Moderation and balance: The yoga of Brahmacharya
Updated: Jan 6
Devoted to living a balanced and moderate life, the scope of one’s life force becomes boundless.
Remember what it felt like the last time you overindulged in some sensory way. A late night at the computer, an evening coffee, a violent movie, a few drinks, a heavy meal. How was your energy barometer for 24 hours after? I am sure you have noticed how dumbed and overstimulated our children’s senses are after just an hour of computer games. When our senses connect with the pleasures of the world, they quite often offer us a quick fix of delight, but they can leave us jittery and feeling out of sync. That’s where practicing the art of Brahmacharya through yoga can restore balance to our mind and body.
The Yamas remind us of our higher self or divine nature, which encourage us all to live in peace with ourselves and one another. The 4th Yama Brahmacharya provides a welcoming balance to a society of overconsumption.
When I mention the word moderation, what springs to mind? Close your eyes for a moment before you read on. Budget deficits, surfing the web, supermarkets, plastic bottles, landfill, credit cards, alcohol … chocolate! The list goes on.
Consider this fact: Australia has one of the world’s largest ecological footprints per capita, requiring 6.25 global hectares per person.
In a library a few years ago I came across this postcard that says: we can change the world. I loved the fact that it showed how our feet carry us through the world and the call to action it encourages. It inspired me to take three actions towards global goodness:
1. no red meat
2. downsize my car
3. drive less miles.
And seven years later, I can proudly say that I am aware of these actions every day, even though some days it’s hard to drive less in Canberra!
Brahmacharya refers to a middle path of restraint. Both overindulgence and deprivation can deplete our life force, or leave us feeling anxious or insecure. Our technological age removes us from many of our physical rhythms that kept us aware of when to rest and when to harvest. Multitasking is now admired. Thankfully the practice of mindfulness yoga, where we give our full attention to one thing at a time, renews a freshness to our natural state of Brahmacharya. The beauty of yoga is that it gives us the gift of time, to nourish ourselves with a one pointed awareness of body and mind: the asanas on our breath and body, the yoga nidra on sensations, the meditation on the fluctuations of mind. This also helps us to cope with stress and reduce levels of anxiety and depression.
Brahmacharya has often been misinterpreted as celibacy. Nischala Joy Devi explains how its meaning got lost in translation:
Around the time the sutras were being translated into English, much of Western Europe was enmeshed in a puritanical mind-set, and this prohibited any sexual expression in word thought or action (it was allowed for procreation and no one had better enjoy it!). Repressing sexual expression caused monumental adverse effects both on physical health and emotional stability.
Unfortunately one of the consequences of this misinterpretation was the separation of spirit from nature, and women representing nature were rejected from spiritual practices. Up to this time women were seen as Shakti, or manifesting energy, without whom men could not function.
During meditation, particularly yoga nidra, our senses get to rest. The mind is turned inward and sensory pleasures are replaced by inner joy, relaxation and a sense of wellbeing. This is where habits like overeating can be transformed into an empowering yoga practice.
As Rolf Sovik suggests:
Rather than constraining the senses, the process of witnessing gives the mind a chance to act in a measured way.
Time to reflect
Please apply the SWAN principle (what are my strengths, weaknesses, attention and needs) and don’t judge yourself harshly! Praise yourself for small aware changes, and realise that balance is hard to achieve in these contemporary times.
Get cravings? Try to identify the sensation of craving when it arises. Do 10 mins of diaphragm breathing and just witness the craving. More often than not, the craving will diminish.
When do you find yourself multitasking the most? Can you remember how it feels in your body?
What environmental stresses can you minimise? How big is your ecological footprint? How full is your rubbish bin?
How well can you say ‘no’?
After your yoga practice do you feel depleted or invigorated? If you always feel tired, it may be better to choose a more restorative practice or join my Yoga RELAX and RESILIENCE.
On your mat
Can you find a balance between ease and effort in postures. For example; tension and relaxation, inhale and exhale, extending and sinking.
Keep conscious of the breath. It’s your best measure of balance.
In a class, remember that your inner guru responds to the teacher, building trust and self confidence
Is there a posture you crave? Can you study more yoga philosophy?
Calculate your ecological footprint with this fun WWF quiz, and decide on an action plan. https://www.wwf.org.au/get-involved/change-the-way-you-live/ecological-footprint-calculator#gs.i5git5
Reduce your sugar intake. Dr Libby Weaver says: Do your health and waistline a favour by consuming less sugar. You wouldn’t fuel your car with petrol that burnt before you even get your car back on the motorway – so why not give your body the fuel it deserves and allow it to run effortlessly.
Do you stop eating when you feel full? Or do you eat past this point?
Go camping on a regular basis to connect with nature, walk barefoot and realise that we really don’t need all our STUFF.
Try a retreat to reset yourself in a healthy default. Retreats that offer mouna or silence are a really powerful experience to help you indulge in a healthy way, yet renew the senses.
A yoga therapist can help you to deepen and customize these practices. Find an AAYT-certified yoga therapist here.
Inspired by personal experience and the writings of Nischala Joy Devi and Rolf Sovic