Many of us are drawn to yoga for its physical benefits and have derived much from them. However, at its root yoga is a practice that develops flexibility, strength, and resilience of the mind and consciousness. These past few months we’ve been exploring the eight-fold path outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and the guiding philosophy they present to help us make our way through the world more at peace with ourselves and those around us.
Yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater states, “We often learn the eight limbs one by one, but it’s helpful to remember that each step on the path is part of an integrated whole, more hologram than linear route. Once they are learned, the limbs are to be practiced and lived together.” The first two limbs are the yamas and niyamas, restraints and observances, attitudes that we can cultivate that lead us away from suffering and toward contentment.
This month at Breathe we will be focusing on the fourth yama, brahmacharya – non-indulgence. Just like the other yamas & niyamas, brahmacharya means so much more than being celibate, how it was initially interpreted. However, brahmacharya truly meant was conduct consistent with Brahma, the creator God in Hinduism. Brahmacharya, which in addition to control of sexual energy, including fidelity in a committed relationship, also represents a virtuous lifestyle that includes simple living, meditation and mindfulness in word, thought, and deed not to be driven by sensual pleasures. A big part of this journey through life is learning to observe our thoughts and behavior patterns, then choosing to act in accordance with virtuousness and nobility. An integrated practice of brahmacharya asks us to look at how we utilize or underutilize our energy… do we focus on our desires? do we deny ourselves opportunities to experience pleasure? or do we have a healthy attitude and approach to pleasure and place greater value on the things in our life that bring lasting happiness? This level of self-awareness requires courage to be honest and willing to look at our choices; and it’s important to do this with compassion. Always be kind through this process of self-discovery.
For those that have found brahmacharya to be mysterious perhaps this quote by Mahatma Gandhi sums it up best, “What is brahmacharya? It is a way of life, which leads us to Brahma (God).”
The wholistic yoga approach integrated brahmacharya as a way to conserve and fully harness all of our vital life energy for the sole purpose of achieving oneness with the Divine. Brahmacharya did not only apply to sexual relations but to food consumed, exercise, day to day tasks, speech, and even thoughts. Not an ounce of energy was to be wasted on rich dishes, ranting about a bad night’s sleep, daydreams about material infatuation, or sexual fantasies. Brahmacharya is not limited to or defined by sexual activity: it is the practice of mastering and conserving our vital energy.
We invite you to join us in bringing more awareness to the practice of non-indulgence this month (and beyond). Here are a few ways to get started:
—Take a look at behaviors that you may classify as your “guilty pleasure.” Are these behaviors in alignment with your virtues? Can they be healthy pleasures, ones that you could easily detach from?
—Allow yourself to be open and accepting in your yoga practice at each moment. Sometimes the practice of restraint is the yogic choice, to prevent us from indulging in sensation that’s not appropriate for our body. The deepest stretch is not always what our body needs.
—Practice restraint and conservation of your life force in all of your thoughts, words, and deeds. This is a lofty ambition, but one that will grant you the benefit of returning the energy that you’ve been unconsciously depleting through indulgent pursuits, such as gossip.
—Practice moderation and responsibility everywhere. Eating, sleeping, exercising, how much spice you put in your food – too much or too little of anything can cause a problem. Choose the right amount of even your favorite things, and appreciate the happiness they bring even more.
For continued reading on how to practice brahmacharya check out this article on Awakening Self.
“Nothing is wasted by us if we seek to develop moderation in all things.” T.K.V. Desikachar