(By July Johnson)
In the West we tend to associate Brahmacharya with the concept of celibacy, or abstinence. For obvious reasons, the majority of us do not feel too keenly drawn to this idea. But this interpretation of the 4th Yama is over-simplified and not true to the real meaning and intent of Brahmacharya.
When we take the time to uncover the deeper meaning of Brahmacharya, a more realistic and palatable interpretation comes into view, one that is manageable for modern day yogis and yoginis. Put simply, Brahmacharya asks us to avoid excess. Non-excess is not exactly the same as restraint or denial, but rather it is the awareness and knowledge of what is “enough.” It’s Goldilocks. Not too much (excess), not too little (deprivation), but “just right.” There is no need for more; when we are perfectly full, we know to stop. Having found this state of “just right,” we can enjoy it and be in the moment with it, fully aware and in awe of its sweet and simple perfection.
When we practice Brahmacharya we begin to tame our tendency toward overindulgence. We learn to be in the moment exquisitely so we’re better able to find that “just right” place. Whether we tend to over-indulge with food, sex, work, TV, entertainment, or exercise—and the list can go on and on—we learn to reign ourselves in and observe when enough is simply enough. We are called to find that moment of “just right” and to stop there, realizing that to go even one step further begins the downward slide into excess.
The practice of integrating Brahmacharya into our daily lives is not asking us to avoid enjoyment, quite the opposite. Non-excess is not the same as non-enjoyment! Brahmacharya is actually a path toward finding satisfaction in simple pleasures. Think of the simple and pure pleasure of feeling the sun on your back (not the scalding, excessive heat of a sunburn) or the soft caress of the wind on your cheek (not the excessive blustery wind that knocks you off balance and sends your hat sailing). It’s the beautiful pleasure of laughing with an old friend and seeing the joy in smiles being shared. It’s enjoying a meal thoughtfully and mindfully and knowing when we are full. It’s working until the work is complete, but not burning the candle at both ends and sacrificing time with family and friends. When our hearts are full of innate pleasures, they open in awe and wonder. When we are grateful for “what is,” a sense of wonder engulfs us in each and every ordinary day. When our hearts are so full and complete, there is no need for anything more; no need for excess. In her book The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, Deborah Adele refers to Brahmacharya as a call “to leave greed and excess behind and walk in this world with wonder and awe, practicing non-excess and attending to each moment as holy.” She says that Brahmacharya is the art and practice of “seeing the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred.”
As you enter into the new month of June and the jump into the summer season, we invite you to explore how you can integrate Brahmacharya into your life. It’ll take slowing down, looking around, breathing deeply, and seeing the world around you with your heart and your eyes wide open. Come to think of it, all of that sounds pretty good! Let’s jump in!
Week 1: Practice living in non-excess. Do everything you do (eat, work, sleep, exercise, etc.) to the point of increased energy and a feeling of fullness, stopping your activity before the lethargy of excess sets in. Know what is enough (“just right”) and stop there. Practice your pleasures without excess.
Week 2: Seek wonder everywhere you go and in everything you see. See the sacred in the ordinary and the divine in every person you encounter. Move through your day with your heart and your eyes open and take the time to truly see and feel. When you walk to your car, to work, to camp – no matter the destination or the time of day – take the time to look up and around you at the beauty that surrounds you. Pause for a moment to take it all in – the sun, the moon, the colors and smells – absorb the sweet, simple perfection of life as it is in each moment. Feel the “just right-ness” of it as is, and the need for nothing more.
Week 3: How do you find the sacred in yourself? All of the beauty you witness in the world around you also resides within you. Notice that beauty in yourself and honor it. Breathe into it and let it fill you up, as is, with no need for anything more. What connects you to your passion and puts you in touch with your inner divine? Take the time to find that and then see how you can integrate more of those moments into your day.
Week 4: Evaluate how you feel at the end of the month. Have you been able to cut back on your personal excessiveness? Are you in better touch with those Goldilocks moments of just right-ness? Have you brought attention and awareness to events that trigger excessive behavior? How can you address these moments in a new way that allows you to practice Brahmacharya, non-excessiveness, and instead fill yourself up with simple, beautiful, natural pleasures that are “just right”?
Like where this is going and how it’s feeling? Here’s how you can integrate Brahmacharya into your yoga practice:
The Mudra, or hand gesture, associated with Brahmacharya is Prana Mudra. Stretch your arms forward with your hands resting upturned shoulder width apart. Softly bring your thumb, ring, and pinky fingers to touch, with your thumb on top; lengthen your index and middle fingers. This Prana Mudra brings forth the vitality that resides within your prana, your life force.
The Mantra, or Sanskrit words and phrases that align with Brahmacharya are “Om somaye namaha.” Chanting the mantra “Om somaye namaha” calls upon the rejuvenating liquid, or nectar (soma), that drips from the moon in Hindu mythology and washes away stress that causes you to feel depleted. Often it is these feelings of depletion that lead us into excessive behavior patterns. Wash away your stress with this mantra, rather than with too much of something unnecessary.
The Asana we move into in support of Brahmacharya is child’s pose. As you rest and breathe in child’s pose, absorb the completeness of your day, this year, and your life. There is no need for more, no need for excess. Allow yourself to be full, complete and “just right.”
Questions? Comments? Want to let us know how it’s going? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month we’ll cover the fifth Yama of Aparigraha or non-possessiveness.
Copyright 2019 Metta Yoga, LLC