Let’s say you’ve been doing yoga for a little while and you’re beginning to sense that there’s more to this than making some poses. You ask a few questions, do some investigating on your own and come across the Eight Limbs of Yoga. As you delve a little deeper you find, buried in the first limb, Yama, a funky word that starts with a ‘b’ and translates to celibacy.
You could slam your laptop shut, drink a bottle of pinot and take your eco-friendly mat to nearest shredder. OR, you could dig a little deeper.
Yes, Brahmacharya does mean celibacy. When the Sutras were just an oral tradition, and even once they were codified by Patanjali a couple thousand years ago, they were meant mostly for renunciates - yoga monks, if you will - known as Swamis. They were meant for men seeking the spiritual path of union with the Divine.
Today, yoga has opened wide up to include everyone. Even women. Because of the influx of so many people finding the benefits of yoga, from the postures to the philosophy, two paths have emerged: that of the Swami and that of the Householder – the rest of us.
As Householders, we are at liberty to observe all the yogic principles and live a kind, compassionate life, just as a Swami might. While it may seem very enticing to crawl into a cave and meditate for 18 years, the yogi sages recognized that those with families, who were procreating, could benefit from the foundational principles of yoga as well and be every bit as devoted to the Divine.
In the past 100 years or so yoga has shape-shifted into many things: power yoga, hot yoga, yin yoga, vinyasa, and even naked yoga, but at its true core remains the principles of the philosophy. And that is where we find Brahmacharya.
For Householders, this translates to moderation in all appetites, including sex. And eating, and sleeping, and talking, and gossiping, and spending money - anything that can become excessive or an over-indulgence.
When we control our impulses to do those things that bring us instant gratification, we are harnessing energy or prana for use toward our greater good, service to others or higher pursuits. The yogis of the cave ilk, repressed sexual urges to transmute that energy to devotion to the Divine.
Swami Satchidananda explains, “Seminal fluid is our life. If stored properly, it can bring a lot of energy. When absorbed into the system it gets transformed into prana. Conserved sexual energy in women also gets transformed. It is the vital force that allows you to really help people and have good relationships.”
Prana is our vital life force, and when we engage in activities to excess, we are depleting our prana - giving it away. When we limit our indulgences, we are able to store that prana to be used for our own growth. Instead of flowing down and out, it can be channeled upward to the higher energy centers of the body, known as chakras, for compassion, empathy, love, study, teaching, prayer, meditation.
Put another way, “Devoted to living a balanced and moderate life, the scope of one’s life force becomes boundless.” Nischala Joy Devi from The Secret Power of Yoga.