Brahmacharya or continence is the fourth Yama (social injunction), the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga. The translation of Brahmacharya is continence, commonly associated with sexual abstinence. According to the dictionary, that means the life of celibacy, religious study, and self-restraint. Patanjali, however, lays stress on continence of the body, speech, and mind.
“For a Brahmachari (a chaste or celibate person), vigor, vitality, and spiritual knowledge flow like a river.”
Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Pg 30
Brahmacharya is an important internal practice as put forth in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There are many commentaries and explanations. While celibacy as a practice can evoke mixed reactions, the true essence is self-control. Self-control or moderation allows for the growth of energy and vitality. As the Yamas are universal principles that break down the destructive instincts of a person’s mind, be it verbal, physical or mental, practicing them helps one live with calmness, peace and the energy to deal with life. Lack of self-discipline in any area is a waste of energy. The oneness of mind, body and soul is powerful and opens the door to spiritual knowledge and energy.
How do I view Brahmacharya?
Taken in isolation, Brahmacharya is not so easily evident. But taken as a part of the whole (Yama), it is a powerful guidepost. With all the positive attributes of Yoga practice, the goal can be tangible rewards like flexibility, balance, calmness. But is that the intent, the spirit of the practice? Practice requires energy. Physical energy or mental energy can be recognized by the willingness of the body and the mind to do the asana practice.
Personally, some of the standing poses gave me tremendous feedback in my initial years. Inversions gave me a sense of accomplishment and I believed in their importance. I started doing some of the standing poses a lot more and the basic inversions, while giving less time to other standing poses and other categories of poses. While I could do triangle pose with stability, the different set of muscles to do revolved triangle were not being used. Both involved standing on my feet, but what they required of me was different, how they worked the body is different. It took time for me to move from ‘feeling’ the body to going to the next step of checking that my mind is not wandering, and my breath is not strained. Feeling whole to me would mean that my outer body and my inner mind were both involved in the pose. These were clues to moderate what I always practiced (because they came easily) and start working on the poses that were challenging to me. Using the standing poses as a starting point and not the end point, made me scale back on them and start working on the other poses. Doing standing forward bends and moving to forward bends was my next progression. Understanding how to balance was a process. That balance brought me just a tiny bit closer to the feeling of oneness with my inner self. A glimpse of this Yama. And the journey continues.
Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar
Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar
Light on Life by BKS Iyengar