“I’m not interested in yoga porn!” -Unnamed yoga teacher, regarding the image used in a recent post.
One of the tenets of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a staple basic text of yoga, is not to engage in sexual intercourse. A niyama (ethical) yoga principle suggests brahmacarcya, non-excess, which is often taken to mean sexual purity. The literal translation is something like, “walking with God,” according to Deborah Adele. Her interpretation is more about owning the sacred view in all aspects of our lives. I try to see it this way myself. We can try to practice the honoring of sacred space in all areas of our lives; in our mental spaces, heart spaces and in the intentions that precede our actions. It means practicing mindfulness, but with a special consideration that all things are sacred, all moments exist in pure, Divine space. There are three levels of approach to this principle: Body, Energy and Mind. I’ll talk about the first two briefly here. This is a vast topic, however.
On the physical level, we can practice restraint and control of our bodily functions. That indicates no sex. It might be a way to go for someone who has very serious problems controlling their sexuality or deep hangups regarding its expression. We can’t exercise much control over our other functions, such as saliva, urination and defecation, sneezing. But those don’t normally involve other people, though they can be affected. In a sense we do control when and where, not if we poop. Some advocates of sexual purity may restrain all orgasms, be they self-generated or otherwise. But if we want to go the route of self-restraint, we give up sex entirely or at least work on giving up attachment and fixation with it.
On the energy level, we can work with tantric initiations from qualified Master to develop our capacity. We work with mantra, mudra and visualizations dealing with deities. In Hinduism there are countless gods. In the Vajrayana systems of Tibetan Buddhism, there are thousands as well. Despite hundreds of books and workshops in the West with so-called tantra teachers, there is a lot of misinformation about this topic. If you’re interested, look in your heart, then seek out a real teacher. You’ll know when you find the one for you. In Hinduism the goal is to be yoga, or unification, with the Divine, Higher Self, Supreme Godhead and so on. In tantric Buddhism, the intent is to achieve Buddha, a state of mahamudra, translated as “Great Symbol.” Symbol of what? The already unified state of wisdom and compassion which is the domain of all enlightened Buddhas. But you probably knew that.
There is a some overlap between Hindu and Buddhist systems, but I’m not familiar enough with the Hindu practices to speak intelligently about them. I am a partly certified teacher and practitioner of Tibetan Yantra Yoga, and fully certified teacher of Power Vinyasa Yoga. I practice Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, primarily Anu Yoga and Guru Yoga, primarily with my Dzogchen Master, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. I will say that the practices of Kundalini Yoga are closely related in their effects to some of the systems that I’m trained in. In fact, an old friend who recently passed was a live-in student with Yogi Bhajan back in the day, and a long term practitioner with my teacher. We discussed many of the similarities, but I think it takes a very deep understanding, long term practice under the tutelage of a very highly qualified Master to even begin to put this together.
What does this have to do with yoga being sexy? Everything and nothing. Our practices of hatha yoga move us through different states of being. Tantra is based on energy channels and chakras. When we practice movement with breath, holding and flowing postures, saying OM, other mantras, invoking the names of deities and the names of poses in Sanskrit, it affects our subtle energy. While there are practices which use sexuality and partners to work with different states, it’s a mistake to go for some weekend tantra workshop thinking that you’re going to be enlightened. What’s more likely is that the snake will be stirred and you won’t know how to handle what comes up. I’m sure there are countless people who will say that they’ve been practicing sexual yogas for years with no side effects and that anyone who says you need a teacher is just trying to own the Dharma. But there are those who have been negatively affected by practices of subtle energy that they cannot control. Sex is already super powerful. Entire schools of thought in Western Psychology are based on notions regarding our inability to deal with even the most basic sexual content. So if you take up clenching your sphincter and panting like a dog in heat before getting naked with multiple partners in some kind of polyamorous scene, please be careful. We already have so many issues around sex and relationships. When you open the doors of tantra, it’s very very important to remain grounded. To engage in these kundalini opening practices willy nilly isn’t healthy, and to do so without the strong guidance of a very highly evolved teacher could be dangerous for you. A lot of people have things to sell; ideas, practices, workshops. Use good judgement.
For that reason, I think that the very safe practices that we do in places that I study and practice give us the best of both worlds. Yoga is sexy, there’s no doubt about it. You know you’ve looked at your yoga butt today, haven’t you? Yogis are hot. We’re in touch with our energy, our sensuality, our sexuality. But those of us who are responsible, particularly those in a teaching capacity, have the job of keeping ourselves and our students grounded and stable. Some teachers take advantage of their roles, having all kinds of relations with their students. One teacher in LA recently got prison time over it. All I can say is, don’t drink the Kool-aid! Be a yogi, be sexy, but be a good consumer and a smart practitioner. Be aware that yoga has the power to transform. I learned in my first Human Sexuality class in the 80s that we are all sexual beings. To pretend we’re not is unhealthy. To act like yoga is too spiritual to be thought of as sexy is just immature. It is. You are. And please be careful with your own energy and that of those in your world.
I’m a yogi. I’m sexy. I own that. I have an ethical responsibility to my own energy and the well being of those that I touch. May I practice warmth, generosity, sensuality, enthusiasm, non-attachment, wisdom and compassion deep within my own energy channels so that when I connect with other beings I can be the best yogi possible in that moment. May we all strive to relax more, love more deeply and with less clinging.
Real yogis do it with love. –yogi d