This post is a follow up of my recent overviews of ahimsa (non-violence, full post here), satya (truthfulness, full article here) and asteya (non-stealing, full post here). Brahmacarya is one of the 5 yamas of Patanjali, which give us a set of universal qualities that yogis must adopt in order to evolve in their practice.
The traditional meaning of brahmacarya
Litterally brahmacarya means “the way to Brahma”. Brahma meaning bigger than big, the ultimate reality or God. The traditional meaning of the way to God was celibacy or sexual abstinence. It was believed that, through sexual abstinence, a yogi could capitalize on prana (the universal energy) by retaining the semen inside of the body. As often with the yoga sutras, brahmacarya can be interpreted in many ways.
I personally see abstinence as a contradiction to what yoga is about. When practicing yoga, we aim to enjoy the beauty of life and being present in the moment without the pollution of our thoughts. By choosing to no longer have sex, the practitioner misses out on one of the most beautiful and sacred joy of life.
Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.Epicurus
The “path to God” can be interpreted in many ways. Nowadays practitioners who would like to follow the guidelines of Patanjali without giving up on sex like to think that brahmacarya refers to moderation rather than complete abstinence. This moderation should not be only applied to the sexual activity of the yogi, but it should be applied to all aspects of life. Moderation should always be in the back of our mind in regards to our personal ressources, our relationships and the world.
When we engage too much in actions that feel good to us, there is a danger that it could take control over our thoughts and dictate our behaviours. Whenever this happens we lose the clarity of thoughts necessary to enjoy other aspects of life, we become obsessive and these obsessions often lead to addictive behaviours.
Moderation on our mat
I think it is important to stay moderate in our practice of yoga, on the physical level, but as well mental level. We should never overdo it. Practicing asanas daily is great and I strongly recommend it, but it is as well important to listen to the needs of your body and show kindness to yourself. Doing yoga is actually not necessarly about practicing the asanas, it can be only taking some time to meditate or just practice the yamas and niyamas.
Whenever we push the bounderies of our body too far, this is when we risk an injury. The element of balance is an important part of the yoga practice (for more on the subject click here). Yoga is a way to improve your life. When you practice beyond the capacities of your own body, you are no longer doing yoga.
Yoga makes you feel good, but you should not get too attached to this feeling to the point that it would control your actions. Yoga is a lifestyle and it ends up really becoming a part of who you are, but you do not want to isolate yourself. I think it is very important to stay open and tolerant to people who do not necessarly share the same interest as you do. Yoga teaches us to follow our instincts and not to get lost in preconcieved thought patterns. I think we can learn from absolutely everyone and we must remember that we have as well the ability to teach what we know.
Moderation off the mat
Where there is pleasure, there is danger. Addictions are very common. Whether it is food, alcohol, sex, drugs, shopping, gambling, social medias, toxic relationships… there are thousands of ways one can get addicted to something. In order to live by brahmacarya we must get rid of those addictions and realize the difference between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure comes and goes, whereas happiness is a state of mind.
You feel pleasure when you indulge in an addictive behaviour, but as soon as you stop you are facing your own demons again and you will then indulge in your addictive behaviour again and feel pleasure and relief for a short while again. It is an endless circle.
The way to happiness is to face your demons, to understand where this pain, this anxiety or this fear is coming from and to face it. The way you face them is through meditation (more informations here). We will never be happy 100% of the time and there is no need to pretend that it can be the case. We must acknowledge the pain, we must take the time to grief and heal.
Through the practice of yoga, we learn to look at ourself objectively. When doing so, we slowly learn to notice our addictive behaviours and this is the first step. We must acknowledge our behaviours in order to control them. I strongly believe that every addiction can be fought effectively and that moderation is the key.
That being said, in some cases
moderation will not be enough and you will need to be completely
abstinent in order to regain the full control of your actions.
Whatever your case is, beware that you have much to win by getting
rid of your addictions. You do not want your actions to control you,
you want to control your actions.