The Yamas: part 4. Brahmacharya: the divine nature of desire, Integrity around sexuality, celebacy, right use of energy
What does it mean? This Yama is more difficult to decipher as there seem to be many different translations and interpretations.
Brahmacharya as celibacy or chastity. One of the reasons for practicing celibacy is that the 3 higher limbs of Ashtanga (the eight limbs of) Yoga - Dharana: focused concentration, Dhyana: meditation & Samadhi: enlightenment), require a tremendous amount of energy or prana. This energy is built up through the practices of yoga such as asana and pranayama but can be dissipated during sensual enjoyment. Of all the sensual activities, sexual activity can deplete the psychic and nervous systems, resulting in a lessening of energy.
However, at certain times or stages in life, sexual activity is necessary. None of us would be here without it! So, Brahmacharya reminds us that without desire there would be no creation. And we are creators. Creation is our direct connection to the Divine.
The question to ask is... which desires come from our own divinity and which come from our restless minds, our habits and addictions? When the mind is freed from a domination of the senses, from dependencies and cravings; sensual pleasures are replaced by inner joy.
When we look at Brahmacharya as ‘right use of energy’, we can consider how we actually use and direct our energy.
In order for us to be the best version of ourselves and to use our energy in the right way, we first need to listen to what our bodies need. We don’t always do this! It's vital that we take time to become more aware of our energy levels and really listen and feel into what we need.
Putting it into Practice... To make the most of our energy, we can enhance our health and wellbeing with the right choices in all areas such as diet, lifestyle and yoga practice.. Listen to your body. Brahmacharya encourages right use of energy so if energy levels are flagging consider what is draining you of your vitality. This ability to slow down allows the body and mind to become more aware of its needs. Ask the question; ‘is it helpful or hurtful?’
Be aware of situations when people drag your energy down? Become aware of what gives you a boost? Become aware of what you do, how you do it and how it affects you. By becoming aware of how our bodies respond to certain situations we can begin to cultivate a life that serves us and that makes the best use of our energy. In asana practice maybe set an intention before you practice, a mindful message to yourself.
The act of self-discipline and restraint can also be helpful. Notice when the mind says ‘I must have...’ and maybe make the choice to abstain, how does this make you feel? We alone are responsible for our choices. By making wise choices about the foods we eat, the types of books/magazines/social media/films/TV we engage in and the company we keep, we will help ourselves conserve energy and keep the mind more focused and dynamic.