Over the last few weeks we have been looking at the teachings of the yamas from the 8 limbs of yoga and here our focus is brahmacharya.
Sanskrit does not have a direct translation into English and this can often create room for confusion. If we translate brahmacharya directly, it translates in English as celibacy or renouncing oneself from sexual desires so it always causes the student to get a little confused and uncomfortable! But in Indian religions it is referring to a concept where one stays in conduct within one’s own Self whereby the person has complete control over their body and mind through ascetic means.
The word brahmacharya stems from two Sanskrit roots:
- Brahma meaning ones own Self; our ultimate unchanging reality; absolute consciousness. Brahma is also the Vedic God of creation, no different from the Self or Atman.
- charya which according to Wikipedia means “occupation with, engaging, proceeding, behaviour, conduct, to follow, moving in, going after”. This is often translated as activity, conduct, or mode of behaviour.
Hence, brahmacharya roughly translates as; “to stay true to one’s Self or ones own Atma” or “on the path of Brahma”.
If we spend a little more time looking into this yama or restraint, we find that it is encouraging us to practice moderation. If we were to abstain from something, all this does is cause suffering in one way or the other and this is not the path of yoga. If we abstain from fulfilling our desires we will only suppress our human desires and this will lead to attachment and inevitably suffer in the long run. So, how can we practice brahmacharya in all that we do?
“Brahmacharya, on one level, fundamentally means to move from being a compulsive human being to a conscious one.”Sadhguru
Here Patanjali is encouraging us to do all things in moderation! To eat in moderation; to exercise in moderation; to work in moderation; to practice in moderation and so on….
Let’s use our yoga practice as an example: if we were to do asana everyday and nothing else we would eventually hit a wall either emotionally, mentally or physically. If we did the same thing in our exercise routine everyday the body would eventually tire and we may become exposed to injury. Doing anything over and over again is never the answer, we must learn to adapt and continually change not only our physical routine but how we learn and evolve through this lifetime. It is asking us to be non-indulgent in any one thing or behaviour and as we practice this it enables us to create discipline which can then be used in every junction of our life.
So what can we take from this? How can we practice something in moderation? How can we enjoy a little bit of everything and not feel remorse? How can we create discipline in our practice(s)?
Perhaps Patanjali is teaching us that it’s ok to eat that bit of chocolate; it’s ok to have the afternoon on the sofa; it’s ok to have that extra hour in bed; it’s ok to watch just one more episode of our favourite show; it’s ok to…….as long as we balance it out with the opposite.
Life is about balance and yoga is teaching us to find that balance within us ☯️