Living the teachings
understanding yoga’s everyday spiritual meanings BRAHMACHARYA: NON-EXCESS By Sue Pugh
In the ‘eight limbs’ of yoga, the postures (asanas) make up just one limb. When we really ‘get’ yoga, we grow to understand that it is about so much more than simply adopting postures and moving the body. The Yamas and Niyamas (limbs one and two) provide a simple set of practical, ethical guidelines when following the yogic path.
Brahmacharya is the fourth Yama. Historically, Brahmacharya literally meant celibacy; it was thought that celibacy preserved vital energy that could then be channelled towards enhanced communication with the divine. Ancient yogis would often retreat to caves on a quest to forge this closer relationship with the divine, and this led naturally to celibacy. Today, we think of Brahmacharya as living in a way that preserves our energy and vitality and not expending it needlessly by over-indulging on anything that provides us with pleasure.
The practice of Brahmacharya is all about finding that middle ground and not doing things to excess. Often, these things that do deplete our energy do not make us happy in a lasting way, just fleeting, sensory pleasure that is short lived. These activities may also become harmful addictions. Examples could be comfort eating, buying a whole new wardrobe, excess physical exercise, spending lots of time scrolling through social media and binge watching an entire series on Netflix
These things result in us feeling offbalance. Brahmacharya encourages us to try and find balance in today’s world of extremes.
Living constantly in the fast lane, maybe chasing happiness, leads ultimately to most of us feeling depleted; we can literally feel our vitality leaking out. By slowing down and practicing moderation, we deepen our connection with ourselves, and we become aware of the aspects of our life that are draining or fortifying our energy. This may then result in us finding a greater sense of peace and inner calm.
This greater sense of peace is reiterated by the well-known teacher, Sadhguru, who suggests that Brahmacharya means to move from being a compulsive human being to a conscious one. Modern living with its relentless pace, promise of more, and 24/7 culture may also be harmful for our emotional wellbeing. Bhagavati reminds us that by slowing down and taking the middle path we may also quieten our minds and our soul can then speak to us.
Your yoga practice is a great place to begin, slow down, breathe deeply, listen to what your body needs and do this as opposed to challenging yourself and feeling as though you should be doing more. Brahmacharya fits beautifully with the often-used expression, ‘less is more’. Once again, it seems that we are now discovering what the ancients knew all along.