Did you know that the literal translation of Brahmacharya, one of the five Yamas on the Eight -Limbed Path of Yoga, translates to mean “chastity or continence”? And that “most commentators stress sexual abstinence as the focus of this Yama”?
Pause please. Did you just check out when you read that? I did when I first read it. I thought we were doing some physical poses and linking it with our breath and that was the yoga. And man, I sure do love to sweat and to go deep into my poses feeling the fullness of myself, not to mention enjoying a nice afternoon delight with my man; how did sex or lack there of even get into this equation? How are these related?
Our Relationship With Sex
How often is sex on the mind? “Indeed, issues of when, where, with whom and how often to have sex, or whether to have sex at all, has become a central problem for most of us,” shares John McAfee, founder of the Relational Yoga Mandiram in Colorado. He further explains that the real question is not whether “to indulge in sex or to be celibate, but why sex has taken such an important, central role in our lives” (The Secret of the Yamas).
We, men and women, not only personally think, plan, act for and around sex, but culturally we thrive on it. Look at magazine ads, food ads, or even how much this article caught your attention because of the word SEX. What is our fascination with sex?
“It is the source of transitory pleasure when we have it, and prolonged suffering when we are deprived of it.” It has become misused and misguided, and it is only a part of a much larger issue. McAfee says that this issue lies around a more appropriate translation of Brahmacharya and that may be ‘not being sensual’, for sensuality, not sexuality is the core issue here. We use our senses to experience life, through touch, sight, taste, smell and sound. In fact, we need these senses to thrive and to relate to ourselves and to others.
Sensuality Is The Root Of All Desires
Think of a moment in your life that you felt the euphoric high, experienced that amazing moment. Perhaps during sex, or a sunset or sunrise with a loved on, maybe even alone. How about summiting a high peak, mastering an art or skill, tasting the most amazing bite of chocolate cake in your life. Think of that moment, bring it into your minds eye really close to your heart. Got it? Ok. Now, tell me what comes up? Is it a memory of a most desirable place or time in your life? Probably.
McAffee says that “it is the memory of sense experience that activates desire.“ We desire it because we want it to happen again. We want to repeat that sensation, that taste, smell, feeling deep within. We begin to grasp and to cling onto the idea of what that experience was like out of a feeling. And then when we have an opportunity to repeat the experience what happens usually? It is not the same.
We have separated the natural in the moment experience of joy with the sensuality of pleasure memory. “Beauty and joy occur when we are in the moment, when we are not anticipating, hoping and expecting.” Instead of just accepting those moments of joy in our lives, we cling to the idea of what it is “suppose” to feel like and be like; “we are attempting to manifest a remembered experience and repeat it.”
Unfortunately, by living this way, we “abandon the possibility of spontaneous joy and instead search for pleasure, which is mere excitation of the senses.”
Brahmacharya isn’t about a rule of to do or not to do, rather it is a practice of mindfully living in the present moment. Returning to the spontaneous way of living allows us to meet every moment in life anew.
Does this mean my senses are not good? No. Absolutely not. We must use our senses to relate and exist in the world around us. “Our senses are our doors to perception.”
In fact, during most yoga classes you will be instructed by your teacher to notice how your body feels by sensing this or observing that. Yoga uses the senses as a tool to help us tap into the present moment. But we do so with the intention of coming into the NOW of the moment rather than the remembered experience.
For instance, what your downward dog should be like and only seeking after that ideal of what it is “suppose to feel like” is very different than just being in the moment and respecting, the downward dog today that you are in. Since each day is different and sometimes, personally, my dog needs a little extra TLC before I can really open up my hamstrings, we must honor where we are. If I was not present with what my body needed to slowly awaken in my downward dog, and I went straight into what I “thought my dog should be like everyday,” there is a chance I could physically hurt myself.
Hurt Isn’t Always Physical
This is the root of what we are talking about. We can hurt ourselves, be unkind to ourselves, merely by living in a memory. We call this Smritti in Sanskrit. Understanding why we do what we do is the key to unlocking the habitual pattern. Ask yourself, “what is the root cause of my need for pleasure”? Most memories link us to the drive or desire behind it the pleasure that we seek.
What motivates you to seek that sunset again or the high of a first kiss? What drives you to want to go deeper into your backbend? Is it Ego or is it pleasure seeking of a felt memory? Why do you keep sleeping with the same type of person but choose not to create a lasting, loving and compassionate relationship with them? Typically, if you are aware, “you will notice that the desire comes with some image of a past experience,” maybe even sexual or sensual. These images are created by memory.
Practice: Living In The Moment
Most of our living takes place in the past with memory. “We have divided life into past, present and future and this division, like all our divisions, removes us from the fullness of living” in the present moment. In a world where it is always about the next best thing, this practice is challenging. We use the past as an indicator to see the future and we do so through actions in the present. Living in the past or the future, actually limits our capacity to act and to do, because it separates us from ourselves in the living moment of now.
Self-discovery occurs only when we are present to the relationship with ourselves. If our mind builds its thoughts about the future and the “what if’s or if only’s” or even if the mind lives in a place of the past, with nostalgic memory, we are only residing in a place of desire. That is not the present moment. Rather, it is the opposite of such; it is a place of non-reality.
The practice of Brahmacharya is not about our sexual activity. Instead it is about your consciousness of your desires. Are you a yogi who needs deep sensual connection on the mat in order to “find your yoga”? Are you always seeking out the next best sensation in your body in the hopes to meet your last most amazing experience? These are the things we are talking about here. How can you become the witness to your most sensual desires, memories and felt experiences, and how can you learn to see the differentiation between the two?
We forget along the way of this yoga path, that it is a journey, not a goal. It is called a practice for a reason. Pattabhi Jois says, “do your practice, all is coming,” and he meant that all will come as we practice and learn to understand our selves in a deeper more meaningful way.
The practice of Brahmacharya teaches us to separate ourselves from our desires, becoming a witness to them, and to look deeper into where they come from. As we become the observer to our desires, we clear a pathway to comprehend our drive and our intentions. Gradually, through the practice, we empower ourselves just by noticing why we do what we do.
Kristina Kuzmich, born and raised in the Midwest, first found Colorado through Naropa University in 2004, and instantly called it “home.” Kristina is a 200 E-RYT and a Licensed Massage Therapist residing in the Vail Valley, and is the founder and owner of Mindful Evolution Yoga. She is the Yoga Director for the Aria Yoga Program at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, the only certified SmartFLOW © Yoga Teacher in Colorado and is proud to be a yoga ambassador for lululemon athletica and Manduka. A lover of dark chocolate and mate tea, an avid hiker, snowboarder, writer and community worker, she insists on traveling the globe in her diligent pursuit of perpetual growth. She is a junkie to the card game, Rummy, and while not shy to share her obsession for fairy tales, particularly devouring up The Brother’s Grimm, Kristina has an exploratory skill in creating meals in the kitchen. She isn’t afraid to dabble into her favorite styles of wine (all things French), share her opinions when asked, and will continually practice seeking the truth and finding clarity, though the wine may cloud that at times.
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