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Continence: In the Yoga World That Means Celibacy

“A yogi established in continence gains virya, the capacity to transmit knowledge.”

-Yoga Sutra 2:38

Celibacy is an extremely rare practice in today’s modern world. It means to refrain from all sexual practices—even thinking and talking about sexual activity is part of a celibate life.

However, the yoga sutras promise that when we practice “brahmacharya” (translated as “celibacy” but really means “residing in the chair of God”), we will gain “virya” (translated “vigor and vitality”). This vitality and vigor will give us incredible powers (siddhis) so that we can perform incredible feats. We will be able to turn water into wine or raise people from the dead. Most people today do not understand this practice nor its benefits. Most of us have a very hard time residing in the state of not feeding our sensual appetites, especially our sexual appetites. When we restrain ourselves from engaging in any sexual thought, word or deed, we are residing in the chair of God. Even though God created all the wonderful sensations of the physical world, God has no attachment to them. They are just part of God’s creation of nature.

So, celibacy is, for many of us, far from our reach. But what if we changed our understanding of celibacy to mean “refraining from sensations of the body.” Could that bring us closer to our goal of “residing in the chair of God?” Could that give us the vitality and vigor we long for?

We human beings enjoy greatly all the sensations of the body—taste, touch, smell, hearing and seeing. We bask in these pleasures often. We love taking in the sights, sounds, textures, tastes and smells that connect us to the physical world. Those feelings sweep over us and immerse us in the physical. It’s part of our modern human culture.

Well, the yogis discovered that indulging in those sensations, instead of “fasting” or making ourselves “celibate” from those sensations, produces immense attachment to the physical world. When we refrain from these sensual activities, however, we are no longer trapped or pulled down by them into the denseness of that world. Why is this a trap? Because even though occasionally those sensations move us into the higher realms of reality, they become seductive and make us believe that we can’t experience that spiritual world without the physical sensations. This is often what happens to those who are involved with alcohol or marijuana or some opioid. They get trapped in the elation that comes from that external stimulus.

However, when we fast from those sensations, or just have one and then refrain from another, we release ourselves from their bonds and start to extend and float in higher realms. We move ourselves vitally and with vigor into more subtle dimensions of life—creating poetry, music, stories and learnings that feed generations beyond our own. All these fruits come from the spiritual depths of our being and not from the sensual stimulation from the external world.

Abstaining from sensual desires in thought, word and action is entrance into practicing brahmacharya. “Sense celibacy” is the initiation into “sexual celibacy.” Sense celibacy begins to enrich the intrinsic powers of our mind, our prana (life force) and our virya (strength and vitality). It begins to enable us to perform incredible feats of creativity and love that bless all who enter our life. Instead of having the entire bag of Oreos, we could have one or two. Instead of eating the entire bag of Doritos, we could have one chip. Instead of having sexual relations with many people, we could become monogamous. Instead of drinking and eating what is sweet and tasty to our palettes, we could have a smoothie without sugar, only greens. All these moderations will strengthen us incredibly.

And, of course, we need to complement those actions with appropriate new forms of self-talk.

I am in total control of my sensual desires and they diminish their power over me.

I moderate the stimulation of all my senses.


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