Austere yogis will point out that part of yoga practice includes restraining ourselves from taking part in sensual pleasures; eventually, we are aiming for brahmacharya (chastity). Most modern-day, western yogis, however, have significantly redefined this yama. These are the yogis who want to have partnerships, families, and all the responsibilities (and fun) that go along with them, but also inner peace. Instead of abstaining altogether, yogis are to be responsible with their sexual energy, and to direct it only toward their partner should they have one. The St. Augustine quote comes to mind, "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."
Assuming you're the kind of yogi who wants to be both conscious and sensual, there are at least five ways a consistent yoga practice can take you more deeply into real and honest intimacy with another person.
1. Yoga helps you overcome shame about your body.
Culturally, we are not taught to love our bodies. If you're female, you're supposed to be so thin, a strong wind could knock you over, and if you're male, you're meant to be buff with plenty of hair on your head. Over the last 20 years of teaching yoga, countless people have told me they "hate" their bodies. Your body is your home, it's where you're going to live for your entire life. You really want to fill it with love.
When you get into bed with your partner and you're hating your body, that's going to affect your ability to relax. To give yourself over and explore sensation. To appreciate and honor the gift that your body is, and to begin to understand the more you embrace it with gratitude and awareness, the more able it is to function at its highest level. Yoga, practiced consistently, makes you comfortable in your own skin.
2. You learn to listen and respond to your body.
In yoga, we carve out some time in our day to breathe consciously, and to move with curiosity. If our body says no, we back off, and if our body says yes, we explore more deeply. Taking that formula off your mat and into your bed makes for a pretty great time for you and your partner. Many people go through the motions. They have a routine that seems to work, and so they do what they do. But people aren't robots.
You can hit all the "bases," but that's not the same as connecting with your partner, listening deeply to what they say, and also what they may not be saying with words, and responding with sensitivity. Exploring with the intent to give, and learning how to receive if that's hard for you.
3. Yoga helps you tell the truth.
I know way too many women who "fake it", not because they aren't enjoying themselves, but simply because they can't speak up and say what they really need. I think many men have a tough time communicating as well. If you're in a true, loving relationship, your partner wants to please you. It's a joy. And most people would appreciate a roadmap. Faking anything in bed is putting a lie between you and your lover. And intimacy can't blossom without honesty. Yoga is a process of wiping your lens clean so you can recognize what's true for you and live from that place.
4. You'll open to your own vulnerability.
The truth is, attachment leads to suffering. And as human beings, it's only natural for us to become attached to other people—our children, our parents, our family, friends and lovers. And because life is finite, eventually we will lose people we love more than we can say. When we love, we expose the soft underbelly of our hearts. People sometimes grow together, sometimes apart. If you're going to love, you might as well love with your whole heart, in full recognition of the fact that you may get hurt. Life is an adventure. Enjoy it, open to it, savor it. If you get your heart broken, open to that, too. Examine it, learn about yourself, strengthen and take what you've learned as you journey forward. Yoga strengthens us so we can face reality as it is, even when it is not as we'd like it to be.
5. Yoga helps us be be fully present. We work with energy and focus in yoga.
Where our awareness goes, our energy follows. Being able to direct your energy is really the thing. For many people, addiction to distraction prevents full engagement. Being able to let go of conversations from the day, and worries about tomorrow is powerful and beautiful. Quieting your mind and connecting with your partner leaves the space for something beautiful to unfold. You can feed that space with playfulness or passion or your absolute nakedness, and I don't just mean your body. Yoga opens us up to the possibility of being truly known, seen and cherished, not just by ourselves, but by our partner as well.
Your relationship can be a place where your love for something greater than yourself is expressed and explored, and even exemplified. And your time in bed can be as spiritual and real and fun as you allow it to be. Being yourself feels good. Being yourself and being seen, understood, accepted, and loved, feels amazing. You can do those things for yourself, and you can have fun in bed alone, too. But if you have a partner, you might as well rock it.