Brahmacharya for the Modern Yogi

One of the questions that i hear most often is: how do you do all that you do?

The answer leads to a Sanskrit word I’ve been thinking about a lot: brahmacharya.

Brahmacharya is one of the 10 yamas and niyamas (5 each), which are a set of moral and ethical codes for the yoga lifestyle. It is often interpreted as “celibacy” or “fidelity”, but to my understanding is it’s a lot more complex. It can mean “An overall lifestyle that helps the pursuit of sacred knowledge and spiritual liberation” (to seek brahman). Another simple, but potent, interpretation could be “energy conservation”.

Energy conservation is an acknowledgment that you have a limited amount of “fuel” on any given day (some would say in this lifetime). One Sanskrit term for our life fuel is ojas. It takes ojas to work, to cook, to clean, to create, to suffer or have drama.

Although I do many things (I like to say I have at least 7 jobs — which is true!), I have long-since let go of being a perfectionist with many aspects of my life.

Cleaning is one area. I am no slob, but during grad school, I recognized that I use cleaning as a procrastination mechanism. It can feel soooo darn important. But after covering the basics, it honestly isn’t. Much of that interpretation of importance (in my life) has to do with a historical judgement of women based on how they keep their homes. (Ridiculous, eh?)

I am less hyper-responsive to emails than I used to be (still working on prioritizing responsiveness / responsibility in general). It’s also been years since I’ve seriously picked up my guitar, not because I don’t love music or love to play, but because I recognize that my energy is needed elsewhere. I often make exceedingly simple dinners, and / or heat up (relatively healthy) frozen meals for home. I never pack my lunch when I work at the hospital (there’s an amazing veggie-friendly buffet 100 feet away). I never hesitate to get take-out if I’m tired. And I limit my socializing.

Yep, you read it. I limit my socializing.

A huge part of my practice of bramacharya has been knowing myself. One quality I know to be true of myself is that I’m an ambivert.

Ambiverts are people who can be totally comfortable socially, even at times enjoying public storytelling, or (in my case) wearing spandex and asking crowds of yogis to make shapes with their bodies. But — like introverts — we also have limits on human interaction, and deeply need our alone-time. I get so much time with people during physical therapy sessions and teaching. I don’t need a whole lot more than that. I genuinely forget about reaching out to friends (please forgive me), or planning social events. It doesn’t mean I don’t love and value you. 

It’s my version of Brahmacharya, energy conservation to do my dharma in this lifetime

Finally, although our personalities may be somewhat fixed, our bodies are constantly changing. This is fully recognized in Ayurveda, and somewhat in western medicine (it was certainly a meaningful component of my graduate studies). I don’t have the ability to do all the things I did in my 20s, now that I am in my (late!) 30s (today’s my BIRTHDAY!). But my energy is more potent and focused. I am better at saying NO, so that I can say yes to what really matters, so that I can say “Yes” more deeply. 

For my yoga and meditation practice specifically — that sacred knowledge which may usher in spiritual liberation — I prioritize regular inspiration. I study with great teachers, I read great books, I listen to podcasts, I merge with the tribe. I love challenging asana, but I recognize the energy it takes. How important is it really that my knee be straight or my backbend a particular depth? I place these movements in my priorities accordingly. Motion is lotion. Too much is friction.  

I’m really curious: does this resonate with you? How do YOU interpret Brahmacharya? or limit or focus your energy to manifest your dreams? This is a really potent topic of conversation since time and energy are really all we have. How can we channel our energy to create more love, more fun, more joy in this lifetime? 

Please join me in this contemplation and conversation in the comments below, and sign up for my newsletter to get these posts delivered to your inbox on the regular. 

  • Camille Harris

    Wow! Do I ever resonate with your post, Ariele! And particularly because I am coaching a young woman who is studying to be an Ayurvedic Teacher, and I am learning Sanskrit terms. It’s the first time I’ve been aware of the meaning of an “ayurvedic practice.”
    I first became aware that I had less energy when I was in my late 30s. I just couldn’t pull off all the things that I did in my early adult years. But at the same time, I also became aware that, instead of focusing my energy into a lot of different channels, I wanted to focus it more into one primary new channel – transitioning into a new line of work, with an advanced degree and other career credentials. There were other things that remained “primary” for me (like my family/children), but I refined my career focus and also began to focus more on self-care.
    I’m still evolving many years later. That’s why your post is so relevant! With brahmacharya or “energy conservation,” I have more awareness of every precious moment. Thank you for the post – and some important reminders!

    • I’m so glad it has resonated with you!

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