Updated: May 25
American culture is full of excess. We live in the land of bigger, better, more; and it shows. To share the wisdom of the Yamas & Niyamas, I aim to create context. You may not be an American reading this, but we can all agree that America has a (few) problems, particularly with moderation.
Brahmacharya is classically interpreted as the practice of celibacy, focusing the restraint specifically on sexual energy, but as students of yoga and energy; we understand then that the energy of sex is the energy of creation. Creation then opens the aperture on what it means to practice restraint in this regard and Brahmacharya asks specifically that we practice abstinence.
Strictly speaking, you, as practitioners may very well choose to apply this Yama as it has often been interpreted and received many benefits. I myself have taken stretches of time committed to sexual abstinence and experienced terrific results because of it. Something is to be said for the concentration and intentional direction of our most sacred creative energy. Abstinence though, isn't just about our sexual lives, abstinence can speak to anything in our lives we may get carried away with, that draws our energy, or that creates habit.
Seeing how this concept can be applied more broadly with a more expansive lens, there are all areas of our lives where we might be wise to apply this Yama. Many years ago during a yoga training I was leading, a trendy athletic wear brand launched a series of tote bags inspired by the Yamas. The bag meant to depict Brahmacharya was covered in pictures of sweets, donuts, condoms, french fries, alcohol, and most controversially, hypodermic needles. Obviously, this caused much conversation. While I think we can agree, illicit intravenous activities should not be considered even in moderation, the other items are open for reflection. How much better is life when we aren't constantly in a state of indulgence?
Clearly, the sages of old did not consider what the modern world would be like, or what our culture and society would embrace and struggle with. So then as we apply ancient wisdom to our contemporary lives we need to consider the core purpose of this restraint. Brahmacharya asks us to practice discernment and direct our creative energy mindfully, not squander it, it asks us to moderate our pleasure pursuits so that they may remain- pleasurable.