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ब्रह्मचर्य Brahmacharya

Posted by Julie Andres on Tuesday, February 1, 2011 Under: yamas
When the fourth yama, brahmacharya, was discussed in yoga teacher training it was presented as practicing "sexual celibacy". This, of course, brought up the following questions: "What's wrong with having sex with someone you love?" And, "Sex is a natural human function, like eating - why should it be repressed?"
Looking into the tenet in more depth, it seems it isn't that simple. While there are yogi saints who live and have lived in renouncement of sensual pleasures and physical possessions, many other devoted yogis and yoginis have committed to love relationships that include sexual activity. In other words, for the majority of us, it isn't what we do, but how we do it.
Brahma can be translated from Sanskrit as 'supreme spirit'; charya as 'concern for' or 'observation of'.
The plot thickens.
As yoga expert Donna Farhi puts it: "It doesn't take a genius to recognize that manipulating and using others sexually creates a host of bad feelings, with the top contenders being pain, jealousy, attachment, resentment, and blinding hatred. This is one realm of human experience that is guaranteed to bring out the best and worst in people, so the ancient Yogis went to great lengths to observe and experiment with this particular form of energy. It may be easier to understand brahmacharya if we remove the sexual designation and look at it purely as energy. Brahmacharya means merging one's energy with God." Another way Farhi puts it is "merging with the one".*
Sexualization for profit is rampant within contemporary yoga culture. The strong, supple body gained through rigourous asana practice is frequently exploited as a means of erotic arousal, which is the strongest possible tool for selling products; yoga is often taught by teachers who focus on physical appearance and strive to fill their classes with like-minded students; mainstream media channels are used to present yoga primarily as a means to become more sexually attractive. Again, it sells more. (See Yoga Journal and other yoga publications, available at most newsstands, for  examples.)
Religious texts from around the world have been telling of the spiritual cost of unthinking sexual activity since ancient times, and these truths remain intact. We all need to remind ourselves of the positive and negative aspects of even the most ordinary of our thoughts and actions. Humanness is humanness, after all. That is what the first of yoga's eight limbs, the yamas, or characteristics of the wise, are all about.
Again, from Donna Farhi: 'As you progress in your yoga practice, take the time to pause frequently and ask, "Who am I becomming through this practice? Am I ecoming the kind of person I would like to have as a friend?"'**
The choice to observe brahmacharya could lead to cessation of sexual activity. It could also lead to sexuality within a spiritual practice that points us toward discovering our higher natures - in the context of our relationships with others and ourselves.

*Donna Farhi, Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness, Holt, Henry and Company, 2000, page 11.
** Ibid. p. 9.

In : yamas 

Tags: yoga  spirituality  sexuality  media  yoga culture 

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