SSE Week 05: Brahmacharya
Introduction to Brahmacharya
This week’s sutra is the fourth yama, Brahmacharya, or conservation of vital energy. Traditionally, this conservation applied almost exclusively to sexual energy and desire. The sanskrit charya (moving), combined with Brahma (supreme truth), translates as a call to “[direct] the heart-mind away from sensual indulgence, [reduce] the libido, and thus [conserve] the sexual fluids that contribute to overall health and vitality.”
Nicolai Bachman, author of our authoritative text, The Path of the Yoga Sutras, explains that, “According to Ayurveda, the ultimate product of digestion is the most refined tissue in the body, the reproductive fluids, which fuel ojas, the subtle force behind our immune system.” So brahmacharya as an ethical practice, seeks to maintain and strengthen those fluids, and by extension, ojas, “in order to channel it in more productive directions.”
Brahmacharya, however, has been interpreted in many different ways as yoga has progressed and expanded into the west and beyond. Modern definitions of this yama include self-control, moderation, and restraint. My favorite way to interpret brahmacharya, is control structured by keen discernment (viveka) and clear vision (vidya), and anchored heavily in the here and now by the highest iteration of the self (citta, or heart-mind, pure divine self). In this definition, practices such as mindfulness can help us attain a greater understanding and expertise in the process of cultivating brahmacharya itself, and allowing it to nourish and support other aspects of personal development and ethical principles.
Home Exercise: Brahmacharya
During yoga class this week, practice brahmacharya as self-control and moderation:
- If you’re the type of practitioner who pushes no matter what, try dropping a knee in your lunge, skipping a few vinyasas, or using a ton of props to support you;
- If you’re a practitioner who generally stays more on the gentle side, ask yourself if staying in that space serves you in the best way possible, or whether an addition of a more energetic class might shake things up in a good way (stuck and stagnant vital energy can be just as detrimental to health as not enough, or misuse of it!).