Hot. Sexy. Yoga?

This week of lovers, On Faith is talking to William Broad, author of “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and … Continued

This week of lovers, On Faith is talking to William Broad, author of “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards,” about the sensual side of yoga.

View Photo Gallery: Debates rage over whether yoga belongs to the spiritual or physical realm.


Q: Did yoga really start off as a sex cult?

Broad: It’s a bizarre fact of history that is little known. Hatha yoga – the ancestor to the countless styles now practiced around the globe – began as a branch of Tantra. In ancient times, Tantra sought to have the devotee fuse the male and female aspects of the universe into a blissful state of consciousness, its rites often symbolic. But Tantric cults also engaged in group and individual sex. One sacred text advised the devotee to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse. It suggested that candidates of worship might include the sisters of practitioners as well as actresses and prostitutes.

Hatha was developed as way to speed the Tantric agenda. It used poses, deep breathing, and physical techniques – including intercourse – to accelerate the onset of rapturous bliss. In time, Tantra and Hatha developed bad reputations. The main charge was that Tantrics indulged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality. As a result, the founders of modern yoga, early in the twentieth century, worked hard to remove the Tantric associations. They devised a sanitized discipline that downplayed the old eroticism for a new emphasis on health and fitness.


Q: In “Sex in the City” Samantha had a “yogasm.” Is there any truth to that?

Broad: The script implies that when Samantha got horny in her yoga class and ran off with a willing guy, what she experienced with her partner was quite primal and un-esoteric. But the word yogasm – which the show invented as part of a marketing campaign – has come to represent a diverse class of autoerotic experiences that science has been investigating.

It turns out that an unusual class of individuals can think themselves into states of sexual ecstasy – a phenomenon known clinically as spontaneous orgasm and popularly as thinking off. At Rutgers University, scientists working with brain scanners have carefully measured the levels of excitement in such women and compared their responses to readings generated by the manual stimulation of the genitals.

The results are unambiguous. The scientists have found that both techniques light up the brain in characteristic ways and produce significant rises in blood pressure, heart rate, and tolerance for pain – what turns out to be a signature of orgasm.

One of the women, an advanced practitioner of yoga, told of her willingness to concentrate on her spinal column and throw it into high states of arousal. “I can orgasm up and down all the energy centers,” she told the scientist in charge. “I don’t know how much time you’ve got, but I won’t have any problem keeping things going all afternoon.”


Q: What yoga positions inspire those good feelings?

Broad: Decades of science have demonstrated that a number of common poses and techniques – many developed in Tantric days – are highly arousing. One of the easiest to do is the Cobra. The student, lying face down, legs together, simply brings the hands forward and pushes down on the palms, raising the chest and head. Done correctly, the pose exerts firm pressure on the erogenous zone. Scientists have found that the pose stirs an important kind of sex hormone, and speculate that it does so my increasing the microcirculation of blood through the genitals.

Fast breathing – done in many yoga classes – also turns out to be quite arousing. Scientists at the University of British Columbia have shown that hyperventilation can increase blood flow through the genitals. The technique turns out to be so effective that it can promote sexual arousal not only in healthy individuals but among those with diminished libidos.

Interestingly, many yoga classes – after bouts of bending and rounds of heavy breathing that become increasingly vigorous – end the activities in a period of quietude where the practitioner enjoys a sense of calm elation. Sexologists call it the resolution phase.

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  • boblesch

    today’s physical yoga was started by spiritual yogis in search of enlightenment so they could sit for extended lengths of time without the hinderance of being distracted by their human bodies. it is only recently that the physical and spiritual have been blended into what is practiced in yoga studios.

    tantra allows one to tap the core energy of the universe during sex – taking sex to another level of physical ecstasy.

    the spiritual ‘branch’ of yoga which is focused completely on enlightenment – RAJ YOGA – has been practiced unchanged for thousands of years.

  • edbyronadams

    “At Rutgers University, scientists working with brain scanners have carefully measured the levels of excitement in such women and compared their responses to readings generated by the manual stimulation of the genitals.”

    At Rutgers University, little did those college freshmen coeds know what their required participation in psych tests would include.

  • GoWest2

    Even religous types try to attracti attention by selling sex. You just did, Mr. Broad. Everyone knows about Tantric yoga and Karma Sutra. Where have you been hiding?

  • Rich Zubaty

    Interesting. Thanks. Especially since I have a red-haired yoga instructor outmaneuvering my advances. Maybe it’s not another man — or women. Maybe it’s the yoga!

  • Watcher1

    As with many misinterpretations due to the English and their inability to cope with concepts they can’t understand. Like the word “Indian” being applied to Native Americans as a result of Columbus thinking he had found the back route to India. Yoga itself is a misnomer. The term is Yog, however in Sanskrit the letter ‘g’ is asperated giving it a sort of “gah” sound (actually more like ‘g-ha’) and so the term became Yoga. It is also thought that ‘Hinduism’ is the religion of India when, in fact, it is Yog that is the religion of Hindu’s which becomes ‘Hinduism’ or “religion of the Hindu’s”.

  • PamDB

    Sophomore lab rats get a little more than they signed up for.

  • SDGeoff

    My neighborhood is being upgraded and re-gentrified. Currently there are seven yoga studios four blocks from my home and within two blocks of each other. Frankly, I don’t understand what they get out of it. Watching everyone cluster around the retail area of the store after their sessions to buy branded merchandise advertising their hobby, and then walking directly into oncoming traffic keeps me entertained constantly. (Thank Shiva for anti-lock brakes.) The only alleged spiritual product I witness from them is an attitude of smug satisfaction. I guess they are having fun.

  • Anuttama

    Its a sad reflection on the superficiality of today’s society that yoga, the ancient science of understanding and realizing the self beyond the body, has been so grossly misunderstood as to be advertised as a means to increase bodily pleasures rather than transcending them.

    Those that study the timeless teachings of yoga and practice them sincerely realize a pleasure beyond the ordinary by connecting us directly with our self, and with the Supreme Self. That “param dristva nivartante”, or higher taste, according the Bhagavad-gita (the most famous of all texts on yoga, meditation, and the soul) is the goal of yoga.

    The pleasure that is revealed and experienced through the authentic practice of yoga, according the ancient teachings of India, is what all humans hanker for, i.e, happiness beyond the flickering pleasures and pains of our bodies and minds. Contrary to the natural happiness of the soul, or atma, “material happiness” based on gratification of the body, senses and mind, despite whatever form of yoga we may sample, is limited by time and space, and thus, the Gita concludes, meant for the “less intelligent.”

    Yoga means to connect, or yoke. So the question before us is not whether the purpose of yoga is to increase our sexuality. The question is, do we desire to increase our sexuality (via a temporary body limited by creeping old age, disease and ultimately death) or do we seek to connect more deeply with our soul, and the Divine. That choice, the Gita concludes, is the greatest opportunity afforded by human life.

  • stateohio905

    What is this article , anti-viagra advertisement…..or some ppl are simply obsessed with sex and see it in everything…

  • HolyEagle

    This idiotic journalism should be stopped at any cost. just the write does not understand and completely ignorant about yoga does not mean whatever his mind says that is Yoga.

    Before writing BS about Yoga first clearly understand what is “Patanjali’s yoga sutra”

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