Life Without Sex?
For all but the incoming residents, today Kripalu offers a more moderate-and some would say more manageable-vision of brahmacharya: a regular yoga practice, a wholesome lifestyle, and moderation in sensory pleasures, especially food and sex.
"Yoga is about building your energy and awareness so it leads you in a spiritual direction, and for most people, healthy and natural sex is not an obstacle to that," Faulds explains. "Sexual energy has to be awakened, because if it's not awakened, there's a lot of subconscious denial and repression that keeps you from being fully alive. What happens for many of us, especially in our society, is that the mind arouses the body in an obsessive way-for tension release, for approval seeking, for distraction, and just for fun. That's where it depletes your energy.
"There's nothing wrong with responsible sex; it's not a bad thing," he adds. "Yoga is not making a moral statement with its teachings on brahmacharya; I think it's very important to realize that. But yoga is saying that you will have more pleasure and bliss in the long run through moderation and through channeling a portion of your sexual energy into spiritual growth and meditation."What's a Yogi to Do?
So what does brahmacharya in action mean today? For some like Piper, it means exactly what Patanjali said: total abstinence. For others, brahmacharya means practicing celibacy only during certain times-at a relationship's end in order to recover, during a yoga retreat in order to focus more clearly, or perhaps when one's practice is particularly deep and celibacy naturally evolves out of it. For still others, brahmacharya means merely refraining from suggestive speech or promiscuous behavior, or at the very least taking note of how much time and energy we and our culture devote to sex-sex as marketing tool, sex as conquest, sex as distraction, and sex as jackpot.
"There's nothing wrong with the radical version of brahmacharya, except that we may not be up to it," Feuerstein says. "So then we modify, depending on our capacity. I think we should make every attempt to economize our sexual impulses: If we have a partner, we confine our sexuality to that partner instead of driving it all over the place and becoming promiscuous. Especially if we are teachers-and I know teachers who are failing at this miserably-then we make every attempt not to do that with our students. Brahmacharya has to become at least an ideal. Even if we fail, we should not indulge in feelings of guilt; instead, we should just try to hold that ideal as something to aspire to. If the ideal is not there, well, then we are at a lower level of the game."
Feuerstein thinks it's possible to more deeply explore brahmacharya without necessarily becoming a monk. He suggests experimenting with a short period of celibacy-a week, a month, a year-to observe its transformative power, or at the very least to learn about the fierce grip that sexual thoughts, words, and actions have upon our consciousness. "I did it myself at one point in time, and it's an amazingly instructional practice," Feuerstein says. "It offers a wonderful sense of freedom and-apart from the agony-it's very liberating. It's a superb exercise.