The Yamas: Brahmacharya

By Sydney Humphrey

Brahmacharya is the fourth of the ethical principles, referred to as “yamas”, in traditional yoga philosophy. Brahmacharya is a Sanskrit term that can be translated as “non-excess” or “right use of energy.”

There are also translations that connect celibacy to Brahmacharya. However, its meaning extends beyond mere sexual abstinence to encompass the responsible and balanced use of one’s energy in various aspects of life.
More broadly, Brahmacharya encourages individuals to channel their energy and desires in a way that aligns with their spiritual and ethical values. It promotes moderation, self-control, and the mindful use of one’s physical, mental, and emotional resources.

As Deborah Adele puts it in The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, “Overindulgence snuffs out the life force like too many logs on a fire overpowers the fire.”

It’s important to note that interpretations and applications of Brahmacharya can vary– even more so than the other yamas and niyamas. Some yogic traditions may emphasize celibacy more explicitly, while others may interpret it as responsible and balanced engagement with all aspects of life. It’s a personal and continually evolving practice that requires self-reflection to individual circumstances and beliefs.

*Missed our previous posts on the other yamas? Get caught up here.

How you may see this on your mat:

Practicing Brahmacharya on the yoga mat involves embodying the principles of moderation, self-discipline, and mindful use of energy during your physical practice. It’s a safe and comfortable space to practice “non-excess” and aligned use of energy in each moment.

You can practice brahmacharya on your mat by:

Practicing conscious breathing throughout your flow.

Pay attention to your breath as you move between poses. Allow your breath to guide your movements, fostering a sense of connection between your body and breath. Use this connection as a physical reminder of the balance in your system– avoid unnecessarily holding or forcing the breath, but balance your movement with your breath.

Setting an intention as you begin your practice.

Setting clear intentions allows you to keep your focus on where and how you desire to spend your energy.

Exploring a variety of yoga class styles.

Find a balance between class styles that energize and invigorate you, along with class styles that ground you and bring rest to your system. It is often said that what we most avoid is what we most need, so if you find yourself only taking the sweaty, fast-moving classes and avoiding slower, more restful options, you might open up some space for both in your week.

Incorporating stillness into your asana practice.

Asana-based classes tend to have quite a bit of movement. By allowing time to pause and reflect between poses or at the end of your session you can bring more balance to your practice. If you’re able to, you can prioritize stillness by arriving a few minutes early or staying a few minutes after to sit in stillness.

How you may see this off your mat:

The truth with the modern world that we live in is that there are so many opportunities to practice brahmacharya or “non-excess”, but it also may be more difficult to stick to these practices. Excess has become more of the cultural norm. Using little moments throughout the day to incorporate “right use of energy” allows you to strengthen that skill and improve your ability to embody brahmacharya.

You practice brahmacharya off your mat and in the world by:

Being mindful and reflecting on your relationships.

Cultivate healthy, respectful connections that support your well-being and personal growth. Notice if your energy level feels drained or bolstered after your interactions with someone. Focus on creating a healthy balance for your energy and prioritizing relationships that leave you feeling connected and fulfilled rather than drained and lonely.

Striving for a balanced approach to work and personal life.

Avoid overworking or becoming overly consumed by professional responsibilities. Allocate time for relaxation, personal interests, and relationships.

Being aware of the time and energy you invest in digital devices and social media.

Practice moderation and avoid excessive use that may lead to distraction or a sense of disconnection from the present moment. Set boundaries with your devices and honor those boundaries. This can allow for more time to explore other hobbies and connections that fill you up and support your growth.

Using clear communication.

Cultivate a communication style that is honest, thoughtful, and concise. Notice when you may feel a need to “over-explain” yourself or your opinion, reflect on why you may be feeling that way, and allow yourself to trust your clear communication.

Affirmations connected to Brahmacharya:

Affirmations are a beautiful tool to help us speak kindly to ourselves, change thought patterns that we may struggle with, or cultivate a more positive mindset.

Here are a few brahmacharya-focused affirmations you can incorporate into your self-talk:

  • I direct my energy towards my personal and spiritual growth.
  • I find balance and harmony in all aspects of my life.
  • Time is precious, and I spend mine wisely.
  • I embrace a lifestyle that nurtures my total wellbeing (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual).
  • I honor and respect the sacredness of my body, mind, and spirit–practicing moderation in all aspects of my life.

Sit with these affirmations and revisit the ones that resonate with you. Adjust and modify these affirmations so you feel connected to them. Revisit these affirmations throughout your yoga practice on your mat and your daily life off your mat. Feel them with conviction– you’ve got this!

Food for thought:

Use the following journal prompts to help you reflect on brahmacharya and your life.

Reminder: Respond to these responses without any judgment– just notice what comes up for you. This is a helpful reminder with any new concept, and particularly with a concept like brahmacharya that can require a lot of nuance.

  • What feelings come up for you around brahmacharya? Reflect, notice, and write down any/all feelings that stir with this idea of “non-excess.”
  • Reflect on how you allocate your physical, mental, and emotional energy throughout the day. Are there activities or habits that drain your energy unnecessarily? How can you redirect your energy toward more fulfilling and purposeful endeavors?
  • Consider your relationship with self-discipline and self-control. In what areas of your life do you feel you exercise the most discipline, and where do you struggle? How can you strengthen your capacity for self-discipline?

Resources to look into further:

If you are interested in delving into this topic a little deeper, you can check out these resources:

  • Book- The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele
  • Book- Atomic Habits by James Clear
    • This book provides strategies to implement in your life that aid you in building discipline with your time, which is a helpful tool as you focus on brahmacharya
  • Podcast- Yoga Philosophy: Yamsa & Niyamas – The Yoga Inspired Life with Emma Newlyn
    • This podcast provides a brief overview of all yamas and niyamas; brahmacharya section begins at 9:25

AND we would love to see you in class on Sunday, December 10th at 10 am! Sydney will be leading a Sunday Soul Flow focused on Brahmacharya.

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