Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Brahmacharya, or Moderation

Another yama is Brahmacharya, or moderation. This is broadly defined as energy management. The ancient yogis caution us to avoid overindulging in anything -- to be moderate in all aspects of our lives.

One traditional definition of Brahmacharya is celibacy or chastity. This ties into the longstanding requirement in various religions that spiritual seekers (priests, monks, nuns, etc.) repress their sexual selves in order to enhance their spiritual lives. But history shows us that this strict practice often backfires. It doesn't really make sense anyway -- inherent in the definition of Brahmacharya is that energies are managed -- not repressed (nor overindulged).

So . . . managing one's energies. What’s that all about? For one, it’s regulating one's consumption. Paying attention to what we eat and how much we eat. What we buy and how much we buy. What we consume (not just stuff, but energy, time, resources) and how much we consume. And finding the middle path – moderation – with regard to this consumption.

It’s all about finding balance. For example, many of us are paying more attention these days to the impact we make on the environment. Maybe we wish we could make significant adjustments – going solar, for example, or driving a hybrid car. But perhaps those types of changes are not in the budget – or just don’t make sense right now (say, because your car is new-ish and works fine).

Applying Brahmacharya to this aspect of our lives could include finding simple ways to change our lifestyles so that we make a more positive impact on the environment – bringing our own shopping bags to the store, using refillable water bottles, turning off the lights at home when they’re not really needed. This way, we are moderating our consumption – making small, positive changes to the way we consume energy and resources. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.

So, what about on the yoga mat? Brahmacharya is applied when we decide how much to push (or not-push) ourselves when we practice. Say you come to class wanting a strong workout – you have lots of energy and want to channel it into strengthening your body and improving your endurance. Applying Brahmacharya, you can push yourself to your edge, going a little deeper and holding the postures a little longer than you normally would, but at the same time you avoid pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion or injury. Again, finding the middle path.

Are there parts of your life where it’s easy to apply moderation? Areas where it is more difficult? Just by being aware of these, it becomes easier to make changes.


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