Brahmacharya: The Yogic Practice of Moderation

The philosophy of yoga as handed down over thousands of years continues to be valuable and available to those who wish to study it. It may be lost on some if not most modern-day, lycra-clad, booty-tightening students and teachers alike. Yours truly does not often crack open the ancient texts for some light reading. But I did spend a summer at a yoga center, and after over five years of daily (well, nightly) practice, I still consider myself essentially a beginner. Lately, I find myself struggling with one of the branches of the practice in particular. Surely I’m not alone, so here’s a little post about brahmacharya.

It’s About Managing Your Energy

There are various definitions of the Sanskrit word, but I like managing your energy the best. Traditionally defined as celibacy in the context of monks taking a vow to enter a monastery, it can still have that connotation. The idea was taught to me by Yoganand Michael Carroll, a student of a master teacher, Swami Kripalu. I met him as our teacher during a summer I spen in the beautiful Berkshire mountains of Western Massachusetts doing a volunteer work-trade program.

He followed the strict interpretation of brahmacharya as chastity for 14 years. After a scandal involving a different teacher, Yoganand renounced the strict practices and is now senior faculty member of yoga at Kripalu. Many would say he has become a master teacher himself. But the point is that you don’t have to be a master to have a chance to improve your energy management. Whatever the classical texts and modern applications say, brahmacharya is an ongoing challenge for anyone walking the yogic path.

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health has a nice overview of the yamas (things you do) and niyamas (things you seek to avoid). Though it’s confusing, because brahmacharya is a yama in which you try to be non-excessive. They call it the Ethical Guide to Living. Basically you can apply the concept to any area of excess. For some, it is abstaining from sex. (Here’s an article from Yoga Journal about that, er, shall we say, touchier subject.) Others may want to go on a fast. Still more could decide to not overcommit to taking on too many projects. Yet another article briefly looks at the broader view of managing excess.

For me, like many people, the twin challenges relating to energy are diet and sleep. Although I’ve eschewed all but maybe 1% of flour products, I still am working with sugar intake issues. (You can read my posts on that here and here.) And let’s face it, I’m still a fathlete. Regarding sleep, given my job layoff a while ago and no reason to get up early, volunteering late nights at festivals, and finding writing more productive during the quieter hours, I’m up pretty late sometimes. These take a toll.

Do I want to take a vow of celibacy and give up on the idea of meeting Ms. A Dude? No, although she’s proven to be elusive and I haven’t been looking very much, either. Do I want to rearrange my thoughts and habits pertaining to food and rest in a healthier direction? Of course! But doing so has proven to be very difficult. It’s as if I use up all my will power on what I do. More than a little of these challenges are medical/ genetic and thus beyond my control. But what is under my control could be handled better.

How to Ride The Brahamacharya Bull

YouTube start Yoga With Adriene and A Dude at 2019 SXSW

There are certainly more in-depth teaching you can follow from certified yoga teachers; A Dude is not one. And as a generally pretty poor example of this practice, you may want to do the opposite of me. Even so, there are areas of energy management that I have succeeded at over the past 17 months: quitting 99% of flour, doing yoga 30′ a day, walking 30′ a day, and writing 30′ or 500 words a day (usually more). And let’s not forget the riding my bike 100 miles per week on average. I’ve passed 16,000 miles in 29 months. That is some monster energy taming, if you ask me!

How have I done it?

  1. Do yoga. This is obvious, but regularly doing postures and breathing while paying attention can do wonders for your energy.
  2. Focus on the process, not the outcome. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from James Clear, it’s this. Put another way, take baby steps. Sure, some people benefit from going from 0 to 100 miles per hour right off the bat, or cold turkey, but not everyone. I didn’t ride one of my four 100-mile century rides the first time out on my bike. (I know, if you’re an advanced rider you may do one or more century a week. That’s great! Read on. But this blog is mostly for the for non-superheroes amongst us.) Point is, start slowly and build up.
  3. Accept there will be steps backward and sideward. Last year beginning January 1, I attempted to follow a vegan diet. This backfired and I had some real health problems from it, and I was forced to quit. Does that mean I give up on healthier eating? No! It means I work to include vegan meals sometimes, or focus on increasing plant foods into my diet. Adapt to your body, life, and reality, not a rigid doctrine that someone tells you is The Truth.
  4. If you fall off the horse, you’ve got to get back on it. This happened to me literally when I hit a curb at night at high speed and got banged up pretty good, and another time to a lesser degree on a group ride. In both cases I took some breaths, remounted, and rode on. There are areas of energy management that are too challenging. When turning off the computer and going to bed early or reaching for that apple instead of a candy bar are just too much. Seems like a silly first world problem, but it’s still a problem. So eat that candy today and that apple tomorrow. Or go ahead and read another article about your stupid, mean, bully of a president and skip it the next time. But then move on. Try, try again.
  5. Unplug. One of the best ways to recharge your batteries is to turn off everything that literally runs on batteries. There are so many distractions available to Earthlings, perhaps moreso in the so-called developed west, that we can easily lose touch with the sun, the earth, the moon, water, birds, trees and wind. If your energy is low, or maybe too high, nature is a wonderful balm. Get some nature and rub it on your soul. Repeat as necessary.
  6. Journal about your food, sleep, thoughts, or whatever is bugging you. Journalling is a great way to blow off steam, think through what’s going on, and maybe make some realizations. How is what you’re doing not what you want to be doing? What are the low-hanging fruit ways to improve. Again James Clear has tips on improving habits. Check them out.

There’s certainly more that I can do to improve my energy. These things have helped me out, so maybe they’ll be useful for you. Thanks for reading and take care of your energy, because the bill is always due.

Source: Kripalu

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