During my first day as a resident at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts, I took a vow of celibacy. I had been celibate before, though this was my first voluntary run. Of course, that was not the main draw of the Spiritual Lifestyle Training program I signed up for. I was 21 years old, and the original plan was to spend the summer working, doing yoga and, as the brochure promised, transforming.
Every day began with yoga at 5 a.m., then breakfast, followed by work in the veggie-prep department, from 7:30 a.m. till 4 p.m. Evenings included more yoga, dinner and spiritual-nourishment activities, including group chanting, drumming, reading inspirational books, contemplations and communing with the brothers.
Celibacy seemed acceptable, as the ashram lifestyle was all about committing to myself. Part of that committment was brahmacharya, or moderation of the senses, which meant abstaining not only from sex, but from things that could lead to sex and other sensory pursuits. The guru insisted on bramacharya, and life in the ashram kept me so busy that I barely had time or energy for sexual stuff anyway. His advice was to "sublimate your sexual energy," by channeling it into yoga and work. This proved helpful: By focusing my attention on myself, not "passing energy" (flirting) with the sisters, and channeling my energy into yoga and seva, or selfless service, I got over my sexual desire and felt oddly liberated.
Before entering the ashram, I thought of celibacy as the opposite of freedom. As it turned out, I actually felt freer when not getting pulled left and right by the whims of my libido — something that seemed closer to enslavement than celibacy. Living this way, I discovered a serenity and self-sufficiency I never imagined could be possible. I was thriving. I was transformed. But there was trouble in paradise.
Though the guru insisted everyone follow the brahmacharya rule — and with good reason — he managed to exempt himself from it. He wasn't the only one: After leaving the ashram, I discovered there was actually a fair amount of sex going on in the shadows. The guru ended up getting kicked out Kripalu, for engaging in a string of long-term sexual affairs. In an instant, he transformed from an enlightened holy man with thousands of disciples to a pathetic cliché. Undone by his own rule, the guru retreated to Florida a broken man.
As for myself, I went on to my senior year of college revved up with a new perspective that I have held till this day. Freedom is more than just following your heart's desire, wherever it may lead. (I’m looking at you, guru.) True freedom is being able to decide, with a clear head and eyes wide open, which path is best.