Seriously seeking some superb sexual satisfaction

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InAdrian Piper stopped having sex. A longtime yoga practitioner, Piper committed herself to the practice of brahmacharya celibacywhich is touted as an important step along the pathway to enlightenment. And the effect on my sadhana [spiritual practice] has been most profound. Piper is not alone in praising the transformational gifts of brahmacharya.

Celibacy plays an important role in the yoga tradition-indeed, some would say, a critical one. The father of classical yoga, Patanjali, made brahmacharya one of the five yamasor ethical precepts in the Yoga Sutra [Chapter 11, verse 30] that all aspirants should adhere to. Other yogic texts name abstinence as the surest and speediest way to boost our deepest reserves of vitality Seriously seeking some superb sexual satisfaction power.

And as Piper notes, many other spiritual traditions-including Buddhism and Christianity-incorporate chastity into their codes of conduct. Spiritual luminaries ranging from Mother Teresa to Ramakrishna to Mahatma Gandhi all practiced celibacy for at least some period of their lives. So how do we square time-honored ascetic traditions like brahmacharya with our modern lives? Or can we fashion a modern reinterpretation of this precept, adhering to the spirit of brahmacharya if not the letter of the ancient law?

In other words, can we have our sex and our yoga too? Abstention is said to free us from earthly distractions so we can devote ourselves more fully to spiritual transcendence. It is said to move us toward a nondual, genderless state that promotes a profound sense of relationship and intimacy with all beings, not just a select few.

Celibacy is also said to support the important yogic principles of truth and nonviolence, since promiscuity often le to secrecy, deceit, anger, and suffering. And it is touted as a way to transform our most primitive instinctual energies into a deeper, brighter vitality that promises good health, great courage, incredible stamina, and a very long life. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a key fourteenth-century text, says those who practice brahmacharya need no longer fear death. The Bhagavad Gita names brahmacharya as a fundamental precept for a true yogi.

Patanjali even says that brahmacharya le to disgust for the body and for intimate contact with others.

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It means you abstain from casual sexual contact and casual sexual conversation, like sexual jokes. So you restrict your sexuality to moments of intimacy with your spouse. Today brahmacharya is often interpreted as moderation, monogamy, continence, or restraint. Iyengar and T. But these teachers also tell us that brahmacharya requires us to carefully consider the relationship between our lives on the yoga mat and our lives under the sheets. Lasater explains that in eras, celibacy was the only certain way to prevent parenthood, offering a pragmatic reason to require abstinence among those who devoted themselves to a spiritual path.

This is the very motive Mahatma Gandhi offered when he took his first vow of brahmacharya, after marrying and having four children with his wife, Kasturba. Gandhi said fathering and supporting children robbed him of precious energy during a time when he wanted to devote himself more completely to public service.

However, over a period of many celibate years-admittedly struggling with the practice and even breaking his vow on several occasions-Gandhi discovered that the benefits of brahmacharya far exceeded birth control. Beyond conserving energy, yoga philosophy also describes a more esoteric benefit of celibacy: a sort of alchemical transmutation of base sexual energies into spiritual vigor. According to the ancient Indian science of Ayurvedasemen was considered to be a vital elixir that housed important subtle energies. Ejaculation was said to lead to loss of power, energy, concentration, and even spiritual merit.

And conserving it through celibacy and other yoga practice s was said to help develop rich stores of this subtle energy, called ojas, thereby building vitality, character, and health. It is because he has mastery of brahmacharya and his body simply uses the hormones differently. But what about women? And that applies to both men and women. In orthodox Indian philosophy, brahmacharya means more than just celibacy.

It is also the term used to denote the first of the four purusharthas stages of life spelled out in ancient Vedic texts. In this tradition, brahmacharya deates the period of studenthood-roughly the first 21 years of life-and during this time celibacy was to be strictly followed in order to keep one focused on study and education. During the second stage, the grihastha householder phase, sexual activity was considered an integral aspect of family building.

Abstinence returned as a common practice at age 42 or so, when householders turned Seriously seeking some superb sexual satisfaction for the final two stages of life, the vanaprasthya forest dweller phase and the sannyasa renunciate phase. Yogis and monks were typically the only exception to this pattern, skipping the householder stage altogether and remaining celibate throughout their lives. According to this model, codes of conduct vary with age. Sometimes it is very important to do that work.

And sex is so consuming that sometimes it can be really useful to take a time-out to do the inner work of processing the lessons it offers us. Piper, who contributed an essay about brahmacharya for the book How We Live Our Yoga Beacon Press,says that she was surprised to see how far-reaching the benefits of this practice have been for her. The most amazing part is that this seems to generalize beyond the narrowly sexual sphere to all of my social relationships.

My friendships with men-and women-have deepened enormously. Our culture does a really good job of encouraging us to indulge our desires and ignore any als beyond them.

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After reaping the benefits of celibacy for nearly two decades, Piper challenges the less stringent modern reinterpretations of brahmacharya. The problem with talk about more moderate interpretations of brahmacharya is that it makes practicing brahmacharya in the traditional monastic sense of celibacy sound extreme and radical.

In her case brahmacharya evolved naturally out of her spiritual practice; in fact, she never actually took a formal vow. Rather, she explains, brahmacharya chose her.

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The recent revelations of sexual misconduct and subsequent cover-ups in the Catholic Church are only the latest, most visible evidence of sex in supposed bastions of celibacy. Many spiritual traditions-from Christianity to Hindu yoga to Buddhism-have been ripped by scandal when spiritual leaders preached chastity to their followers and yet secretly sought out sex, often in ways that produced heartache and trauma for everyone involved.

Even those who want to do it, I feel, are by and large incapable. For its first 20 Seriously seeking some superb sexual satisfaction, all Kripalu residents-even married ones-aspired to practice strict brahmacharya. While preaching such celibacy to his disciples, however, Kripalu founder Amrit Desai secretly solicited sex from a of his female students. Desai was asked to leave Kripalu, and the organization carefully reconsidered its attitudes toward sex, celibacy, and brahmacharya.

But our experience, looking back, is that celibacy is not a healthy long-term lifestyle for most people. For all but the incoming residents, today Kripalu offers a more moderate-and some would say more manageable-vision of brahmacharya: a regular yoga practicea wholesome lifestyle, and moderation in sensory pleasures, especially food and sex. 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.

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. So what does brahmacharya in action mean today? For some like Piper, it means exactly what Patanjali said: total abstinence. 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.

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.

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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. We become mindful, and in that way we can attain great self-knowledge and also this wonderful thing we call self-transcendence. Inspire your practice, deepen your knowledge, and stay on top of the latest news. Yoga Journal Newsletter Inspire your practice, deepen your knowledge, and stay on top of the latest news.

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