Over the weekend, I was surprised to find myself completely immersed in a five-hour training on yoga, sex and intimacy. My confusion was justified – The title of the workshop was “Yoga is Peace.” Where did I go wrong (or, wonderfully right)?
Mark Whitwell is a famous yoga teacher (I use this phrase reluctantly, but if anyone deserves the title, he does) and writer who studied for twenty years under Sri T. Krishnamacharya, the guru (or teacher) graciously credited with introducing yoga to Europe, Asia, and the Americas within the past century. (Should your interest in yoga meaning and philosophy grow, his work is a great place to start…)
Mark began by introducing himself to the class and proclaiming emphatically:
“YOGA IS… [wait for it]…DIRECT intimacy…with reality.”
He followed: “Forget any other definition you’ve ever heard. This is Truth.”
Mark’s “no bullshit” approach to teaching struck a chord. Perhaps too tight of chord, as he later added in the words of his teacher, Sri Krishnamacharya: “Yoga is not information gathering.” (Tell this to the girl working 24/7 in yoga studies.) What he means by this, of course, is simply: It’s already in you. So, focus your attention there.
Regarding sex, intimacy and yoga, we can go back to Mark’s definition of yoga generally as “direct intimacy with reality.” But, what does this really mean? He elaborated throughout his lecture that, from this view, our purpose on this planet is to have intimacy with life; that means with yourself, your partner, your community, and more abstractly, with your reality. In other words: Are you engaged, are you open? Are you a good friend, a loving partner, a “yes” person? Do you serve others in your community, do you love the work that you do? We all prioritize our own reality differently, and where and when we choose to get intimate. But, as Mark suggests, shouldn’t it be that when the day is done we can stand back and see ourselves reflected back to us (ideally with love and admiration) in all aspects of our life? If we desire to hold a purpose, as individuals and humans, shouldn’t it be to live life this way? (In this light?)
Yoga is direct intimacy with reality, with life. In this way, we can practice yoga everyday, in every aspect of our lives, by allowing ourselves to get intimate in our interactions with others and with ourselves.
As for sex: Mark shared his own observation that, as the churches continue to empty throughout America and Europe (Germany, in particular), the explicitness and vulgarity of sex in the media and social discourse continues to worsen. He digressed: “Everybody’s talking about it, and nobody’s having it.”
In my own classes, reluctant attention has recently focused on the realities of the over-sexualization of youth, and women and girls generally, in society. How prevalent are images of young girls (teens & twenties) in their underwear – or without – throughout the media? (Are you as tired of the viral Kim Kardashian as I am?) But giving this issue our sincere attention requires an uncomfortable shift of reality, and so many – including myself – do their best to stay quiet and turn the other way. There’s no need to revisit the profound implications that over-sexualization have on women and girls throughout the country, and the world. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, body image obsession, insecurities, anxiety, inadequacies, sex trafficking and even hate crimes targeted at nonconforming homosexual individuals – all catalyzed by an extreme prevalence of “sex” in society, distorting the reality that sex [and sexuality] is intimacy – not an ego trip. Having the capacity to love and be intimate with another person is a gift, and an expression of equal exchange. It’s personal, it’s impactful, and it’s the basis of humanity. It’s easy, with the Victoria’s Secret fashion show fast approaching, to forget that this is reality.
Mark’s parallel to the international vacancy of churches is meant to emphasize the necessity of individual spiritual life for the proliferation of humanity. He even goes so far as to say that the world depends on it. I take spirituality in my own heart to mean the active cultivation of a greater consciousness, founded in love and compassion towards oneself, one another, and our shared global community (the Earth and humanity). My church is my yoga mat. But no matter your definition or your vehicle, Mark attests that exploring your own sense of self and your own true nature is to experience intimacy, and promote creativity and creation. And, to experience direct intimacy with reality [in this way] is yoga – with, or without asana. (Although he and I highly encourage a daily home practice as a guaranteed vehicle toward exactly that. If you’re looking to create a home practice but aren’t sure where to start, contact me for help creating your own personal practice.)
In the midst of a non-stop graduate school schedule, the holiday season, and occasionally being all too aware of worldwide struggle and despair (sometimes all-to-close to home), I’ve found it helpful to go back to the notion that our purpose is intimacy. We can forget the rest. Because, if you can be intimate with life by being authentic, kind and present in every moment of your day, you’re contributing to the world in the best possible way. And, inevitably the goodness of the world will come back to you, more easily and with greater pleasure than you ever imagined. I guess, you could say in this way: Yoga is Peace.
Exploring your own comfortable definition of spirituality and creating a routine to express yourself through this light (be it yoga, attending church, simply sitting in quiet or your own personal practice) is the key to experiencing direct intimacy with life. And while it’s true – you get what you give – ultimately, getting intimate is what really makes life worth living.
Sending love and well wishes to your corner now & always,
Personal Photo: Playa Vista, CA