I tend to leave this yama alone. It has such a bad rap. The fourth of the Yamas, Brahmacharya is often translated as ‘celibacy’ or ‘chastity’, which doesn’t always make for a very popular yama.
In yogic tradition, ‘Brahmacharya’ is 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. Many moons ago, when yoga was only practiced by sadhus, they had to have some way of managing their sexual energy and refocusing it to something a little more productive (for them).
But we are urban monks, living with families, lovers, friends. And let’s face it, with all that goes with this, you don’t have to worry about conserving your sexual energy, right? Probably having problems maintaining it in the face of so much busyness.
Speaking of…. How busy are you right now? Too much? Not enough? Most of us would answer too much – nowadays, there seems to be an over-emphasis on how ‘busy’ we should all be – the busier the better. If we are not being super busy, we must be lazy. There is no inbetween, it seems.
Filling our schedule may seem impressive on the outside (and we may even get loads of reinforcement from loved ones about being this busy), or alternately, people may be impressed with the hedonistic lifestyle of a Singapore expat wife, but how does what we do or not do make us feel? The point is, whether we’re constantly ‘busy’ or not, it is how we feel when we do ‘stuff’ that matters.
I used to, amongst other things, run learning programs to help senior executives become better at ‘time management’. Business leaders thought it was all about how many appointments you could fit into your diary, how many billable hours you could justify. And then wondered why the burnout rate was so high in their junior staff, and why they always felt so tired.
“It was only when I began to teach brahmacharya in the form of meditation and mindfulness that people started to see the importance of managing energy, and not their time.” Lee, WanderingYogi
In the 21st century, Brahmacharya is more about encouraging the ‘right’ use of energy, focused on the ‘right’ things. I use that word ‘right’ in the sense that it is used in Buddhism – that there are some universal rules to which, if one applies oneself, you are so much more likely to have peace and happiness.
Consider for a moment where your energy is most directed.
Maybe towards worrying and expressing opinions about things that don’t really serve us best (I know Donald Trump is a loser president, but he is getting no more of my emotional head space, that’s for sure).
Maybe a lot of your energy is spent on trying to present yourself ‘in your best light’ – 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, let’s see how you can choose how to manage your energy, and not your time.
Practicing Brahmacharya in the everyday
How is your energy level right now? If it is flagging, consider which of your daily tasks might be draining you of your vitality. Or is your energy level reflective of an emotional malaise from which you can’t seem to lift up from?
Do you have a time of day when you feel your most energetic? What use do you make of that time? Do you load it up with all sorts of ‘to-do’ tasks (shopping list, kid’s dental appointment follow up), or do you make use of that energy level to work through important issues (planning out the family holidays for the year, writing that book, practicing your yoga or meditation)?
Observe your energy levels, start to make conscious decisions to do certain tasks that give you great joy at the time that you have the most energy. You will find that your energy levels will begin to level out, enabling you to do some of those must do, but oh so boring tasks on your list.
Do some people drag your energy down? Do others make you light up? There is a saying choose your friends wisely, you cannot hang out with negative people, and expect to live a positive life.
Is there something you love doing that really gives you a boost? Do what you love, and love what you do. (most of the time, anyway). And dreams don’t work, unless you do.
Could you find a way to take 5 minutes twice a day to stop and breathe (using some of the breath techniques we have learnt in WanderingYogi’s Urban Monk Meditation workshop, for example)? You know now that deep breathing helps clear the pre frontal cortex, you get loads of oxygen (the full 5 litres, instead of the paltry 1.5 you usually inhale).
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.
Brahmacharya and meditation
The word Brahmacharya literal translation is ‘behaviour which leads to Brahman’. Brahman is viewed as ‘the creator’ in Hinduism, so Brahmacharya is behaviour which leads us towards ‘the divine’ or ‘higher power’.
In meditation, when we practice this yama we consider how we direct our energy practice, not just away from external desires, but also our internal desires.
For many of us who meditate, we experience lots of strange and wonderful events. Some of it may become addictive. Those coloured lights, for example. The talking deities, whatever. We rush to our meditation seat, eagerly anticipating the next instalment and energy rush.
We finish our meditation, and analyse our observations, feeling strangely smug that we experienced what were clearly significant ‘milestones’ in our meditation journey.
Or you may be one of ‘those’ who does not experience any of this, and sits back, feeling a little left out, that somehow you are not on the ‘right’ path.
Is anyone in this scenario feeling peace, contentment or at one with a universal spiritual consciousness? Probably not..
When we practice brahmacharya in meditation, we learn to gratefully channel the energy of these experiences into deeper and more disciplined singular focus. We do not get distracted by the wonderful but fleeting feelings.
Remembering that the final goal is a steady hum of peace and contentment within ourselves (dare I say connectedness with the universe?)