As we delve deeper into the first of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, the ‘yamas’ we have, so far, met with the first three yamas ‘ahimsa’, ‘satya’ and ‘asteya’. Today, we take a look at the more controversial yama in today’s society – ‘Brahmacharya’.
Literally translated, Brahmacharya means celibacy. Oh no she didn’t! Yes...Yes, she did.
Traditionally, Brahmacharya is encouraged in yoga to conserve sexual energy that could otherwise be used to further progress down the yogic way of life. By keeping this energy to yourself, you can grow and maintain a certain level of living with focus and clarity.
However! A lot of people find this concept difficult to digest and it has become somewhat diluted for some over time.
Indian spiritual master and religious teacher, Swami Satchidananda has written that sex is not a bad thing when part of a true partnership. Like any other indulgence, it can be wonderful but, if you indulge too much, it loses its magnificence.
You can lose sight of what really matters in life by only focusing on physical relationships.
If you think about what these relationships bring to your life, can you say that they make you a better person? Happier? More productive?
To extend this concept even further, it doesn’t have to be only about sex but more… moderation. Using your energy in the ‘right’ way.
A way that is beneficial for you to become a happy, more productive person. Directing your energy away from instantaneous, fleeting pleasures and towards attaining inner peace and happiness.
Regularly succumbing to cravings on a physical and emotional level, whether it be food, alcohol, cigarettes, shopping, sex, work and so on, inspires the continuous quest for satisfaction. It creates habits. Habits that dull the mind and the senses. It can lead to obsessive behaviour that can hinder spiritual progress.
Take a look at yourself for a moment. Where is that majority of your energy directed? Most of us tend to spend a lot of time concerning ourselves with things that don’t really serve us best.
Worrying about something in the future that may not even happen. Concerned with presenting ourselves to others as someone we’re not in order to impress and please them. Funnelling all of our efforts into being thinner, stronger, more ‘beautiful’.
The best version of ourselves reveals itself when we are happy.
In order to discover the best version of ourselves, we need to listen to ourselves and our bodies. Really tune in to where we are at in life both physically, emotionally and mentally and decipher whether we are channelling our energies effectively or not.
Brahmacharya on the mat…
It’s like I’m constantly banging on this drum but, respecting where you’re at physically in a yoga class is vital.
The need to compare yourself and your abilities to others in your class serves no purpose whatsoever but to contribute towards negative energies, be that an inflated or deflated ego. You have options in a yoga class. Choose wisely.
The teacher will generally offer modifications for the more difficult poses. Go with where you’re at and don’t focus on the others in your class. They may be stronger or weaker in other areas of yoga or life in general.
You’re not a better or worse person because you can or can’t do a certain pose. You’re just you. And listen to your body.
You may be the type of person that veers towards strong, power, flow classes and that’s fine but, consider every now and then that your body might need to replenish the energy stores. Opt for a restorative or Yin practice and show your weary bones some love.
You may, on the other hand, be that person who sits comfortably in a gentle hatha yoga class weekly and is apprehensive of stepping into a strong power, flow yoga class even though this may give you the energy boost you require. Try something different.
See how your body responds to these changes and keep mixing it up to create that inner dialogue. You may just surprise yourself!
Brahmacharya off the mat…
We currently live in a culture where we tend to want to ‘outdo’ each other on how busy we are. Yeah, you heard me, ‘person that emails work stuff at 11pm on a Friday night’! If you’re not busy, are you lazy? Not good enough? Is this busy-ness worthwhile though?
Constantly living in one moment while thinking of the next can cause our stress responses to activate. We go into ‘fight or flight’ mode.
A state that Mother Nature intended for us only to call on in response to a current threat. A danger. Like… if we came face to face with a giant bear or something. This is not a tool for day to day living.
If we continuously live in this ‘fight or flight’ state of being we will eventually ‘burn out’.
Blood pressure levels heighten, energy levels decrease and our immune systems weaken. We get sick. We make ourselves sick. This excessive living cannot continue.
It’s fine being a little busy from time to time but are you being productive? Are you being kind to yourself? Does your packed calendar give you time to breathe. To stop and reflect on all the things you have been doing?
Taking Brahmacharya off the mat, can you assess how you are using your energy? Is all of this running around necessary? Where can you be more efficient in order to make some space in your day to just breathe?
Taking these moments to reflect on all of the things we are doing helps to cultivate a sense of awareness around ourselves. We begin to listen to ourselves, assess our energy flow and find better ways to funnel and preserve it.
So, it’s not a case of quitting these little pleasures or tendencies cold turkey but more a case of raising awareness of our daily habits and cutting down on these ‘over indulgences’ we have going on that aren’t beneficial or contributing to our overall happiness.
Can you take a step back from your life and begin to identify any aspects where you may be over indulging? Expending unnecessary energy? Once you identify these aspects can you recognise where they may be holding you back in some way? Maybe you can create some boundaries around these and notice if that leads to positive changes.
Rather than immediately associating Brahmacharya with celibacy and discarding the idea altogether, look a little deeper into the idea of freeing yourself from that which holds you back, focusing your energy towards the positive and aim to reach your full potential.