Brahmacharya is the fourth of the five Yama’s. This Yama is not as clear and as straight forward to understand as the first three yama’s. When translating Sanskrit into English we can lose a lot in translation and there are many interpretations of this Yama the most popular being:
Moderation of all sensory experiences;
The literal translation being: Brahma (Divine Consciousness) Charya (Living or one who is established in), therefore it translates into “Being established in divine consciousness” or “Being established in the higher (form of the) mind”
So what does all of this mean to us and why should we bother?
This year I decided to revisit the Yama’s to help remind myself of the yoga philosophy and to bring more meaningful inspiration into my yoga classes. Since doing this I found the first three Yama’s to be inspirational and in some ways easy to apply to some situations, sure I’m still not practicing them 100% but I can see how I can apply them and how they are beneficial. In the spirit of Satya being truthful and honest with myself and all of you, when I first revisited Brahmacharya I thought… “Ah maybe I could skip this one… how am I going to teach this!”
According to Patanjali when we practice celibacy, we save vital energy and when we lose this vital energy we become depleted mentally and physically. We must however remind ourselves that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are directed mainly to people seeking spiritual awakening and to those who have dedicated their lives to it, such as monks.
On the other hand the late BKS Iyengar says that Brahmacharya has little to do with whether one is celibate or not but more to do with one’s daily living… he says that without experiencing human love and happiness, it is not possible to know divine love.
Many believe that to practice Brahmacharya in today’s crazy modern world we need to use your energy in the correct way by practicing moderation. In my opinion this is the most practical and honest way to practice Brahmacharya in the real world.
So the best way to conserve our energy is to practice moderation, avoid over indulgence of worldly pleasures. Think of those things that give you instant pleasure and joy but ultimately leave you feeling drained, tired and fatigued, they could be simple things like eating a whole tub of ice-cream, or a full share bar of chocolate, binge watching a series on Netflix, scrolling for too long on social media, or it could be more serious addictions like gambling, drugs, sex, alcohol, smoking etc. You don’t have to abstinence from worldly pleasures, we just need to monitor them so we don’t lose control of our senses and ourselves.
If we look at Brahmacharya in this way, then what is it is actually asking us to do is this:
Do more of what vitalizes and gives us energy and less of what drains us.
Notice your own thoughts… (remember Asteya reminds us that everything we need is already within us), You might think (or what I definitely think is) “I really shouldn’t have anymore chocolate” while mindlessly reaching for it and eating it! Or you might think “I really should go to bed” rather than watch another episode of your current favourite show but you stay up anyway…. Ignoring our own wisdom that is telling us that we are going to feel depleted after this activity is violating Brahmacharya. Can you instead of ignoring yourself practice Brahmacharya and ask the question “Is this activity going to energise me or deplete me?”... If the answer is deplete me perhaps consider doing something that will energise you instead.
Have you ever noticed that when you lay about all day, that you tend to feel tired or sluggish and you don’t understand why. Or if you started working out or took up running, at first you felt wonderful and energised and then you continue to try and chase those endorphins or you start to obsess about the results that you could achieve and you end up training every day, your body doesn’t get enough time to repair and eventually you start to feel fatigued because you ended up over training. Try not to seek or attempt to replicate those initial feel good hormones,,, nothing feels as good as the first time that you experienced them. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying a change can be as good as a rest or everything in moderation… this is Brahmacharya. Remember that you can have too much of a good thing.
Techniques for changing with Brahmacharya
Once you start to notice those habits that have become harmful or excessive, the question then becomes how do I manage this? Sometimes we need to go cold turkey to give our senses a complete rest, like anything else, if our senses are being stimulated constantly, they get fatigued and drained. So depending on what has become excessive will determine what you need to do. If it’s craving unhealthy food, you might need to re-set your metabolism with a three day detox or go on healthy diet staying away from the foods that you crave for a month or more. If you spend too much time on the phone you may need to go on a digital detox until you can control the impulse of your desires.
Or another way to manage your impulses is whenever a craving comes you could tell yourself that you can indulge in it but first you have to do 10 minutes of mindful breathing or you go for a quick walk, anything, just do something that will give you energy first before you allow yourself to indulge and after a while maybe your cravings will begin to fade and new habits may form.
Brahmacharya teaches us self restraint – to curb the tendency to eat for eating sake, or to scroll for scrolling sake. When we allow our impulses to determine our actions Brahmacharya asks us to take back control.
“One who is united with the self, the senses and the mind is called the Enjoyer. One who has an undisciplined mind suffers from the activities of his uncontrolled senses, just as a charioteer suffers from driving untrained horses.”
We take back control by noticing our behavior, then make the conscious decision whether we indulge or not. If you choose to indulge, enjoy it,, appreciate the experience… slow down and enjoy the sensations. By doing this we can begin to gain back some control and the action no longer becomes mindless and draining.
Brahmacharya in Asana
Bhekasana – Frog Pose
Bhek – Frog
Asana – Pose
Bhekasana is a deep back-bend that helps to improve our posture and is a beautiful asana to practice Brahmacharya as it requires a balance of flexibility and strength. It is traditionally believed to open the kundalini energy (located at the base of the spine) and directs that energy, the prana (life force) to the 2nd (Sacral) and 3rd (Solar Plexus) Chakra’s. Opening up the solar plexus helps to strengthen self-esteem and a sense of power and energy. It is said that a healthy Solar Plexus helps the Yogi to be self motivated and decisive. Being decisive is a great attribute to have when practicing Brahmacharya as once we decide to conserve energy and break away from the habits that are draining us we are more likely to stick it.
MENTAL & EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
Promotes focus, productivity and inner acceptance
Relieves stress and anxiety
Calms the body
Stretches quads and hip flexors
Opens the chest and shoulders
Increases strength and flexibility in the back
Stimulates and strengthens the abdominal organs
Enhances the digestive system
Opens the hips joints
Strengthens the ankle and knee joints
CAUTIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS
Recent shoulder back or knee injuries
HINTS AND TIPS
Move slowly in the pose
Don’t force the shoulder or knee into place…. breathe into it and allow time for the shoulder and knee to move into the pose
Any time you feel discomfort, don’t force yourself deeper into the asana, instead come out of the pose and take rest
Ensure that the body is warm and that the core muscles are awake to help support the back