Brahmacharya: Living Moderation
The fourth Yama is arguably the most confusing and the one most likely to be skipped. Traditionally, Brahmacharya was understood to mean celibacy. Yogis were expected to conserve all of their energy for moving along the eight limbs of yoga. However, a broader look at this Yama is helpful for the modern practitioner.
Other meanings of Brahmacharya include moderation and focus of energy. Anything can be done to excess, from eating to running, drinking alcohol to watching TV. Living a moderate life means paying attention to our own tendencies to overdo. Feeling preoccupied with something may be a hint that moderation is needed. One simple example that comes to mind is my love for dark chocolate. I could easily overeat and obsess about chocolate. Setting limits or allowing myself to enjoy a piece (or two) daily is one way I practice Brahmacharya.
Focusing our energies on what is healthy for us and what is good for the world is another interpretation of this Yama. Among other things, materialism and over-committing make focusing our attention and our energy a challenge. A personal example of this tendency is my affinity for handbags. I have a collection of bags that could last me a lifetime. And yet I am easily drawn into online shopping at a Vera Bradley outlet sale! Spending an hour looking through tote bags that I do not need is likely not the best use of my energy or time. Learning to say no to things that do not serve me has been an important lesson in Brahmacharya in my life.
Living a moderate life and being conscious of how we spend our time and energy are both ways that we can live Brahmacharya. Energy awareness, listening to our bodies, and being mindful in all things are habits to build to further the practice.