William Broad, the NYT journalist who has stirred such controversy in the yoga world, is a scientist (or, perhaps more accurately, a science journalist). He is a researcher and a writer. As someone who finds comfort in science, I imagine that, in his 30 year practice of yoga, perhaps Broad has come a little too close to spirituality for his own comfort? Obviously, I’m guessing here. But in my experience with scientists, they like their experiences to be verified so that they deny all that is subtle in existence. (Okay, huge generalizations going on here, I admit). This isn’t to say that scientists, as a whole, don’t have a sense of the Infinite, of the Universe, but they do have a desperate need to explain it (i.e., “I’m not in love, she just spikes my serotonin”).
I wonder if this is what has happened to Mr. Broad? Over and over again we see the spiritual effects of yoga. Now, I’m not saying that everyone who practices yoga suddenly sees the god(dess), but there is, almost always, a connection between mind, body, and that something we can’t define (spirit?). Our intuition becomes stronger–suddenly we know what we need and why we need it. Our eating habits change. We become mindful of more and more moments in our day. We watch our patterns, our habits. We find those unsavory parts of ourselves and work, within the moment, to change them. If this is not a spiritual awakening, I’m not sure what is.
So. Did William Broad come too close to his own unsavory side? We all have one, after all. One of my greatest teachers, Hari Jap, once told me that yoga is a mirror. Eventually you see the truth about yourself and either you keep looking or you put the mirror down. Either way, that’s your path and that’s what’s right for you, but it will happen whether you picked up yoga specifically for a spiritual awakening, or because you wanted a stronger (insert body part here).
When faced with that mirror, sometimes we just need to explain away our experience. So maybe we decry yoga as unsafe, so as to distance ourselves from it. (A side note–yoga can be unsafe, it’s true. But, and this is where one of the key tenants of yoga comes in, it is your personal responsibility to make sure you don’t get hurt. Is your yoga teacher pushing you in a way that feels unsafe? Find another one. Does it hurt when you go into a certain pose? Don’t do it. Ultimately you are the creator of your reality; your choices are what led you to where you are. Or, if the world acted upon you in a way you couldn’t have predicted or prevented, then it is your response to that incident that defines your life to come).
Or, we explain it away by claiming yoga began as a sex cult. For the record, let’s say one more time that Tantra is not about sex. Tantra is “a conscious approach to self-discovery which directed the seeker to prepare mind and body to the level where it could withstand any turbulence, both inner as well as outer. Tantras noted three unique states of sadhana (spiritual endeavor)—purification, illumination, and unification“. Tantra “sees everything as sacred.” And, sure, that includes sex. But it includes everything else as well.
I’m not saying Mr. Broad is necessarily using sex to force a reaction. But I am saying that we still live in a vastly Puritanical country and sex is bound to offend someone (and, of course, sex sells). As a yoga practitioner, and one who admits that he enjoys his practice, one has to wonder at the impetus behind such an inflammatory article. Of course yoga focuses on the pelvic region. If you have any deeper knowledge of yoga, you’ll understand that yoga is, in part, designed to get energy flowing in the body. This energy is based in our first Chakra, Muladhara. This energy, when out of sync, can result in anger, greed, grasping, and fear. Yoga is designed to open these Chakras and, yes, sexual desire could be a part of that.
But! You can’t stop at the first Chakra. Perhaps this is where many of Broad’s “philanderers” were challenged. In order to channel that energy, which is what Tantra is all about, you have to keep going. You have to move that energy up to the third eye, Ajna Chakra, through meditation (where many yogis give up, thinking the only real benefits come from physical practice). This is the seat of our intuition, our understanding. Here is where we assess the urges of the lower triangle and elevate them. The bliss that Broad refers to, attributing it to Tantra and sex, is the bliss of enlightenment–the bliss of denying the bodily urges so that the channeled energy allows us a spiritual awakening. Once that awakening is achieved, everything is bliss.
This is what is meant by siddhis, or states of being accomplished through the practice of yoga and meditation. Some of these include clairvoyance, astral projection, controlling the weather, etc. The trick is not becoming lost in your own ego and your own abilities. Channel these desires, this attachment, and reach a state of bliss.
Okay, so is this too esoteric for Mr. Broad? Perhaps. But every time the science world decides to test claims about the benefits of meditation, they are pleasantly surprised. So yoga may allow you to enjoy a more robust sex life. Great! The trick is not to get caught there, stuck there. The trick is to keep going. Enlightenment occurs when we are past the attachment of earthly pleasures. The trick is also personal responsibility. If you are uncomfortable in a situation with a teacher, then leave. Move on. Dogma isn’t going to get you anywhere. Think for yourself–this is what yoga helps us to do; it opens the mind by opening the body.