Yoga Ethics (continued)

If you’ve been staying current with The Current, you’ll recall that we have work to do as we prepare ourselves mentally and physically for our yoga practice. This month as we continue to explore the ethical building blocks of yoga, the yamas, we find ourselves at Brahmacharya (bra-ma-char-ya).

So. Let’s talk about sex, shall we?

Woo-hooo!!! And a collective cheer goes up from the readership.

All right, all right, pipe down.

More often than not, you’ll find Brahmacharya translated as celibacy.

Boooooo! Hissssss!! Boooooooo!!!

Easy now, just read on.

One of the strongest, most powerful, vital energies we have is our sexual energy, would you concur? Brahmacharya is not a call to repressing that energy – we’d be asking for mutiny if we did. Rather, Brahmacharya asks us to practice self-control, moderation and balance in all areas of our lives … including sex.

My favorite translation of Brahmacharya is to “walk with God”. A Brahma is also referred to as a “student of the scriptures”. In traditional Indian life as a child reaches adolescence (aaah, puberty, now wasn’t that fun?), they are immersed into religious study. This religious/scriptural immersion is not a form of punishment; it’s simply the next stage in one’s life. In America you go to elementary school, then to Junior High, then on to Senior High and so forth. It’s just the next thing you do on your educational journey. Typically, in India, students were to remain celibate until the age of 25; there is so much to learn that requires their time and energy, who’s got time for all that mushy-gushy stuff?

Do you remember what it was like going through puberty? Body parts were growing, changing, moving, and doing their own thing in the middle of the night. Holy Geez! It was exhilarating and embarrassing all at the same time! Not to mention all those unsettling emotions that go along with it. Unfortunately, for some kids, there’s an element of shame that goes along with reaching puberty (remember “Carrie”?). Many women still think of their menstrual cycle as a profound curse and have no qualms about passing that belief along to their daughters. Therapy, anyone?

Think about a child you know who’s reaching puberty. Recall all the craziness that goes along with that. Now imagine what their life would look like if instead of acting on all that craziness – as so many unguided and misdirected children do – they immersed themselves in the serious study of scripture? According to the Gettmacher Institute in New York, as of 2006 the teen pregnancy rate in America was at its lowest level in 30 years, and STILL almost 750,000 young women between the ages of 15-19 got pregnant.

Are you using your sexual energy in an appropriate manner? Do you use your energy selfishly? To gain power? Or at the expense of someone else’s integrity? Do you use sexually explicit language? Why? Have you discovered the distinction between sex and love?

Take your minds out of the bedroom for a moment. Let’s look at how Brahmacharya relates to other areas of our lives. Are there some areas in your life where your appetites are just a wee bit excessive? Where do you overindulge? What’s your relationship like with food? Money? Work? Where can you afford a bit more moderation?

Here’s what the master teacher B. K. S. Iyengar has to say about Brahmacharya in his book The Tree of Yoga:

“…the philosophy of yoga is not intended only for celibates

(thank God! author’s note). Nearly all the yogis and sages of

ancient India were married and had families.

A Brahmachari is one who is at all times in contact

with every core of his being, and who therefore perceives

the divinity in all persons.”

Now that’s the kind of Brahmacharya to aspire to!

Lisa Bracken owns and teaches at The Yoga Barn at The Canebrake ( One of her biggest challenges is to practice moderation with regards to Ben ‘n Jerry’s Phish Food. Love that stuff!

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