This is part five of a series exploring the ten principles of yoga philosophy, also known as the yamas and niyamas. In this series of blog posts, we explore this fascinating ancient wisdom.
We start by explaining what the principles can mean. ‘Can’ as interpretations vary vividly, depending from which angle you approach the yoga philosophy. What makes it valuable for me personally is that all principles can be directly applied in our daily lives.
Being a yoga practitioner or not, is of no importance to have a glimpse at these principles as it is all about making this world, an even better place to live in.
Brahmacharya, the wise use of energy
Brahmacharya is Sanskrit and can be translated as ‘being established in divine consciousness’. This fourth yama is probably the one that causes the most confusion.
From celibacy to moderation, people have been interpreting brahmacharya in many different ways.
Let’s focus on the aspect of moderation first.
When do you have enough food, sex, sleep, action, items in your house, goals reached, money on the bank, houses, partners, … ?
Moderation is for some the key to a happy life. Desire and addiction are seen as one of the main keys to suffering.
Having just that one glass of wine because you love wine, instead of the entire bottle. Having the pasta but skipping the dessert.
Moderation can manifest in the very simple things of life.
It is not about completely denying yourself the things that you love. That could be violent and not in line with our very first principle of ahimsa, which is always there.
On the contrary, it’s simply being aware of your choices and desires and figuring out when it is enough.
Many people take a yoga retreat as an ideal moment to check in with some of their habits for example.
Coffee addiction is probably the most popular one to check in with.
Just checking in with yourself to see what happens to your body and mind, when you don’t have your cup of coffee in the morning or when you have a lot less coffee. After the first day(s) of headache, it can be very interesting to observe if there is an actual change in how you feel.
For some people, it is never enough. They keep chasing after new goals, more wealth, more prestige, more of this or more of that.
I know these kind of people quite well…
In my corporate days, there was always something ‘more’ to go for.
How about driving out with the company car that you have always wanted, and then seeing the bigger version of it, the even more exclusive one. And thinking: “That is going to be the next one”. At that same (dark) moment, I realized who I had become, and I wasn’t proud, at all.
As with many people, my ambition had become blind; it had become an addiction.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with ambition, I still am and it pushes me forward to keep improving the yoga retreats that I put on the market. It pulls me forward to put out the most amazing experiences for people. But the ambition is not blind nor violent, whilst in the corporate past, it was both. The ambition now is filled with contentment for what is and with an overload of gratitude for what is.
The Energy you bring into your yoga class
We are energy. Whatever we do, we are and transmit energy around us, it ripples and radiates.
Before stepping into a yoga class, consider the energy that you are bringing into the class.
On silent retreats, there is no talking whatsoever before our morning practice. The feedback that I get is that these mornings are one of the most soothing moments of the day as there is no input whatsoever from others in the form of small talk or sharing negative experiences or feelings.
Where attention goes, energy flows
During your practice, it is very interesting to focus on your energy. On the kind of energy that you bring into the practice.Is it an energy of compassion and love for yourself, is it nice and calming or is it something else?
Whenever you are pushing yourself, or spacing out for that matter. Being conscious about these energies and bringing your attention back to the mat, back to your practice.
Bringing your full attention to what you feel and where you feel what. With every single distraction, bringing that attention back.
By giving attention to a distraction, you are giving it the liberty to be there. The same goes for negative thoughts. It’s only natural that something negative pops up every now and then but there is a place and time for these thoughts.
When you are not zooming into them on your mat, when they are not invited to be there, you make room for energy to flow to other places.
Celibacy: yes or no?
Too many people loose interest in the concept of brahmacharya, and maybe even in the entire yoga philosophy when it is translated into celibacy. And unfortunately, too many teachers do not grasp the full meaning of this fourth yama. Especially not when translated into our modern day lives.
When one sees Brahman as ‘pure consciousness’ and Charya as ‘one who moves’, you can interpret brahmacharya as ‘one who lives in constant awareness of Brahman’.
When following this definition, the translation of celibacy makes no sense as only the untrained mind would not be able to control body and mind. Brahmacharya has little to do with whether one is sexually active, single or married.
Avoiding sexual contact does not automatically make someone enlightened, on the contrary. If your mind is consequently haunted by sexual fantasies and frustrations, you are far from being near to a wise person.
Experiencing human love and relationships, brings us the most valuable lessons about divine love, and life.
TO DO: What gives you Energy?
If you are serious about lifting your life to another level to make it even greater, cooler and/or easier?
In that case, I have a little assignment for you.
- Take a moment right now and jot down the 5 things that Turbo-Charge you with Energy.
- Write down the 5 things that Cosmically Charge you.
- Make a little list of the 5 things that Energise you.
- Smile whilst noting down the 5 things that make you Happy when Doing them.
- Do at least one thing out of your list of 20, TODAY and PLAN to do at least 5 other things really soon.
When we feel fatigued, sometimes, all it takes is realising that you are not doing the things that usually energise you.
If exercising is not in your list.
The invitation is here, to write it somewhere in step 1 or 2.
Moving our bodies is the ultimate invigorator. Even if you don’t like sports, or have some injuries left and right, just three times a week, doing ‘something active’ for about 20 minutes will make a serious impact on your energy levels.
If you don’t believe me, why not just give it a try?
I hope you liked what you read, if you have feedback or questions, please don’t hesitate contacting me.
Rachel Bonkink holds a Masters Degree in Commercial Sciences, has studied Traditional Chinese Medicine and thrives on teaching yoga and yoga philosophy classes. She has been a life coach for over 10 years and loves spending time by the beach in Morocco. She’s the owner of Revealing Vajra, a leading yoga retreat company. In the past seven years Rachel has organized, marketed and hosted over 60 of her own world wide yoga retreats. At the moment, she is writing a book on how to bring the yoga philosophy into daily life.