For community time after the Breath Practice each day, we are in month four of a fascinating journey into the exploration of the Yamas and Niyamas. This month we have opened the treasure chest of Brahmacharya. It has not disappointed. We’ve been surprised and challenged. Brahmacharya’s meaning includes moderation, non-excess, energy management and its translation is “walking towards creation.” I think of it as gathering energy, avoiding wasting energy, to serve my vitality and the highest good.
Before we go too far, let’s review the intention for exploring the wisdom behind the practice from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Sutra translates as thread (almost like suture). You could say that these teachings intend to help us thread ourselves into wholeness.
The purpose of yoga practice and study is to reduce suffering. It doesn’t have to be a competition to be better than, nor a challenge to become superior to or to achieve dominance. It doesn’t have to be a test to evaluate our competence. It’s a practice to be experienced, to restore equilibrium and expand awareness.
In his book, The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Chip Hartranft writes, “The yamas guide our actions toward the benefit of all life… [and] The yamas benefit the individual at least as much as society, with each of its aspects bringing us around toward equanimity and insight by eliminating a set of distractions.”
How Much is Enough?
At first we considered the various ways we go beyond what is enough. Noting excess in eating, exercising, working, sleeping, helping others, planning the future, honoring what and who have gone before, I dare say we may have overwhelmed ourselves a bit. We inquired within, what is too much? What is enough? This opened the door to the ever-present question, what do I need. How do I discern what I need when I don’t know? And, when I have cravings, how do I shift and choose what I need? What if I have a condition that prevents me from experiencing satisfaction of taste or cravings? What if I have lost my sense of taste, or smell? What do I do when my experience is of not having enough, not having reached enough? One person shared, “During this pandemic, my experience is of not having enough, rather than too much,” referring mainly to the lack of contact with others.
Do I have enough?
Sharings included: I don’t have enough in-person connection; enough opportunities to share my love, my inspiration. And the restrictions are continuing. It’s hard to meet up at a restaurant. It’s hard to meet indoors as a group. It’s challenging to travel to be with family or friends.
It’s hard to look at the excesses in my own home. We have so much stuff. Clothes, furniture, back-ups of this or that, old photos, slides and mementos to honor memories of the people, memories of moments and places and people in the past, family, friends and so many experiences over a lifetime full of living.
We asked ourselves, why is it so hard to let go of things? And, what is at the essence of the memories? How can I honor that essence? How does that essence feed me? What need does it fulfill? And here I am, back again, at the question, “what do I need?”
What Do I Need?
What do I need? It’s not always easy to know, is it? What if I’m stuck at that first step? How do I figure out what I need? So, we needed to do a deep dive into, “how to know what I need,” and then “what to do?” When I don’t know what I need there are a couple of things that help me get in touch with myself.
It begins with taking a sacred pause and shifting into “being” mode. The practices of being, helpfully laid out by pioneering Kripalu faculty, Sandra Scherer, Dayashakti, drawing in fact from Patanjali’s Eight-Limb Path, are Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch and Allow (BRFWA). When I take a few moments to employ these suggestions, it shifts my mode from thinking to feeling. BRFWA helps me access my intuition, my felt sense, my gut sense. So, it adds to my emotional intelligence.
You could simply say to yourself, “Let me see. Let me take a moment. Drop down into my belly. Let me see what’s true and real for me in this moment.“
Keep It Simple
On an intellectual level, I have learned through practice and experience that sometimes when I don’t know what I need, I can review what my experience has suggested in the past.
- If I don’t know what I need, that may be enough of an indicator that discerning what I need may be the most important thing to do right now. Otherwise, I may not have or get what I need.
- It’s helpful to keep it simple.
- For example, maybe a glass of water would fill a need. Maybe I need to sit or lie down and close my eyes as I take some slow breaths. Try something simple before getting complicated. Water, rest, a walk and some fresh air or a piece of fruit or food is simple. Going out to dinner is complicated. Calling a friend is simple. Visiting a friend may be complicated.
- Self-care likes convenience and routine. Choose something that doesn’t have potential obstacles. Sometimes it can be helpful if these “taking care of my needs” activities can become routines. Then the step of deliberating a choice can be eliminated.
Keep It Elemental
- In yogic philosophy, the Five Great Elements were indicated as the main things that could be counted on to be real and true. They can form a helpful checklist.
- Ether (space)
- If my need is in the realm of earth, it might be satisfied by connecting with the earth, taking a walk, if possible near trees or by eating something simple to digest.
