A movement toward moderation.
This month, I want to introduce you to the exploration of the practice of brahmacharya. Of all the yamas, this one is the most controversial. It has often talked about in regards to the containment of sexual energy (chastity), but in more modern times, the understanding has change and expanded greatly. Brahmacharya is Sanskrit and literally translates to mean to "walk with God". It is the way in which we can walk in the image of God applying temperance and moderation to our lives. It is the transformation of our vital life enegies into the fulfillment of becoming our highest selves. Combined with other yamas we've studied - ahimsa (non-voilence), asteya (non-stealing) and satya (truth) - brahmacharya helps us to continue to study ourselves and make changes in the direction of our best self.
A call to moderation. In a world where we are inundated with a push to more - more work, more money, more things, more time, more food, more alcohol, more numbing the pain, more, MORE, MORE! - brahmacharya is an opportunity to call forward temperance. It is, as Rolf Gates writes in Meditations from the Mat, "an invitation to resist a culture of overindulgence and bring forward a spirit of temperance (reduce, re-use, live simply). Through the lens of brahmacharya, we can reflect on what habits and patterns are holding us hostage to the vast ocean of more, and create a movement back to a simpler place of being in body, mind, spirit and life.
The work we've done over the last several months with the previous yamas give us an opportunity to honor our humanity and work with compassion toward a more moderate, balanced, harmonious and unified life. We can apply the practice of satya (truth) to evaluate areas where we are moving in excess, asteya (non-stealing) to not steal from our vital energy in pursuit of more, and ahimsa (non-violence) toward ourselves as we compassionately navigate coming back to a simpler way of being. For me, this time of year it is plants, lots of unhealthy food choices and an increase in spending for travel and fun. While plants and food and travel may not sound like poor choices in the grand scheme of things, for me, this time of year brings forward a push to excess. If left unchecked, it is an easy place to let myself get swept up in a whirlwind that will have far reaching consequences and take much effort to reign back in down the road. Armed with the truth about these for myself (and a good understanding of my patterns), I still indulge in a plant or two, eat the food and do the travel. But, what I keep at the heart of all those things is an eye toward moderation. And, because this is a regular practice in my life, I can feel when I am chasing the MORE train and my inner desire calling me back to a simpler life. In fact, I find that the more I chase and accumulate, the worse I feel and the harder it is to keep it all organized and balanced. This applies to working too much (because I love my craft and want to share it with everyone). It applies to volunteering too much (because I want to be in service and share my skills and talents to better my community). It applies to resting too much (because self care is important and in excess can lead to apathy and low affect). I think about the practice of brahmacharya as keeping my cravings in check.
Rolf Gates said that brahmacharya "is the feeling of freedom that comes when we let an addictive craving go - when we can eat to live, not live to eat; when we cane work to live, not live to work; when we stand firmly and with ease of heart in the postures of life." I think the practice of yoga helps us refine the skills necessary to experience that freedom of letting go of those cravings.
Understanding attachments. On the mat, brahmacharya becomes a suppleness of spirit allowing us to become familiar with the attachments we create in our practice. Think about when you come to class. Do you always have to be in the same spot? Do you always set your props and space up the same way? Do you try out what a teacher is asking in the new pose or are you attached to the way you always do it? These are but a few questions that can help guide you into your attachments to practice. Perhaps changing things up a bit, experimenting and exploring the space, the poses the practice can help change perspective in such a way that "the feeling of freedom that comes when we let an addictive craving go" becomes what you are left with as the gift of brahmacharaya and your practice.
I've mostly been talking about the outer landscape of brahmacharaya, but certainly, the practice has an inner landscape as well. It combines with svadyaya (self - study) - we will look at this one later. To help bring our mental landscape out of the binds of attachment and the cravings of more, brahmacharaya of the mind is questioning where we are out of balance with our yoga practice and/or life and examining the why (or motives) behind the way we do things. Perhaps the way you set up your props is just perfect for getting them easily without disturbing the flow of practice, rather than an obsessive tidiness to your area during the practice. Perhaps the space you practice at in the studio is so you can hear better or see better rather than just the way you always do things. The real question is would suffering arise mentally if you had to give up your spot or make a small change? If so, perhaps a little honest reflection into your motives is calling. Currently, I'm exploring a mental landscape that wants to create an excess of alone time and personal space. At first, this was a necessary self care need, but is spiraling a bit to become a place of alienation and building walls. So, I'm looking at asking the questions - why do I want to separate myself from others? what's at the root of this desire for aloneness? what am I trying to hide from? how can I find my way back to a healthy balance of being involved with others and taking time to replenish my energies?
Brahmacharya is the practice to help us find my way back to a moderation in both directions. To find, as the Buddha says, the middle way. It requires the application of personal responsibility through honest inquiry to understand the motives driving one out of balance. But, the application of that honest inquiry in service of brahmacharya is a worthy pursuit for the feeling of freedom that comes once there is a returning to a simpler way of being.
Michelle Stobart is a certified yoga therapist and teacher at Inhale Yoga Studio in Athens, Ohio. She has been practicing yoga and studying yoga philosophy since 1997. She has been teaching and sharing what she learns from her practice and studies since 2004. She is currently back to learning to earn a Master's in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture.
Feel free to join her on the mat at Inhale Yoga Studio for private yoga and yoga therapy appointments. Contact the studio at 740.350.5654 to schedule.