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The Yoga of Non-Sex
Brahmacharya Is Yoga's Most Misunderstood Yama

Anyone who explores Yoga outside of the postures (Asanas), will be faced at one point or another with the Yamas and Niyamas - Yoga's disciplines and observances. Most of them make a lot of sense - stealing, lying and doing harm to others is obviously wrong. Self-discipline is a good quality to develop. But there's one Yama that those of us in the West have a hard time accepting - in fact, the majority of Western Yoga enthusiasts reject it outright: Brahmacharya, or chastity. We have quite a few sex issues in both Europe and North America, and we rebel if something threatens to take away our sex - or our issues with it! Really, just because we like to practice Downward Facing Dog and Standing Forward Bend a few days a week, do we have to live like monks and nuns?

(Article continued below.)

The short answer to that is "no." Brahmacharya is a very misunderstood Yama. Not all Yogis and Yoga masters have been celibate for all their lives. Some have been "householders" - in other words, they have a wife, children, and a life rooted in the material world. One of the West's favorite Yogis, B.K.S. Iyengar, was married (he is now a widower) and is a father. On the other hand, Paramahansa Yoganana, who helped establish Yoga in the West, rejected married life outright and did live as a celibate. Celibacy, or sexual abstinence, is an important part of certain Yogic sects, but not all of them. In other Yoga styles - parts of Tantra and certain forms of Kundalini - sex plays a very important part. How can one rectify all these different opinions, beliefs and practices? By approaching sex responsibly and with maturity - which is really what we Westerners need to work on!

Pick up any large dictionary and look up the word "chastity" - you will find it has several meanings in addition to "virginal" or "celibate." It also involves being pure and virtuous. Chaste, the adjective for chastity, refers to behaving (and thinking) in a morally decent manner. When it comes to chastity, celibacy is merely an option, not a decree. More important is the intent. A person can choose to be celibate, but if he or she continues to treat the opposite sex in a demoralizing or disrespectful manner, then chastity is not being practiced. On the other hand those who are faithful to one mate, who treat their significant other with kindness, who place love above lust in all their actions, can most likely be defined as chaste. Sometimes Brahmacharya is also defined as continence, in which case the gray areas become even grayer. Continence is not only defined as abstaining from sexual activity, it also refers to moderation and self-restraint. Another definition involves control over the emission of bodily fluids (ejaculation control is practiced in certain Tantric circles).

Obviously there are ways for Western Yoga enthusiasts to practice Brahmacharya without foregoing sex completely. It's a matter of attitude, reflection and behavior. Treat your body and the bodies belonging to others as part of the Divine - with reverence and respect. Acknowledge that sensual pleasures of all sorts (this includes food, alcohol and anything of the senses, not just sex) are earthly in nature and to be enjoyed in moderation. Don't let the delights of the material world distract you from your quest for a greater connection with the Universe. Be responsible and conscientious in your dealings with the opposite sex. Have one serving of ice cream, don't eat the whole carton. Don't drink and drive, either. Practice Brahmacharya on this level and you will never have a stomachache from too much food, suffer a hangover or wake up in the morning next to an embarrassed stranger. This is about as far as most Westerners can go with this particular Yama, and even this relatively shallow level is enough to benefit anyone's life.

Of course, those Yogis who insist that Brahmacharya is celibacy, and that it is a necessary practice in the search for enlightenment, do have a point.

Next page >> Sexual Energy and Transmutation >> Page 1, 2

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