Updated: May 28, 2019
By: Jessica Jayne
Brahmacharya, one of the Yamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbed Path, is often translated into ‘chastity’, ‘non-excess’, or ‘abstinence’ in relation to sexual energy. The yogis understood that sexual energy is powerful beyond measure, and when used toward relationship with the Divine, one can achieve the highest potential of yogic power.
Though some traditional teachers will still use words such as ‘abstinence’ or ‘chastity’, more contemporary yoga teachers understand that these terms are not suitable for everyone who wishes to practice yoga. A widely used term in the modern yoga culture for Brahmacharya is ‘right use of energy.’
The quite literal translation of Brahmacharya into the English language is ‘walking with Brahman.’ Brahman being the ‘Creator’ in Hinduism and Yogic Philosophy, so this term in other words means, ‘‘living with the Divine Consciousness.’
To better understand Brahmacharya and how we can practice this concept, we should take a look at where and how we direct our energy in our lives. The yogis understood that sexual energy is the root of all human existence, it is the portal of all creation and is in direct relation to our connection with the Divine. However, the idea of ‘directing our energy’ constitutes for all energy, and noticing where and how our energy is distributed within our lives.
External Sense Pleasures Vs. Eternal Happiness Within
It isn’t unheard of for our beliefs around happiness and contentment to be related to an external force. We are conditioned from childhood to believe that happiness will come from a dream job, romantic relationship, the perfect body, and even that tasty, delicious cream pie.
We are constantly being exposed to advertisements that are telling us we are not good enough without ‘so and so product.’ All of the beauty brands, food advertisements, and even health and wellness products are built upon the idea that we need an external force in order to be good enough.
This isn’t to say that we can’t enjoy putting on makeup, eating cream pie, or having a loving romantic relationship. We can recognize that though these external factors bring us pleasure, they are always temporary.
Brahmacharya is the understanding that if we continue to pour our energy into temporary fixes and pleasures, we will eventually deplete our Prana (vitality) and we will suffer immensely. These pleasures never last, no matter how much we want to cling to them-- and our relationship with the Divine, in yogic belief, is the only constant we have.
When we direct our energy toward our relationship with the Divine rather than our attachments, desires, or external sense pleasures; we are feeding the eternal happiness within, which holds immense power and energy.
Sexual Relationships and Sexuality
Brahmacharya is not about completely abstaining from our innate sexual nature. Like I mentioned above, some traditional teachers will say that we should abstain completely from sex in order to reach our full potential yogic power. However, for the modern yoga practitioner, sexuality can be just as sacred and important as our yoga practice itself.
The key in this relationship is within the same context of ‘how am I directing my energy?’ In other words, am I using my sexuality as a way to harness my divine power, or deplete it? Am I using my sexual energy as a way to activate my creativity, connection with another human being, connection with Self, and experience true vulnerability and love? Or am I seeking external validation, a sense of fullness, or participating in an exchange that I know will ultimately harm me or the other person?
In regards to our relationships with the Divine, it is not about becoming a ‘pure’ being who has no sense of desire or attachment. It’s more about recognizing that all of this, is a part of our being, and noticing how and what we feed. We can still be in alignment with Brahmacharya and have sexual desires, and even act on them. However, the question really is, are we feeding our darkness? Or are we feeding our power?
Brahmacharya in Every Moment
Brahmacharya is a moment-to-moment practice. In other words, is the way we live our lives intentional and full of purpose from moment to moment, or are we moving through life on auto-pilot, unaware of how our energy is being distributed and how it is affecting others?
From the moment that we are pausing before a meal to say thank you, to smiling at a stranger, to how we use our energy in our yoga practice, to the sexual encounters we engage in, to how much we put into external forces versus how much we feed the relationship within-- is all in relation to Brahmacharya and our relationship with the Divine.