We're in week four of our journey through the yamas. So far we've learned about ahimsa, satya, and asteya, the practices of non-harming, being truthful, and not stealing. Our next yama is brahmacharya.
What Is Brahmacharya?
This is the yama that gets the biggest gasp when introduced to a roomful of new students. Brahmacharya means celibacy. It's also referred to as continence or moderation, but neither of those are quite as specific. Basically, Brahmacharya is meant to help you maintain (and grow) your own energy by keeping it to yourself. If you give your energy away by having sex, you're not going to be your fullest self. By preserving your energy, you are filled with ojas, a type of energy that makes you clear and focused. Once you've built up enough ojas, you'll start projecting tejas, your own personal glow, to the world around you.
The Fine Print
A lot of people will find a sex-free life hard to accept, even if they are committed to a deep yoga practice. Some yogis take the idea of celibacy very seriously. Luckily, not all teachers make complete celibacy a rule. In his translation of the yoga sutras, Swami Satchidananda writes that sex is not a bad thing when it's part of a true partnership. He compares it to any other indulgence or sign of affection--it's a great and wonderful thing, but if you do it too much, you'll start to become spoiled and/or lose sight of other things that matter. Think about what what your sexual relationships bring into your life, and by extension into the world. Are you a better person as a result of the relationship? Does the relationship help you to be productive and happy?
Many teachers, knowing that the average American student is not interested in a life of celibacy, introduce brahmacharya as simple moderation, not just in sex but in all things. Too much sleep or too much food make us sluggish. Too much fun means we aren't making time for work or family. If you're not ready to give up sex altogether, try thinking of brahmacharyha as reasonable limits that help us become our best, most productive selves. Examine all aspects of your life and identify any areas where you're overindulging. If those overindulgences are holding you back in some way, rethink your limits and see if that leads to any positive changes.
Brahmacharya is probably the most controversial yama, but if we break it down to its essence, it's another way to free yourself of hindrances and reach your fullest potential.