Emma continues her series of articles exploring Patanjali's Yamas and Niyamas. This time she looks at the Yama Brahmacharya.
What does Brahmacharya mean?
The fourth of the Yamas, Brahmacharya is often translated as ‘celibacy’ or ‘chastity’, which doesn’t always make for a very popular Yama…! Traditionally, ‘Brahmacharya’ 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.
However, the practice of Brahmacharya or ‘right use of energy’ as it is widely translated, is more prevalent now than ever.
The word Brahmacharya actually translates as ‘behaviour which leads to Brahman’. Brahman is thought of as ‘the creator’ in Hinduism and Yogic terms, so what we’re basically talking about here is behaviour which leads us towards ‘the divine’ or ‘higher power’.
Regarding Brahmacharya as ‘right use of energy’ 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 – you know, those pleasures which seem great at the time but are ultimately fleeting – 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."
Where is your energy directed?
Consider for a moment where your energy is most directed. I’ll have a guess that a large part of it is put towards worrying and generally concerning ourselves with things that don’t really serve us best. A lot of our energy may also be spent on trying to present ourselves as someone we’re 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…. Does any of this sound like you? If so, it might be time to look a little closer at that Yama you’ve been avoiding….
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.
[EkhartYoga has a special programme based around Health Boosting Yoga, with a choice of Power Yoga and Yin Yoga to follow – so if you truly listen to your body, you’ll 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’t 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 – you may notice that if you’re feeling down, nothing helps more than a great yoga class – and happiness is actually a proven immune-booster too! When we’re unhappy or fearful, our bodies respond by switching on our stress-responses (that infamous ‘fight or flight’ system we’re always hearing so much about), which heightens our blood pressure, lowers our energy levels and weakens our immune system. When we’re 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 – rather than directing our energy towards our often negative thoughts – we’ll not only be able to boost our immune system, but we’ll also actively be making the right use of our energy!
Listen to your body and let your practice serve you
We’re often encouraged to listen to our bodies in a yoga class, but if we’re accustomed to practicing in one particular way, it can be difficult to change our habits – 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’re accustomed to a strong yoga practice and your body needs restoring, allow some time for a deep Yin 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’re 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’s Pose).
This situation can lead us in two different directions; surrounded by other practitioners, you might feel pressure to ‘keep up’ or impress others, but consider whether taking the posture is helpful or not – your practice is about your body, no one else’s. On the other hand; if you’re the type to shy away from taking it to the next level, consider stepping out of your comfort zone a little – 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 ‘busy’ we should all be – that busy is better – and that if you’re not busy, there’s something wrong. The point is, whether we’re constantly ‘busy’ or not doesn’t matter - it’s whether what we’re 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’t 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?
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’ll be much more aware of how you’ve been using your energy that day. As we mentioned earlier – listen to your body! Think about where you’re directing your energy - is it helpful or hurtful? Be aware of how you feel physically and energetically when you’re 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’s 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….
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 programme
If you'd like to explore the Yamas in practice, follow our 8-week programme '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: