Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Hello Dear Yogis,

Over the past few weeks, I've been writing about the yamas, or restraints that are part of the ethical life of a yogi. This week I want to share about Brahmacharya, the practice of energy management.

Brahmacharya translates as "walking towards Brahma (the Creator)." It teaches continence of body, speech and mind, and drawing one's focus inward through dedicated study, deep introspection, strict practices. In classical practice, celibacy was one of the primary criteria of this yama.

The intent of observing Brahmacharya is not a moral judgment, but rather arises out of an understanding of how sexuality affects prana, our essential life energy. Sexual energy, and the thoughts and fantasies associated with sex, use up a great portion of our vital force. For men, celibacy was traditionally seen as a method of preserving and cultivating the life force inherent in semen. The Brahmacharyan redirects sexual energy toward spirituality. devoting heart, mind, and body toward Brahma.

I'm reminded of a story about Tulsidas, the great 16th century Indian saint  and poet. When he was first married, was so in love and passionate toward his beautiful young bride that he had to be by her side all the time. He was so infatuated that he couldn’t be without her for even a few hours. One day she went to visit her parents in another town. Tulsidas couldn’t stand being without her, and before the day was over he showed up there. At this point, his wife turned to him and said, “You know, if you were to take all this passion and devotion and turn it toward God, you’d be enlightened in no time.” Tulsidas thought about this, and then began to take her advice. He practiced directing his passion and longing toward the Divine, and it is said that he became one of the great bhakti yogis (one who practices the yoga of devotion). 

Most contemporary Western yogis, however, choose to have families and intimate relationships. Celibacy is not an appropriate choice for everyone. Therefore, the practice of Brahmacharya can mean using one's sexual energy responsibly and consciously. The sexual drive is a very powerful force, and can easily lead us astray into hurtful and addictive patterns, and at the very least can distract us from our spiritual focus. Choosing to use this energy mindfully, engaging in lovemaking as a sacred act, is one way of embracing this yama.

As yoga philosophy has evolved and changed, Brahmacharya has come to be interpreted as "energy management, or "conscious self-restraint." This yama invites us to examine the many ways that we deplete our life force by not containing it appropriately. Do we indulge in excess chatter, with no clear purpose? Do we overeat, or eat junk foods that sap our vitality? Do we take on too many activities and projects, without making room for contemplation and rest?

Kripalu Yoga teacher Danny Aguetty writes:

We can utilize the practice of energy management in any of these realms to engage in the inquiry of prioritizing vitality...Typically, we are bombarded with constant stimulation from television, advertising, work, family, shopping, and other demands on our time. People get burned out as a result of overcommitted schedules, addictions to unhealthy foods,, and lack of self-nourishment. If we open to the idea that everything in the physical world breaks down into a vibrational frequency, which in turn has  profound effects on our energy, we can better choose those elements of life that renew us and enable us to function optimally. What would happen if we could pause before every action to contemplate whether it would augment of deplete our life force? ...How would things shift if we infused more conscious choices into our lives?

Here are some suggestions for inquiry:
  • Draw a circle and create a pie graph to show how you use your energy. Create a pie slice for the percentage of time you spend on work, family responsibilites, yoga, contemplative practices, prayer, as well as television, phone conversations, etc.. Examine your energy pie, and notice the balance of inward and outward focus. Reflect on which of these activities serve you, deplete you, restore your energy, etc. Which of these do you want to reduce? Which ones do you want to increase? In what ways do you overindulge in sensual cravings or distractions?
  • Think of at least three ways you use your energy in loving service.
  • Think of at least three ways that you practice moderation.

There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of Spirit on the body.
Seawater begs the pearl
to break its shell.
And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild Darling!
At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face into mine.
Breathe into me.
Close the language-door,
and open the love-window.
The moon won't use the door,
only the window.

~Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

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