I am a Jivamukti yoga teacher and each month we are given a different focus for our teaching and practice.
In this month’s focus, “Yoga and Sexuality,” our beloved teacher Sharon Gannon invited us to reflect on the role intimacy plays in our lives.
In it’s purest and most elevated form the sexual act is about intimacy and connection with another human being. When this month’s focus was first posted I was concerned that I would not have enough to say on this topic, or that it would be difficult to tackle in class.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Once I started researching I found many, many spiritual practitioners and great beings have a huge amount to say about sex. From Buddhist rinpoches to Hindu swamis, from Rumi to John Lennon—everyone had something to offer. I had so much material I wanted to share I put on a Jivamukti yoga workshop entitled “Let’s Talk About Sex,” which was way more popular than I would have expected.
It’s really been an incredible month of reflection and discovery. After investigating what many saints and yogis had to say about sex, I started to look deeply into the approach our contemporary culture and mass media takes towards the same topic.
What I noticed is the tendency to use sex in our culture to sell stuff (usually stuff that we don’t need), or to fill the void many of us experience.
Sharon has often explained in her teaching that sometimes as unenlightened beings we have the tendency to get ourselves into dramatic emotional situations, or allow ourselves to become very angry or jealous. These feelings make us feel alive. Yogis know that there are other ways to feel alive.
Yoga practices enable us to experience these other more refined, and sustainable ways to engage with life. Sex can be the ultimate forum to explore this juxtaposition.
We can be manipulative and experience many negative emotions when it comes to our sexuality and the relationships that emerge from that place. Or, we can experience deep intimacy and truly loving communication. Within our culture, the way I have seen sex portrayed is conducive to craving, insecurity, judgement, manipulation and at worst exploitation. The pornography industry is the most extreme example of this.
British author, Caitlin Moran, writes in How to be a Woman:
Pornography isn’t the problem. Pornography is as old as humankind itself and museums are full of incredible ironwork inspirational pottery, exquisite painting and crossing these disciplines every conceivable manifestation of human sexuality in clay and stone and ochre and gold. The idea that pornography is intrinsically exploitative and sexist is bizarre. The act of having sex isn’t sexist. No— pornography isn’t the problem. It’s the porn industry that’s the problem. The whole thing is as offensive, sclerotic, depressing, emotionally bankrupt and desultory as you would expect a widely unregulated industry worth, at an extremely conservative estimate, $30 billion to be . . . I suspect female pornography, when it really gets going will be something wholly other: warm, humane, funny, dangerous, psychedelic, with wholly different parameters to male porn. Imagine if pornography were not this bizarre, mechanised, factory-farmed fucking—imagine if it were about desire.
Moran, (who is an amazingly intelligent and hilarious writer by the way) makes a connection with pornography and factory farming.
My suggestion is that in order for a person (and it usually is a man—statistics show that 96 percent of porn on the internet is made for and by men) to watch porn and seek it out, there has to be a certain level of disassociation happening. Perhaps the man has to convince himself the people in the pornography are enjoying themselves. Certainly he is experiencing a degree of fantasy, which is based not on intimate human connection, but more on power and a need to fill some kind of internal void.
The way in which animals are raised for meat in our culture has similar psychological components.
In order to work in a factory farm I would imagine an ability to disengage and emotionally shut down would be necessary. In order to walk into a supermarket and buy the flesh and blood of another being wrapped nicely in a plastic container there must be a certain degree of just not thinking about the emotions and sentiency of the beings involved.
In both the pornography industry and the meat production industry, we as a culture disassociate from intimacy, from the truth of what is really going on and as a result we poison our own minds and create a domino effect of desensitization that ripples into every facet of our lives.
Bill O’Hehir, a father and psychologist, comments in Maggie Hamilton’s What’s Happening to Our Boys:
[Because of the internet and the prevalence of porn] I don’t think boys see girls as I saw them [when I was young] – beautiful, unattainable, desirable, captivating. They’re seeing girls as an object, a thing. If we thing we’ve had struggles with domestic violence and the like it’s going to get a lot worse. We’re raising kids who don’t know what a relationship is.
There is hope.
We know that when a person who was previously a meat eater sees footage of how animals are treated in factory farms often they will reduce or stop his/her consumption of meat. We know that when a person experiences true loving connection and intimacy he is less likely to seek out the “fantasy” of pornography.
Yoga is about re-sensitizing.
As a mother of two young boys, I will not tell them not to look at porn (or not to eat meat for that matter) as they grow up. What I will do is everything within my power to help them grow up to be sensitive, kind, compassionate people; to be true to themselves so that our damaged mass culture is not a primary influence and not given the driving seat of their psyches.
And from that place I hope they will make choices that enable them to feel alive without harming themselves or others (including animals) in anyway.
Katie Manitsas is the director of Jivamukti Yoga Sydney (formerly Samadhi Yoga). Katie was the first certified Advanced Jivamukti yoga teacher in Australia, has studied extensively with the Wise Earth School of Ayurveda under the guidance of Mother Maya and is certified Kundalini yoga teacher. She completed training as a doula (birthing companion) in 2009. Katie grew up in the English countryside surrounded by nature and animals and at the age of ten became a vegetarian; today she is a vegan and proud shareholder of Sadhana Kitchen, the vegan cafe located at Jivamukti Yoga Sydney. Katie’s first yoga teacher, who has now left his body, was an elderly gentleman from the Bahamas who taught classes in the local community centre of the village where she lived. She started attending those classes at twelve years of age and has been doing the best she can to practice yoga ever since. Katie is a writer for various publications and has had three books published Spiritual Survival and the City, Yoga Off the Mat and The Yoga of Birth. She is mother to five-year-old Christos and two-year-old Ziggy who was born at home.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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