Brahmacharya. This is one of the stickier of yoga’s yamas, or ethical guidelines. Either it doesn’t resonate with those it is presented to, or it poses too much of a boundary, or it hoovers in the ether as this elusive, misunderstood force. Even the literature on the yamas translates the term inconsistently! You can find brahmacharya described as the following:
Non-excess. Moderation of the senses. Abstinence. Non-indulgence. Celibacy. Maintenance of vitality.
Directly translated, brahmacharya means “on the path of the Brahman.” A brahman is the divine, or the soul. In this sense, this yama encourages us to walk in God’s consciousness. Except, what exactly does that mean?
It wasn’t until I happened to flip open to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ discussion of the yamas in his Yoga Mala that I found a perspective that truly resonated with me. In alignment with other translations, Guruji did acknowledge the moderation of behaviors like sexual activity and indulgence in order to maintain one’s vitality. However, he identified this practice as extending past the retention of sexual urges. It got me thinking about brahmacharya not as abstinence, but as right use of energy.
Much better. Sometimes, vocabulary can make all the difference. When we hone in on the right use of energy, we honor the sacred space we were given for our souls to inhabit.
Perhaps you catch yourself relying on your phone too much. Perhaps you got lost in a newly-in-love haze. Perhaps you overextended for friends. Perhaps you ate too much. Perhaps you are overly focused on sex. Take note: there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, it is totally normal for them to occur in your life. We are here to experience!
It is when we attach to any form of excess as a way to achieve a sense of satisfaction-as though we are not enough without it-that brahmacharya steps in to remind you of its nature. When we overindulge or give ourselves in excess, we compromise our ability to fully connect with ourselves and each other. We compromise our ability to fully embody who we are. We compromise our ability to take rest.
This is where brahmacharya can mean stepping back. If sex is overpowering you, take a break. If you have overindulged on rich foods, try a juice fast, or, simply incorporate more fruits and vegetables. Learn the best method to reign yourself back in toward your center. This will ask energy of you, too, which is great practice to move forward with the intention to use it rightly.
Excess can look different every day. Sometimes, stepping back can remind us of how simple it is to find something we enjoy. Like the smell of fresh linens, or being the first person to take a swipe out of that brand new jar of peanut butter. When we make space for centering, we start to appreciate the many abundant things just waiting for our presence.
You don’t have to get it right all the time, and it is okay to require moderation. Awareness and honoring are a practice. Brahmacharya simply asks that you take notice and take action.
- What was your gut reaction upon learning the term brahmacharya? Are there any areas of your life that light up to you?
- What are your natural beliefs about brahmacharya? Do they come from within?
- Are there activities that take you away from yourself, or that you rely on? What activities make you feel centered and honored?