- Position yourself so you are held, by blankets on top of you, a cushion on your abdomen.
- If my need is in the realm of water, it might be satisfied with drinking water, maybe heated water. Or maybe taking a shower or bath, or simply splashing my face with water. If available, maybe swimming, though that could be complicated.
- If my need is in the realm of fire, it may mean that I need warmth. It may also mean that I need to do something to support my process of digestion. Fire (a.k.a. our digestive juices and stomach acids) helps us digest food. Resting the senses and nervous system helps us digest experience.
- When I need to support my digestion one of the first options I consider is lying down on my left side for 10 – 15 minutes. Cushion the head, maybe cushion between knees. Cover with a blanket if needed. This helps the digestion of food move from the stomach into the small intestines.
- When I need to support my process of digesting experience here are options I consider.
- Practice Yoga Nidra (register for our Immersion Oct 30 to learn this powerful accessible meditation practice)
- A breath break. The minimum, shortest practices are
- Five deep breaths
- 2 – 7 rounds of nadi shodhana
- 1 round (50 – 60 expulsions) of kapalabhati
- The elevator breath. Gradually lengthening inhale and exhale. Start with a count of three or four. Then increase the count by one on each successive round, til you’re breathing a fully as possible. Then continue at that rate for a few rounds. When you feel complete release into normal breathing and notice what’s true and real now.
- The box breath (using a four count – inhale to four, hold for four, exhale for four, hold breath out for four, repeat).
- Drink an herbal tea that helps digestion (one with ginger in it is commonly recommended).
- If my need is in the realm of air or adjusting the state of my nervous system (energize or calm), it may be that I need to do some pranayama, see the above list. It may be that I need to step outside and take in some fresh air. Other helpful practices:
- A head and neck massage (do it yourself or ask a loved one)
- Vigorous pranayama, kapalabhati or bhastrika to energize
- Nadi Shodhana to calm
- Journaling to get the thoughts out onto paper (this may be helpful for grounding as well)
- If my need is in the realm of ether (space)
- Take a walk
- Lie down and spread out your limbs
- Gaze at the sky
- Do some free-form journaling, either automatic writing or drawing
- Visualize space, panoramic landscapes or the milky way!
Do I Have Options?
What could possibly fulfill the need I have identified? Let me contemplate the options. Let me invite suggestions. Then, may I consider these options and consider them well. Then I can make a well considered choice. And I can observe and notice if that truly fulfills the need.
Is a Life of Moderation or Restraint Boring?
Brahamacharya invites us to live fully, to fill up with pleasures as well as the painful feelings and then take a sacred pause to digest, replenish, to breathe, reflect and re-boot.
Danny Arguetty, in his book, Nourishing The Teacher, writes, “As yoga philosophy evolved and changed from classical thought… other interpretations emerged to contend that true embodiment of consciousness comes through embracing our whole selves… anything in excess can cause stress and lack of focus. The remedy, however, is not repression, but rather a watchful and moderate engagement… conscious self-restraint or conscious moderation with regard to various forms of stimuli including food, intimacy, thought and action.”
The practice of yoga is intended to open the channels in the physical and subtle body and stimulate the flow of prana, the vital life force.
Activities that build the life force, when approached mindfully and with intention, can be considered yoga. Indeed, the deeper practices of yoga are available when prana has been stimulated and the mind settled and steady.
Swami Kripalu was noted to teach that “All actions can become a meditation. Concentrate your mind on only what you are doing, and consciously commit to perform only that task. When performed with harmony and undivided attention that action becomes yoga.”
My mind keeps forgetting
My Brahmacharya settings!
Doing too much with my hands,
Making too many self demands!
So to turn my mental gentle,
You know what I chose to do?
On the back of each of my hands
I put a brahmacharya butterfly tattoo!
By Emily Eisen*
*who really did get butterfly tattoos on her hands…temporary, anyway!
Example Affirmations for Brahmacharya
I’m practicing energy management for vitality.
I recognize the contrast of energy-depleting choices and life-enhancing choices.
I see sacredness in all actions.
I see the sacredness of all life.
I am here in this moment.
I walk in this day with a sense of wonder and awe.
I breathe into a state of holiness.
I feel each moment as holy.
I am enough.
Join us, start any day, for Gentle Breath Practice and Community Time. Recordings available within an hour of the live class so you can practice on your own schedule.