Brahmacharya is the 4th of the five yamas or attitudes and behaviors the Yoga Sutra recommends for our dealings with others.
In The Heart of Yoga, Desikachar explains “brahmacharya is composed of the root car, which means ‘to move,’ and the word brahma, which means ‘truth’ in terms of the one essential truth.” While brahmacharya is sometimes used to refer to abstinence in sexual relationships, it is really about following those behaviors and creating those relationships that “foster our understanding of the highest truths.” Likewise, Pat Shapiro, in her book Yoga for Midlife and Beyond, tells us that “responsible behavior in moving toward the truth” best describes the practice of brahmacharya. It is really about “moving toward and understanding what’s essential in life.”
Another part of brahmacharya is moderation. Desikachar speaks of moderation as producing “the highest individual vitality. We can all relate to how excessive behavior – whether it’s about sex, emotions, food, work, sport, spending, and so on, is injurious. I keeps us focused on external behaviors which eventually drain our energy and may have us engage in behaviors harmful to others, thus failing to practice the most important Yama – ahimsa or non-violence.
Excessive behaviors keep us from focusing internally. Without this internal focus, we are at a loss to connect with our own truth.
For me, the practice of brahmacharya is a practice of simplicity – living moderately and with care. Like the stones along the edge of a trail, it helps me to find my path.
To practice brahmacharya, you might reflect on and/or journal on the following questions;
- Are there behaviors in your life that feel excessive and drain your energy?
- Are there behaviors or relationships that feel out of line with your own truths or diminish your sense of peace?
- Would you feel greater comfort moving toward what you perceive as most essential in your life?