I will begin my understanding of the fourth yama, brahmacarya by first sharing the etymology of the Sanskrit word: It stems from the Sanskrit roots Brahman, which is what god is called in the vedas – the main Hindu scriptures. Charya, which means ¨occupation with, engaging , proceeding, behavior, conduct, to follow¨. This very literal definition, to walk with God is also translated as chasity. As I explain to students and teachers in training, everyone’s level of commitment to yoga is different; one need not be a renunciant in order to benefit from yoga. We can all practice these principles on our mats and in our lives.
Brahmacarya in a more broad sense asks us to practice moderation. As stated above, brahmacarya is often misunderstood as the expectation of celibacy. There are people, such as monastics who make the choice of celibacy in order to focus more deeply on their spiritual practices. Again, abstinence is not a requirement to be a yoga practitioner, nor are celibates necessarily more enlightened. I think I can fairly say that we are all looking for balance. Yoga is letting go of all that is not necessary in the moment. If we practice this well, we will find more balance in our lives.
This balance goes beyond sexual moderation. We can practice moderation in all thought, speech and action. When we reach outside ourselves to create balance, thinking that we are incomplete we actually create imbalance. Although it sounds like a radical measure, we discover that there is a power in nondoing. As we practice moderation, we find that the excesses and the tension surrounding them in our bodies along with our contracted mental states, begin to fall away.
The root of these contracted states is fear. A fear driven yoga practice will lead to injury or nowhere at all. When we practice this branch of the eight limbs, we become more aware of the fears that lead to injury or apathy. We begin to look at how we strive and compete or are limp and instable in our bodies and minds. We ask ourselves are we practicing in order to achieve something, like losing weight or have a certain body? Is yoga a way to live more purposefully or am I actually doing the opposite?
Some ways that we can practice Brahmacarya on our yoga mats are to bring kind awareness to the sensations in the body. Getting still and quiet and listening with kindness to our own hearts, instead of mirroring our busy, fast paced lives by flying through poses as intensely as we can. Doing less on the mat, when we may want to do more more more. And yes, at times it is good to be challenged more than we would like; but it is also good to take time off or not push at all. My teachers tell me that when we practice the poses with an ounce of extra effort, it manifests as tension in the body. If we want balance, then I believe that in yoga we are trying to let go of tension in the body, not create more. Through the practice of brahmacarya, we build a strong and resilient mind and body.
I love quotes, so I´ll leave you with a quote:
¨Even the most exalted states and the most exceptional spiritual accomplishments are unimportant if we cannot be happy in the most basic and ordinary ways, if we cannot touch one another and the life we have been given with our hearts.¨
May you know the beauty of your own true nature