Again, my apologies. The end of the quarter has besieged me with grading. And so grading, not blogging, has taken precedence in my life. But, finally, today, we arrive at the last of the 5 yamas, or restraints, of the eight limbs of yoga: brahmacharya.
This particular restraint strikes fear in the heart of many Westerners, for it is often translated as “celibacy.” And for most us, being celibate is not how we want to live our lives. My teachers in India were very careful to remind us that brahmacharya has a broader meaning than simply “no sex.” It can be interpreted as “the conduct that leads to Brahman or as the control of the senses” (I’m getting this quote from my teaching training manual from India). Conduct that leads to Brahman means, in essence, conduct that will connect us with the divine Source of creative energy. In terms of controlling the sense, the practice of brahmacharya can help make sure we aren’t just leaking our energy all over the place (it’s my understanding that the prohibition against sex came from the notion that, for men, sex necessitates a–how should I put this–leaking of vital life energy that could be put to “better” use via meditation or yoga).
Let’s face it: we waste a lot of our energy. Okay, I waste a lot of my energy on worrying, indulging my fear and anger, and getting caught in the cycle of attachment and aversion (either I want or I don’t want). Brahmacharya, like aparigraha, can help us reign in this wastefulness and focus on what’s important: compassion, the breath, our interconnectedness with one another, etc.
Here’s another way I like to look at brahmacharya: sex, like meditation and yoga, can transcend the barriers of mediated existence, overcoming the boundaries of physical form and unite us–unite us to our Self, unite us to our Creator, and unite us to one another. If anything, the practice of brahmacharya reminds us of the potency of sexual intimacy and cautions us to cultivate this power in safe ways by honoring our commitment to our partner and recognizing the sanctity inherent in them.
Next up? The niyamas, or observances.