I have been reading and studying Yogic texts for about eight years.  One of the concepts that comes up and creates interesting dialogue and interpretation is the notion of brahmacarya, which is one of the Yamas.  The Yamas are the first limb of yoga, and relate to the way that we engage with others – you could think of them as an ethical framework. They also include non-violence, non-hoarding, non-stealing & truth.

Brahmacarya is transliterated as sexual continence, moderation of energy, celibacy.  Sri Swami Satchidananda describes it as control, not suppression, of the sex drive – he describes it in terms of saving energy which can then be directed towards spiritual growth.  He contends that withholding from sex allows us to conserve the sexual energy which is then converted to prana – life force or energy. BKS Iyengar says that sexual continence in no way means that we should not enjoy sex: “it is when sensory pleasure is the sole motivating factor that brahmacarya is infringed,” p151, BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Some scholars describe it as being kind and respectful in our sexual interactions.

So, depending on the transliteration of these ancient texts and their framework, we get a slightly varied interpretation of this sutra. As Ryan & Jetha point out so eloquently in the book Sex at Dawn, we can’t ignore the cultural context within which people operate – Charles Darwin was interpreting his data on human sexuality in the framework of Victorian mores, which considered ankles to be hugely erotic and where women were still considered to be men’s property. So, depending on who, where and when the texts were interpreted, will create a different model.  One thing is consistent across all these texts is that we need to veer more on the end of conservation of sexual energy, rather than overly indulging.

Indulgence is an interesting concept: this year for Valentine’s Day, one of my friends gave me Naomi Wolf’s latest book, Vagina, which posits a totally different hypothesis and has got me thinking deeply! Following a significant change in the quality of her orgasms, Ms Wolf discovered that she needed surgery on her spine to reduce the compression of her pelvic nerve.  The nerve healed and her orgasms returned to their full and fabulous flavor, however, in classic Ms Wolf style, she decided to explore the science and sociology behind her experience. What she discovered was fascinating.

The nerves in women’s reproductive systems, unlike men, apart from being completely different in every single woman (the web and number vary in women, creating orgasms from different anatomical sites in different women) is deeply connected to the brain in a number of fundamental ways.  This lead Ms Wolf to suggest that “there is something about a sense of an intact, healthy vagina that goes to the core sense of the female self,” further, “the vagina and the brain cannot be fully considered separately.” She uses the term vagina to include all female sex organs, since there is currently none.

In the 19th century and early 20th century women such as Edith Wharton, Anais Nin, Geogia O’Keeffe, George Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rosetti, Charlotte Bronte, all had different arcs of creativity, directly related to their sexual awakenings. Ms Wolf notes that these “arcs of accomplishment – these creative “high points” – seemed as if they might help confirm further my growing conviction that women experience the vagina as integral to a core self, and that it can also serve as a trigger or entry point to an awakening of sensibility that can at fortunate moments fuse the creative and the sexual,” p41.

Orgasm heightens creativity and creativity heightens orgasm, notes Ms Wolf.  The dopamine system is activated when women seek out great sex.  This has the result of heightening energy and focus which spreads into other areas of their lives.  Oxytocin is also produced which facilitates bonding.  Further, there is a really interesting finding from Rutgers, which shows that the cortex is active with self-stimulated orgasm, but researchers in Holland have showed that the cortex is quiet in partnered orgasm: you can’t take yourself out of control.  This quietening of the cortex – our vigilance center and a move to “just feeling” which involves the limbic system (concerned with smell, touch, sound, vibration – internal and external environment) is also found in deep meditative states and may be what is being felt when we talk about intuition.

Sexual reproduction is, by its very nature creative (compared to asexual reproduction where individuals just clone themselves). And, yet we are drawn to it for a variety of reasons, clearly for more than just reproductive purposes. This research seems to suggest that women are drawn to it in order to release our judging, vigilance center and to move into a world of feelings, to activate our dopamine system which results in heightened energy and focus, and to release oxytocin which stimulates social bonding, which in turn engenders power and the ability to navigate our worlds from a place of strength and compassion.

We must look for equity in our interactions.  A sincere commitment to spiritual growth, through a balanced and respectful approach to our sexual experiences, yet, with a clear and fabulous engagement of the female self through the healthy functioning and actions of the vagina:

“The most general law in nature is equity – the principle of balance and symmetry which guides the growth of forms along the lines of the greatest structural efficiency,”

Herbert Read

Copyright 2015, Tamsin Astor.  www. yogabrained.com/blog