This is part 4 of a 10 part series that I'll be posting. Each post will be discussing one of the yamas or niyamas, which form the foundation of a yoga practice. To provide a little background: the path of yoga was described about 2000 years ago by Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras- one of the most important texts on yoga. Here, Patanjali laid out the 8 limbed path of yoga. This means that there are 8 stages of yoga, starting with the simplest and moving to the most advanced. The 8th limb is Samadhi, which is enlightenment, aka when you become One with the universe. We can't just skip to limb number 8, however. We've gotta start with the basics. These days, we tend to jump right in at the third limb of yoga: asana (aka. the physical postures). Maybe we'll also dabble in the 4th limb, pranayama (conscious breathing, and control/ manipulation of breath). Unfortunately, we tend to skip right over the first two limbs: the Yamas, and the Niyamas. The Yamas are the 5 restraints; the things we should avoid, in order to be good yogis, and decent human beings. The Niyamas are the 5 observances; the qualities we should cultivate, in terms of how we treat ourselves. Each of the Yamas and Niyamas has important lessons to teach us, both on and off the mat. Here are my thoughts on each one.
In order to uphold Bramacharya, we need to be aware of how we distribute our precious time, energy, and resources. For example, even on this little island in the Gulf of Thailand, I manage to waste a lot of time (and energy) on the internet. Facebook, Pinterest, blah blah blah. It’s probably a good thing that my connection is usually too slow to buffer YouTube videos. The internet and social media are now a huge part of most of our lives, and with more and more people (including myself) constantly connected via smartphones, it’s easy to let it get out of hand. The fact of the matter is that people don’t need to know what I have for breakfast every day via my Instagram feed. Being mindful of Bramacharya doesn’t mean I have to cut myself off completely, but rather just follow a bit of moderation. The same principle applies to so many other aspects of our lives. It reminds us to find a happy medium with the amount we eat, talk, watch TV, exercise, sunbathe, sleep, work, play, and on and on…
Bramacharya does of course also involve our relationships with others, but not only with intimate partners. We need to spend our time with people who support us, uplift us, and help us live up to our highest selves. You might be able to think of some people in your life who tend to bring you down, instead. I feel like there’s a fairly significant portion of the yoga community who thinks that in order to be a yogi you have to be all sunshine and rainbows and love everything about everyone all the time. While I definitely agree that we should look for the positive aspects of people, the truth is that not all personalities are compatible. There are some people who just won’t float your boat. That’s okay. You can choose to limit (or end) your interactions with people who are energy vampires in your life. This is perfectly reasonable behavior. It doesn’t mean those people are bad, or unworthy of love/ friendship, etc.. It just means that it’s not a good combo. I love chocolate, and I love vegetables. But you sure as hell won’t find me dipping my beloved broccoli in even the finest raw, vegan, hippie-friendly cacao concoction. They just don’t go together. So, if there are toxic relationships in your life that are draining your energy, send those people love and light, and move on.
As with the other yamas, the yoga mat is a good place to start working on cultivating Bramacharya. Next time you’re doing your practice, notice where your energy is focused. Are you staying connected to your body, using your steady breathing to guide your movements? Or are you focusing on the cutie holding downdog in front of you? If you just tried a challenging pose and fell down a bunch of times, are you going to keep that energy with you as you move into the next sequence, and let it drag you down? Instead, shake it off, let it go, and carry on. The beauty of the yoga practice is that every single pose, and every single breath, is an invitation to start fresh. We can let go of whatever just happened, and we don’t need to worry about what will come next. We can take each moment exactly as it comes, giving it 100% of our focus, energy, and attention.
I really can’t think of any aspect of our lives that is exempt from the application of Bramacharya. It’s a reminder that our energy is precious, so to dole it out wisely.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts! Stay tuned for a post on the final yama… Aparigraha!