When exploring the 8 limbs of yoga, it is crucial to realize the vastness of yogic principles and their application to life beyond simple stretches and breathing exercises. This week, we have already looked at the first three yamas of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Ahimsa, Satya, and Asteya. Today, let's take a look at the 4th yama, Brahmacharya, which concerns sexual health.
Attempting to help practitioners develop positive relationships in all avenues of life, Brahmacharya teaches us that pleasure can be obtained from within, from the divine. By attaining this level of commitment, the devoted yogi can be sure that their happiness is genuine. Although this yama does not claim that sex is inherently evil, it warns against a path towards hedonism.
Mental and spiritual purity can best be obtained through a clear mind devoid of sensual distraction. Because yoga seeks to achieve a high level of purity, sexual celibacy and abstinence are recommended as a supplement on the path towards enlightenment. One major goal of meditation is to free the mind of wants and desires yet the base, primal, desire for any human being is sex with the purpose of reproduction. Removing this obstacle makes others seem less important.
An additional general goal of yoga is improved health and an absence of disease. Yoga promotes numerous habits and behaviors that contribute to an overall sense of well-being and, in a culture with ever more rampant sexually transmitted diseases, celibacy and abstinence are effective countermeasure.
Everyone is family
Beyond preventing the lustful yogi from engaging in blissful behaviors, Brahmacharya is intended to forge better bonds between peers. Oftentimes, a guru may instruct a male student to treat every woman he meets, with the exception of his wife, the same way he would treat his mother or sister. This attitude connects people on a deeper level and removes the awkward tensions of promiscuity.
Among friends without ulterior motives, the individual can openly interact and grow. Instead of people being focused on sexual odds and "scoring," a celibate society or community would be free to expand their knowledge and express themselves more uniquely. Such a utopia would surely prosper from the enhanced camaraderie.
Lastly, Brahmacharya does not have to mean complete, lifelong, celibacy. This yama merely encourages responsible sexual activity for the right reasons. Some texts mention that, in a solid, committed, relationship, there is nothing wrong with sex. Very few extremists are capable of interpreting ancient wisdom as suggesting to eliminate all pleasure.
For the discriminate yogi, pursuing steady sexual health is not even an obstacle, it is simply a tenet of any endeavor. By keeping our minds free of endless sensual desire and embracing those around us for their true traits and properties, we look forward to lasting relationships with friends and lovers.