This is a general observation of mine, but after researching, reading about, blogging and just being in the yoga world (in studios, discussing with teachers, etc), I hear a lot of talk about compassion, truth, practice, discipline, and more…but I almost never hear about brahmacharya (general translation: celibacy).
Ok, before you’re turned off by this, please allow me to explain a bit.
There are five Yamas (right-living/ethical rules/goals/moral rules) in Yoga. They are the following:
Ahimsa – अहिंसा – Nonviolence and non-harming of living beings
Satya – सत्य – Truth
Asteya – अस्तेय – Non-Stealing
Brahmacharya – ब्रह्मचर्य – Celibacy
Aparigraha – अपरिग्रहः – Non-possessiveness
The fact that brahamacharya translates to celibacy makes it not a popular Yama to be discussed and brought up. But, what many of us aren’t aware of is that Sanskrit is a very nuanced language. Many words in this ancient language have meanings that extend beyond just the word itself. The word brahamacharya means much more than celibacy.
The practice of brahamacharya is about the “right use of energy.” Traditionally, those who were serious yoga practitioners were encouraged to “conserve their sexual energy to further grow in their spiritual Yogic path.” Many of us may think that this is not applicable to us because we aren’t full-time yogis or monks in training, but this is very much relevant!
As Rolf Gates puts it:
To focus on celibacy is to miss the power of the final yama altogether. Brahmacharya is not a call for abstinence, but a call for temperance
Practicing brahmacharya means to invite balance and moderation into all that we do.
We are a land of excess here in America. We GO HARD OR GO HOME. We PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999. We WORK HARD TO PARTY HARD. YOLO! We are a country full of go-getters! Power! Confidence! Achieving the American dream! But America is also about huge portions, and the live-life-to-the-fullest-MOAR-MOAR-MOAR philosophy.
Brahmacharya brings us an opportunity to curb the overindulgence that prevails in our current culture, and encourages us to exercise temperance i.e use our energies in the right way.
Let’s take a moment and jot down answers to some questions:
- How much time and energy do you spend worrying about being the right weight/size? Eating healthy? Going to the gym a certain number of times? How much of this is good energy i.e how much of it is useful and actually helping you achieve your goals? How much of it is excessive concern, fear, doubt and self-berating?
- Are you energized by your food? Or obsessed with it?
- What is your relationship with sex? Does your sex life fill you with confidence, intimacy and vitality? Or does it make you feel confused, empty, ashamed, over-wrought?
- What is your relationship to working out? Too little? Too much?
- How is your work-life balance? Work too much or not enough? Obsessed with promotions? Not confident enough in the workplace?
While answering some of these questions, you may quickly realize your own use and/or misuse of mental efficiency.The practice of energy conservation in brahmacharya helps us to pause, listen to ourselves, analyze and redirect energy towards the right places.
The thing is, I get it. Moderation seems BORING. A lot of us think, “Why shouldn’t I go for bigger, better, stronger and higher?” It almost seems like moderation is akin to repression. There are no stories where a hero lives a balanced life with no drama. But, there is real wisdom, strength and FREEDOM in moderation.
If you’re not fiercely attached to someone, or something…doesn’t that liberate you? You don’t have to live to eat, but you can eat to live. With brahmacharya, you stand firmly in life with a calm mind and YOU control your actions. Your wants and desires don’t control you.
When we practice moderation in all parts of our lives (including yoga of course), we lay down the foundation for true sustainability. The method of brahmacharya limits the amount of chaos that comes in, and helps build a clear self-awareness from which success, love, and happiness can grow.
As always, thanks so much for reading!