The Yamas: Brahmacharya, right use of energy

Emma continues her series of articles exploring Patanjali's Yamas and Niyamas. This time she looks at the Yama Brahmacharya.

brahmacharya Esther Ekhart in Janu Sirsasana forward fold

What does Brahmacharya mean?

The fourth of the Yamas, Brahmacharya, is often translated as 鈥榗elibacy鈥 or 鈥榗hastity鈥, which doesn鈥檛 always make for a very popular Yama鈥! Traditionally, 鈥楤rahmacharya鈥 was meant to encourage those involved in the practice of yoga to conserve their sexual energy, in favour of using that energy to further progress along the Yogic path.

The common misconception that Brahmacharya is all about celibacy means it is often overlooked or considered irrelevant in our modern culture.
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However, the practice of Brahmacharya or 鈥榬ight use of energy鈥 as it is widely translated, is more prevalent now than ever. 

Contemplation

The word Brahmacharya actually translates as 鈥behaviour which leads to Brahman鈥. Brahman is thought of as 鈥榯he creator鈥 in Hinduism and Yogic terms, so what we鈥檙e basically talking about here is behaviour which leads us towards 鈥榯he divine鈥 or 鈥榟igher power鈥. 

Regarding Brahmacharya as 鈥榬ight use of energy鈥 leads us to consider how we actually use and direct our energy. Brahmacharya also evokes a sense of directing our energy away from external desires 鈥 you know, those pleasures which seem great at the time but are ultimately fleeting 鈥 and instead, towards finding peace and happiness within ourselves. 

“Brahmacharya also evokes a sense of directing our energy away from external desires … and instead, towards finding peace and happiness within ourselves.”
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Where is your energy directed?

Consider for a moment where your energy is most directed. I鈥檒l have a guess that a large part of it is put towards worrying and generally concerning ourselves with things that don鈥檛 really serve us best. A lot of our energy may also be spent on trying to present ourselves as someone we鈥檙e not in order to please or impress others, or maybe we direct our physical energy towards endlessly pushing ourselves to be fitter, stronger or skinnier鈥. Does any of this sound like you? If so, it might be time to look a little closer at that Yama you鈥檝e been avoiding鈥.

In order to be the best version of ourselves and to use our energy in the right way, we need first of all to listen to what our bodies need. After all, to be able to spread our message to the world and really make the most of what we learn from our yoga practice, we need to have enough energy within ourselves.

In order to be the best version of ourselves and to use our energy in the right way, we need first of all to listen to what our bodies need.
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[EkhartYoga has a special program based around Health Boosting Yoga, with a choice of Power Yoga and Yin Yoga to follow 鈥 so if you truly listen to your body, you鈥檒l have all the energy you need!]

Boost your happiness to boost your health

As many parts of the world move towards Winter, our immune system naturally needs a little boost, but we don鈥檛 always listen to what we really need the most. By becoming aware of our energy levels and really listening to what we need, we can take action to ensure we feel at our very best.

Yoga is an all-natural happiness booster 鈥 you may notice that if you鈥檙e feeling down, nothing helps more than a great yoga class 鈥 and happiness is actually a proven immune-booster too! When we鈥檙e unhappy or fearful, our bodies respond by switching on our stress-responses (that infamous 鈥榝ight or flight鈥 system we鈥檙e always hearing so much about), which heightens our blood pressure, lowers our energy levels and weakens our immune system. When we鈥檙e happy and relaxed however, our nervous system switches on our healing mechanisms, which helps to keep our bodies in a vibrant and powerful state. 

If we are able to direct our energy towards something positive each day 鈥 rather than directing our energy towards our often negative thoughts 鈥 we鈥檒l not only be able to boost our immune system, but we鈥檒l also actively be making the right use of our energy!
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Listen to your body and let your practice serve you

Butterfly pose

We鈥檙e often encouraged to listen to our bodies in a yoga class, but if we鈥檙e accustomed to practicing in one particular way, it can be difficult to change our habits 鈥 even when our bodies are asking us to. To make the most of our energy, we can enhance our health and well-being with the right yoga practice for us at that time; if you鈥檙e accustomed to a strong yoga practice and your body needs restoring, allow some time for a deep Yin yoga practice. If you always opt for a soft and still practice, try some Power Yoga to give yourself a boost of strength and energy. Your body is always talking to you; listen and see what it has to say!

Listen to your body! Think about where you鈥檙e directing your energy – is it helpful or hurtful?

Brahmacharya in your yoga class

Mixed-level yoga classes are increasingly popular, which means there are lots of different abilities, needs and energy levels together in one class. Often in these classes, lots of different options are given so everyone can make the most of their practice. You may be offered variations and modifications of postures, the option to move through a vinyasa or to rest in Balasana (Child鈥檚 Pose).

yoga class

This situation can lead us in two different directions; surrounded by other practitioners, you might feel pressure to 鈥榢eep up鈥 or impress others, but consider whether taking the posture is helpful or not 鈥 your practice is about your body, no one else鈥檚. On the other hand; if you鈥檙e the type to shy away from taking it to the next level, consider stepping out of your comfort zone a little 鈥 outside of that little bubble of familiarity is where we grow the most!  

Brahmacharya in every-day life: How do you use your energy?

Right now there seems to be an over-emphasis on how 鈥榖usy鈥 we should all be 鈥 that busy is better 鈥 and that if you鈥檙e not busy, there鈥檚 something wrong. The point is, whether we鈥檙e constantly 鈥榖usy鈥 or not doesn鈥檛 matter – it鈥檚 whether what we鈥檙e doing is worthwhile. Filling our schedule with as much as we can may seem impressive on the outside, but when it comes to how this makes us feel on the inside, it doesn鈥檛 leave much space to breathe. Brahmacharya encourages right use of energy, so if your energy levels are flagging at the moment, consider whether your daily tasks are draining you of your vitality. Could you find a way to take a few moments a day to just stop and breathe and find a little peace?

This ability to slow down will not only allow your body and mind to take a much-needed break, but you鈥檒l be much more aware of how you鈥檝e been using your energy that day. As we mentioned earlier 鈥 listen to your body! Think about where you鈥檙e directing your energy – is it helpful or hurtful? Be aware of how you feel physically and energetically when you鈥檙e in certain situations – do some people drag your energy down? Do others make you light up? Is there something you love doing that really gives you a boost? (For most of us yes, it鈥檚 probably yoga!) Whatever your day-to-day schedule includes, become aware of not just what you do, but how you do it, and how it affects you.

By becoming aware of how our bodies and minds respond to certain situations, we can begin to cultivate a life that does serve us, and that does make the best use of our energy. By contemplating Brahmacharya within our every-day actions, we can take our yoga practice off the mat and into our lives and allow it to serve us at all times鈥.

So what behaviour leads you towards your higher power and helps make the right use of your energy?

Explore Patanjali’s Yamas and the other limbs in our guided online program

If you’d like to explore the Yamas in practice, follow our 8-week program ‘The Eight Limbs of Yoga‘. Our aim is to help you achieve a good grasp of each limb through informative talks, yoga, Pranayama and meditation. 

Further reading on the Yamas:

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Emma Newlyn
Emma NewlynEmma is a 500hr registered yoga teacher, writer and holistic therapist based in Sussex, UK. With a passion for yoga philosophy and Ayurveda, she loves bringing these ancient methods to the modern world in an accessible and easy-to-implement way through her writing and courses. Emma leads the Yoga, Ayurveda & Holistic Health course based in the UK, giving students tools and techniques to enhance their health and wellbeing, and to help others do the same. www.emmanewlynyoga.com