow yoga teacher), once asked the question, "What part of don't f--- your yoga students do you not understand?" He was referring to the caddish behavior of certain male yoga teachers. The comment was so blunt and, regrettably, accurate that I nearly laugh-snorted tea out my nose. However, there are many more ways in which we can observe brahmacharya to enhance our lives, relationships, and yoga practice. In other words, balancing your life through yoga, includes your sex life.
Most interpretations don't insist that we abstain from sex altogether, and even the ancient yoga scriptures make a distinction between the celibacy of ascetics and "forest dwellers," who retreated from society to meditate and practice yoga in solitude, and "householders" who maintained families, to which sex is paramount. In other words, defining brahmacharya plainly as abstinence is reductive and, yes, unrealistic for most people. However, we still practice brahmacharya when we abstain from wasting, diluting, or polluting our energetic life force through sexual behavior that’s irresponsible or harmful to ourselves and others.
This intention manifests itself differently for each of us. For some, it suggests not eroding relationships through infidelity or using sex to fill a void in one's life. But, there are also more subtle ways to observe this sutra. For example, I opt not to talk about or allude to sex in my yoga classes, as I think it's distracting and inappropriate in most cases. (You may have noticed that I usually shirk to discuss it here). I think it's important for yogis to keep in check their come-hither pheromones in a studio environment, and I manage my own to the point where Leonardo DiCaprio could stroll into one of my classes, and, frankly, I might not notice.
If, on the other hand, he sidles up next to me at a Celtics game: all bets are off (even if he roots for the Lakers). I've been given clearance by S.O. on this one and, likewise, he has my blessing if Scarlett Johansson woos him away. It's only fair . . . Speaking of the talented Scarlett Johansson, perhaps you recall her portrayal of a yoga teacher in last year's He's Just Not That into You? The breathy, sex kitten voice while teaching. Sleeping with a married man. Toying with the emotions of poor “E” from Entourage for comfort after said affair with married man goes awry. Sort of sums up the opposite of making conscious decisions about your sexual energy, right?
Nevertheless, yogis are people; we're not perfect. Thank, God. Think how boring movies, TV, literature, art, music, and culture would be if created by a bunch of celibate forest-dwellers.
Sex is the ultimate creative act, therefore, perhaps it's more useful to see brahmacharya as awareness around what you create with your energy, rather than abstinence from the creative act of sex. This approach suggests that by conserving or holding in our energy, we gain greater life force, and this interpretation makes brahmacharya applicable to many facets of our lives beyond the boudoir.
Just as we can be sexually promiscuous by engaging in numerous, indiscriminate affairs, we can be energetically promiscuous too--unaware of how our thoughts, words, and actions influence each relationship and bond we create, from a quick exchange with the Starbucks barista to your telepathic connection with your BFF. Do we choose our romantic partners out of love and respect, or something else, such as fear of being alone or some superficial trait? Do we honor our friends or take them for granted? Are we present in our commitments, whether romantic, friendly, familial, or professional, or do we "get around" without paying much attention to how our energetic output affects the world around us. Do our daily commitments align with our larger chosen path?
Notice where and on what you spend your energy (sexual and otherwise). This creates your reality. The practice of yoga, including the principle of brahmacharya, encourages us to create mindfully. When we do so, we are our most compassionate and powerful selves.
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Translation & Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda
- The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga, George Feuerstein, PH.D.