Brahmacharya is the fourth Yama (please have a look at my blog posts on the first few yamas: Ahimsa, Satya and Asteya) and is generally quite unpopular and overlooked. Usually translated as abstinence or celibacy, this yama is often dismissed as only applying to priests, monks and nuns, so that they would conserve their sexual energy in order to direct it towards spiritual development. Brahmacharya is actually translated to ‘behaviour which leads to Brahman’ (Brahman is generally understood as the root and source consciousness of all existence and non-existence, I’d recommend you do your own research to find out more about Brahman). This translation is more palatable.
Where your focus goes your energy flows.
Brahmacharya is the practice of consciously directing your energy. Your thoughts and mind have power. What you think about takes up your energy and your time, so make sure you’re happy with what's on your mind.
How much of your time is spent worrying? Or working towards goals you don’t really care about but feel you ought to achieve, such as losing weight or getting a promotion? How much of your energy is directed towards reaching a higher power?
There are several ways we can work towards directing our energy towards the things we value.
The most important is to know your energy levels. Listen to your body. When you’re feeling sluggish or tired, take a break. When you’re feeling energetic, start a new project, brainstorm or create in some way. Take time each day to check in with yourself and your energy levels and then plan your day in a way that honours them. Personally, I do this as part of my morning yoga practice, I use my practice to check in on my mind and body and to work out what I need to do to nourish myself that day.
Starting your day well can help you to direct your energy more positively throughout the day. As soon as you get up, without checking your phone, do something for yourself to help you direct your energy: do some yoga, write a gratitude journal, read an inspiring book, listen to some nice music, take a walk, set intentions for the day, do some exercise. The first hour when you wake up sets the pace for the rest of the day, so use it wisely.
It may also be useful to get into the habit of noticing your thoughts. The thoughts you feed grow, so what thoughts are you giving your attention? Sporadically during the day, take a few minutes just to check what's going on in your head, seeing if you can steer your attention away from any worrying or unhelpful thoughts and instead focusing on thoughts that enable spiritual development.
Brahmacharya doesn’t ask us to become celibate, it asks us to asbstain from focusing on thoughts and habits that hinder us on our yogic path.
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Additionally, if you are enjoying these posts on the Yamas especially and would like to find out more, I am running a Yama online course where we would explore each yama in more detail with articles, live yoga and meditations classes, and activities, please go to YOGA COURSES or email me to find out more firstname.lastname@example.org