Its literal translation requires not only a logical understanding, and for most people a definite shift in beliefs upon which we were raised, but a practice that many are unwilling to engage in. “Returning to the Source within” means leaving behind those habits and desires that take us further from the divine within each of us. In recent times, some gurus have translated this to be celibacy. That works for the renunciate, the monk who lives outside the boundaries of mainstream society, but for the rest of us it’s an invitation to moderate sexual desire and sensual indulgences.
Like the rest of the yamas and niyamas, they are all practices that encourage the releasing of habits that keep us from recognizing who and what we are. If we’re preoccupied with thoughts and desires and the physical fulfillment of those thoughts, then we’re caught up in the outside world, the one of materialistic pursuits, the one where all those distractions keep the ego firmly at the forefront and the calm ease of how life could be lived, relegated to those few who seem able to thrive on deprivation. Yoga is not a practice of poverty or of “doing without”. There is no right or wrong way to practice as each person interacts with the tools and techniques differently.
If sexual desires consume our thoughts and time throughout our day, then it keeps us from the practice of yoga. That doesn’t mean that for everyone there is abstinence. For some, that itself would create the cloud of distraction that would keep that person from practicing brahmacharya. Instead, the invitation is moderation, perhaps storing up sexual energy so that it can be directed during mediation and other yogic practices.
This conservation and conscious use of energy is the redirection of shakti energy. By being vigilant concerning where our thoughts, actions, and emotions travel to during the day, we can become more intimate with prana, the life force that animates our body. Through the techniques taught when one becomes a student of yoga, we use that shakti, that redirected energy from our thoughts and actions and emotions, in order to become closer to our Higher Selves.
Realizing that I’m a student of the practice that the universe speaks to me if I’m paying attention enough to listen, I’m currently being invited to practice brahmacharya. About 5 months ago I began to see a friend in a different light. We started to hang out, spend a bit of time together, and my mind, without my direction, wandered down the road of a possible relationship. Now I find myself wondering what might happen between us, if it will bloom into something wonderful and long-lasting, or if it will fizzle and we’ll both have some awkward days before returning to our previous platonic relationship. Instead of focusing on my writing or cultivating stillness during meditation, I find my thoughts wandering time and again to this person and what may or may not happen or the topics of discussion we’ve already had. I recognize this as distracting, a bit frustrating, and certainly drawing me away from the communion with my High Self. So now, the suggestion is for me to practice brahmacharya in my life: redirecting my thoughts and emotions from the indulgence of sexual and sensual desires and what might be, to whatever task is in front of me. Perhaps the conservation of shakti will result in a wave of creativity!
How do you practice brahmacharya? Do you have suggestions on how yoga students may practice this technique? Please leave it in the comments. I have written a poem regarding each of the yamas and niyamas. A few of them are available for you to read on my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com