Yoga Ethics 4, Moderation, Brahmacharya

posted in: Life, Yamas & Niyamas | 3
rhododendron-bud
rhododendron bud (carolyn grady photo)

So how’s your energy level lately? What is it that you’ve become manic about? Summer sports, writing, gardening, studying, a work project, yoga classes? Too much working, too much recreating, too much tweeting, too much online, too much shopping, too much eating ~ the list is endless, isn’t it? And to make matters worse, there are  possibilities to substitute one excess for another ad infinitum.

Or is it that you’ve become a slug and can’t seem to find the ooomph to get up and do anything? The day swings along each merry hour and you have not moved an inch – as if time stood still for you? Have you noticed your energy slumping more and more with each passing year? Ever wondered if there was a way you might reconnect with some of the juice of your youth?

Yoga sutra 2.38: brahmacarya-pratisthayam virya-labhah

Vitality appears in one who is firmly set in moderation.


The fourth principle of yoga ethics is Brahmacharya, aptly named after the god of creation, Brahma. It is linked to the energy which creates the universe. How can you harness this energy? That is the task of the yogin. We learn and practice continence of thoughts, emotions, movements. Wasted energy is like credit card debt; there is interest to pay long after the initial expenditure.

We begin to see and then to direct the flow of energy through our being. And we do so moderately. In the Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi uses the example of eating:

“If you are accustomed to eating three large meals a day and many snacks, begin to eat less at meal times and half as much when you snack. Instead of two handfuls of nuts, take one.

The tendency would be to eat only one meal and eliminate all snacks. That would swing the pendulum from one extremes to the other. Remember, the idea is to practice moderation. we already know how to be excessive!”

Classical Yogic scholar, Georg Feuerstein links Brahmacharya directly to the practice of chastity. He translates the sutra:

When grounded in chastity, [great] vitality is acquired.

Since the practice of yoga is such a demanding endeavor, Feuerstein suggests that “such vigour is indeed imperative.”

What does this really mean in our practice and in our teaching? Iyengar practitioner and teacher, Aadil Palkhivala discusses this topic in an informative article, “Teaching the Yamas in Asana Class.” I have excerpted his piece on brahamcaharya:

Brahmacharya

We practice brahmacharya when we consciously choose to use our life force (especially the energy of sexuality) to express our dharma, rather than to frivolously dissipate it in an endless pursuit of fleeting pleasures. Brahmacharya reminds us that our life force is both limited and precious, and sexual activity is one of the quickest ways to deplete it. As yogis, we choose to use the power behind sexuality to create, to fulfill our mission, to find and joyously express our inner selves. The practice of brahmacharya is not some archaic form of moralizing, but rather a reminder that, if we use our energy wisely, we possess the resources to live a fulfilling life.

We can teach brahmacharya by helping our students learn to use the minimum energy to achieve the maximum result. Teach them not to use small muscles to do the work of large muscles, and to bring their minds into the poses so that their bodies do not become fatigued. Also, teach your students to channel lines of force and internal power, which will add energy to their lives.

In all poses, teach students to keep the lift of the pit of their abdomen, and explain to them that this actually conserves the life force. Tell them that dropping the lower belly splatters our life force out in front of us. Once conserved, this pelvic energy can be channeled up to the heart. In this way, we can continually teach brahmacharya in class, encouraging students to lift the pelvic energy toward the heart center, the home of the indwelling Self. After all, isn’t this the true purpose of a complete yoga practice?

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Are there ways you have found to practice continence or moderation?

Have you noticed any shifts or increases in your energy level?

I’m going to practice by diminishing those handfuls of nuts I gravitate towards every afternoon, and by paying more attention to lifting the pit of my abdomen when I practice asana.

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3 Responses

  1. What a nice compilation of thoughts on brahmacharya! This can be a subject that can be hard to understand in a real life kind of way, and you’ve brought together some pieces that help to make it so for us modern people. Thanks! And the rhododendron bud is beautiful, too!
    .-= Brooks Hall´s last blog ..Channeling the abundant resource of mind =-.

  2. I thought of practicing brahmacharya by limiting coffee to one cup per day and paying attention to serving sizes on packages. It is very easy to consume beyond the recommended serving of products.

  3. Tonia, I love the way you are taking Brahmacharya into daily life. May we all embrace this practice with kindness and love towards ourselves. I’d love to hear how it’s working out.

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